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Last Spike"The Last Spike" by Thomas Hill (detail in gold, front cover).

THE CIRCULAR from the Oneida Community, New York (the famous  early "commune" in experimental living), May 17, 1869.  Courtesy Timothy Hughes, Rare & Early Newspapers.the dramatic dialogue carried on by telegraph. At 2:27 P.M., this message went from Promontory ... : [Transcript of ceremony]

Almost ready. Hats off; prayer is being offered.

After an interval of reverent silence, the bell tapped, and the offices at Promontory ... said:

A.J. Russell Imperial View #226. &Officers of the U.P.R.R. at laying of Last Rail." Courtesy National Park Service.We have done praying. The spike is about to be presented.

To which Chicago responded:

We understand. All are ready in the East.

A few moments later Promontory ... added :

All ready now. The spike will soon be driven. The signal will be three dots for the commencement of blows.

After another moment of silence the hammer tapped the bell of the Capitol three times. A briefer pause ensued, and the blows of the silver hammer, held by Governor Stanford, were repeated on the bell of the Capitol of Washington near the borders of one ocean ; on the great fire-bell in the city sitting on the borders of another ocean; in the report of the cannon that woke the echoes of the Golden Gate; and, in telegraphic accents, in all the centers of population North, South, East and West. At 2:47 Promontory ... sententiously said


and the telegraphic colloquy, in which the continent joined, was ended by these messages of official triumph, dated at Promontory Summit, the first to the general public, the second to His Excellency, General U. S. Grant, President of the United States :

The last rail is laid ! The last spike driven. The Pacific Railroad is completed.
LELAND STANFORD, Central Pacific Railroad.
Leland Stanford Signature.  Courtesy Johns' Western Gallery.
T. P. DURANT, SIDNEY DILLON, JOHN DUFF, Union Pacific Railroad.
Sidney Dillon, Autograph 1870, Courtesy Studart Lutz

SIR: We have the honor to report that the last rail is laid, the last spike is driven. The Pacific Railroad is finished.

LELAND STANFORD, President C. P. R. R. Co. of California. T. P. DURANT, Vice-President U. P. R. R. Co.
Above reproduced from: Thomas Hill.  The Last Spike, A Painting by Thomas Hill:  Illustrating the Last Scene in the Building of the Overland Railroad.  With a History of the Enterprise.  San Francisco, January, 1881.  [Pages 29-30.]
Sidney Dillon Autograph, 1870 Courtesy of Stuart Lutz, President, Princeton Historic Documents.

Lewis Clement called the route "the bond of iron which is to hold our glorious country in one eternal union" while veteran UP consulting engineer Silas Seymour declared simply - and rightly - that there was "Nothing like it in the world."

DAILY EVENING HERALD from Stockton, California, May 12, 1869. DAILY EVENING HERALD from Stockton, California, May 12, 1869.
Daily Evening Herald newspaper, Stockton, California, May 12, 1869.
Courtesy Timothy Hughes, Rare & Early Newspapers.

A. J. Russell, Laying of Last Rail, NARA
Andrew J. Russell, Imperial View, "Laying of Last Rail."
Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.
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See the 1869 New York Times reports of the Completion of the Pacific Railroad on May 10th and May 11th, and the Salt Lake Daily Telegraph report on May 11th.

A.J. Russell view at Promontory Summit.  Courtesy National Park Service.
A.J. Russell view at Promontory Summit, Utah.  May 10, 1869.
Courtesy National Park Service.
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NY Herald. Courtesy Timothy Hughes Rare Newspapers.

New York Herald newspaper,
May 10, 1869 (above) and May 12, 1869 (right).
Courtesy Timothy Hughes, Rare & Early Newspapers.

NY Herald. Courtesy Timothy Hughes Rare Newspapers.


Hart stereoview #355, detail.  Courtesy National Park Service.
Hart stereoview #355, detail, "The Last Rail - The Invocation. Fixing the Wire, May 10, 1869."
Courtesy National Park Service.
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View from atop Jupiter.  Courtesy National Park Service.
View from atop Jupiter, at Promontory Summit, Utah.  May 10, 1869.
Courtesy National Park Service.
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"Laying the Last Rail, and Driving the Last Spike." A.J. Russell Stereoview, detail.
"Laying the Last Rail, and Driving the Last Spike."
A.J. Russell Stereoview, detail.
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W. H. Jackson photo courtesy Kyle K. Wyatt.
William H. Jackson photo (June 30 or July 1, 1869) appears to show stars ranked in 4 rows, 5 across, suggesting 20 stars on the flag.
Courtesy USGS.
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Inscriptions on the Golden Last Spike

Golden Spike at the Stanford University Museum
Courtesy National Park Service.

The slightly undersized 5 1/2" x 1/2" golden spike, now located in the Stanford Family Collection of the Stanford University Museum, was manufactured for the joining of the rails ceremony by the San Francisco William T. Garratt Foundry and then engraved by San Francisco jewelers, Schultz, Fischer and Mahling (for which they charged $15.25).  The last spike was made of 14.03 troy ounces of 17.6 caret gold, alloyed with copper (also reported as 18, and as 7 ounces, part of the discrepancy probably resulting from excluding the weight of a gold nugget attached to the tip which was later broken off).  Gold was then valued at $19.44 per ounce, but newspaper accounts valued the spike at between $360 and $414.  The spike is engraved on its head with the words:


and also includes the following words on one side:

"May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.   Presented by David Hewes San Francisco."

