A "golden spike" was the last, ceremonial spike driven specifically to mark the completion of a railroad line. The practice originated with the First Transcontinental Railroad, when Leland Stanford officially joined the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah.
Completing the last link in the First Transcontinental Railroad with a spike of gold was the brainchild of David Hewes, a San Francisco financier and contractor. The spike had been manufactured earlier that year especially for the event by the William T. Garratt Foundry in San Francisco. Two of the sides were engraved with the names of the railroad officers and directors. A special tie of polished California laurel was chosen to complete the line where the spike would be driven. The ceremony was originally to be held on May 8, but it was postponed two days because of bad weather and a labor dispute that delayed the arrival of the Union Pacific side of the rail line.
On May 10, in anticipation of the ceremony, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 (better known as the Jupiter) locomotives were drawn up face-to-face on Promontory Summit, separated only by the width of a single tie. It is unknown how many people attended the event, estimates run from as low as 500 to as many as 3,000 government and railroad officials and track workers were present to witness the event.
Before the last spike was driven, three other commemorative spikes, presented on behalf of the other three members of the Central Pacific's Big Four who did not attend the ceremony, had been driven in the pre-bored laurel tie:
The golden spike was made of 17.6-karat(73%) copper-alloyed gold, and weighed 14.03 troy ounces (436 g). It was dropped into a pre-drilled hole in the laurel ceremonial last tie, and gently tapped into place with a silver ceremonial spike maul. The spike was engraved on all four sides:
A second golden spike, exactly like the one from the ceremony, was cast and engraved at the same time. It was held, unknown to the public, by the Hewes family until 2005. This second spike is now on permanent display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
With the locomotives drawn so near, the crowd pressed so closely around Stanford and the other railroad officials that the ceremony became somewhat disorganized, leading to varying accounts of the actual events. Contrary to the myth that the Central Pacific's Chinese laborers were specifically excluded from the festivities, A.J. Russell stereoview #539 shows the "Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR." (Eight Chinese laid the last rail, and three of these men, Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao, lived long enough to also participate in the 50th anniversary parade. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Chinese participating were honored and cheered by the CPRR officials.) To drive the final spike, Stanford lifted a silver spike maul and drove the spike into the tie, completing the line.
Immediately afterwards, the golden spike and the laurel tie were removed and replaced with a regular iron spike and normal tie. At exactly 12:47 p.m., the last iron spike was driven, finally completing the line. Stanford and Hewes missed the spike, but the single word "done" was nevertheless flashed by telegraph around the country. In the United States, the event has come to be considered one of the first nationwide media events.
Although the Promontory event marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad line, it did not actually mark the completion of a seamless coast-to-coast rail network. Because no railroad bridge yet existed over the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska, passengers were required to cross the river by boat until 1872, when a bridge was built across the Missouri River. In the meantime, the coast-to-coast rail link was completed in August 1870 in Strasburg, Colorado by the completion of the Denver extension of the Kansas Pacific Railway.
In 1939, following the premiere of the Cecil B. De Mille motion picture Union Pacific in Omaha and Council Bluffs a gold-colored concrete spike in height was unveiled on 9th Avenue in Council Bluffs on the approximate location of milepost 0.0 of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
In 1942, the old rails over Promontory Summit were salvaged for the war effort; the event was marked by a ceremonial "undriving" of the last iron spike. The original event had been all but forgotten except by local residents, who erected a commemorative marker in 1943. The years after the war saw a revival of interest in the event; the first re-enactment was staged in 1948.
In 1957, Congress established the Golden Spike National Historic Site to preserve the area around Promontory Summit as closely as possible to its appearance in 1869. The site contains working replicas of the locomotives present at the original ceremony, which are drawn up face-to-face each Saturday during the summer for a re-enactment of the event.
On May 10, 2006, on the anniversary of the driving of the spike, Utah announced that its state quarter design would be a depiction of the driving of the spike. The Golden Spike design was the conception of Mr. Scott Price's Syracuse (Utah) Junior High School special education students. The design was selected as the winner from among several others by Utah's governor, Jon Huntsman, Jr. following a period during which Utah residents voted & commented on their favorite of three finalists.
Golden Spike development created for 55 and up crowd ; Special feature in Rathdrum is a $1 million exercise and social facility
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