(David Hewes, a prominent contractor and financier in San Francisco, formerly of Sacramento who presented the golden last spike to Stanford, was the brother-in-law of Mrs. Stanford. Hewes also made a second keepsake gold spike at the same time, later had it engraved, unlike the spike used at Promontory, with the correct date of May 10, 1869, and passed it down secretly in his family, resulting in great confusion until the existence of the Hewes family keepsake golden spike became known when it was sold to the California State Railroad Museum in 2005. Professor Robin Lampson, who located the Hewes receipt in 1937 in a trunk inherited by the Hewes family wrote incorrectly, as it turns out, that accompanying photographs of the last spike show that the spike held by Stanford University "is obviously NOT the original Hewes spike" because he was mistakenly comparing a photograph of the Hewes family keepsake spike with the other Hewes spike actually used at Promotory and later donated to Stanford University, having been misled by erroneous information in David Hewes' autobiography. To add further to the confusion, there actually was a second gold last spike used at Promontory, not the Hewes family keepsake spike, but instead the San Francisco Newsletter spike. Also, it was an ordinary iron spike, not the golden spike, that was tapped by Gov. Stanford to telegraph the completion.)

Another side of the spike reads:

"The Pacific Railroad ground broken Jany 8th 1863 and completed May 8th 1869"

(The incorrect date, May 8, 1869, was inscribed as this was the originally scheduled date for the joining of the rails. The New York Herald of May 10, 1869 reported on page 7 a story dated May 8th entitled "The Pacific Railroad – Celebration of the Completion of the Road in California – A Gala Day in San Francisco and Sacramento – General Rejoicings & Jollification – Why the Roads Were Not Joined" explaining that the delay occurred because "...several hundred men had seized a train at Piedmont, on which was President Durant, telling him they were hungry & must have their money & that they would detain him until it was forthcoming. The non-arrival of Mr. Durant is alleged to be the principal cause for postponing the ceremony of joining the roads until Monday next.")

The directors' names appear on the third face and those of the officers on the fourth:

"Directors of the C. P. R. R. of Cal.
Hon. Leland Stanford
C. P. Huntington
E. B. Crocker
Mark Hopkins
A. P. Stanford
E. H. Miller Jr."

"Officers ————
Hon Leland Stanford, Presdt
C. P. Huntington Vice Presdt
E. B. Crocker Atty
Mark Hopkins Tresr
Chas Crocker Gen Supt
E. H. Miller Jr. Secty
S. S. Montague Chief Eng'r".

The gold nugget that was attached to the bottom end of the spike was broken off after the ceremony and made into finger rings inscribed:

"The Mountain Wedding, May 10, 1869"

for Governor Stanford, President Grant, Oakes Ames, Secretary of State Seward, and the minister who delivered the invocation at the ceremony, Reverend Dr. John Todd from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and miniature one inch long gold spike watch fobs.

Last Tie CDV detail

The Last Tie, CDV detail
[Click here for full image]
Restoration courtesy DigitalImageServices.com

> Hewes gave his wife a ring made from the Spike, engraved "LAST SPIKE  P.R.R. DRIVEN MAY 10, 1869," now in the hands of his great grand daughter, Mrs. Franklin Moore, of Newport Beach, Cal. Another was "LAST SPIKE P.R.R. DRIVEN MAY 10, 1869 FROM D. HEWES TO R. ABBOTT" Abbott was Mrs. Hewes' sister, Ruthie. (see FRISS, "DAVID HEWES", pages 32-33.)  Another was given to the minister that gave the prayer at Promontory. G.J. "Chris" Graves

Engineers Shaking Hands
CPRR Chief Engineer Samuel S. Montague (left) shaking hands
with UPRR Chief Engineer Grenville M. Dodge (right),
Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869.
A.J. Russell, Imperial View, detail.
Courtesy Union Pacific Railroad and
the Association of American Railroads
(neither affiliated with CPRR.org)

THE WORLD newspaper from New York City dated May 12, 1869.
The World newspaper, New York City, May 12, 1869.
Courtesy Timothy Hughes, Rare & Early Newspapers.


Samuel Skerry Montague signature.  Courtesy Mike Bentley Collection.
Major General Genville Mellon Dodge. Autograph coutesy of An Iowa Collector and Terry Cox.


Cartoon from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May, 1869.
Cartoon from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May, 1869.


Where would the rails be joined?

"By early 1869 the two transcontinental lines had both built into Utah.  In fact, crews had actually graded 100 miles of track parallel and past each other.  To sort out confusion over where the two lines would meet, the Secretary of the Interior appointed three commissioners to decide where and over which route the railroads would join.  The commissioners chose Promontory, 56 miles west of Ogden, Utah.  On April 9, 1869, representatives of the two companies met in Washington, DC, and agreed on where the lines would converge.  The next day Congress passed a joint resolution designating Promontory as the spot 'at which rails shall meet and form one continuous line.' "

Below is a two page extract of the letter dated January 14, 1869 from Secretary of the Interior Browning appointing the Commissioners and instructing them: "You will also designate a point at which the two roads will probably meet in the construction of a continuous completed line."

Letter regarding meeting point p. 1

Letter regarding meeting point p. 2

Records of the U.S. Senate
Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration



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