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Golden Spike Ceremony with Flag and Camera, Promontory Point, Utah
9 x 12 in (22.9 x 30.5 cm)
Swann Galleries - New York
Sale 2208 Lot 9
This image is also titled, "Laying of the last rail at Promontory Point, Utah."
Acquired from American Historical Auctions, Massachusetts in 1998.
The Photograph and the American Dream 1840-1940, 60.
Westward to Promontory: Building the Union Pacific across the Plains and Mountains, unpaginated.
"The building of the Union Pacific Railroad was a project that captured the national imagination as, perhaps, no other. The undertaking was so vast that few thought it could be accomplished. . . These men were breaking down the last frontier, writing the first chapter of a work that could only have one end--the final settlement and form of the United States as one undivided nation."
One of the greatest American construction feats of the nineteenth century, the transcontinental railroad served as the major artery for travel, trade and commerce. Built between 1863 and 1869, by the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad, it connected the East and West coasts by joining the existing railroads of the Eastern United States from Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska, via Ogden, Utah and Sacramento, California, to Alameda, California. Officially opened on May 10, with the driving of "the last spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah, the railroad quickly transformed the population and economy of the American West.
Born into a family that already worked in railroad construction, Andrew J. Russell (who was originally a painter) was assigned special duty as photographer for the United States Military Railroad during his time in the Civil War as an army captain. He was the only member of the armed forces to serve as a photographer during the war. After the war, he became interested in documenting the new feat of the transcontinental railroad construction. He photographed the Union Pacific portion and was credited as their official photographer. Making two trips--one in 1868 and one in 1869--Russell, like other photographers of this era, traveled with a large 30-pound view camera, a stereo camera, lenses, numerous glass plates, chemicals and a darkroom tent in a wagon over rocky and steep terrain.
The majority of the Union Pacific track was built by veterans of the Union and Confederate armies and Irish immigrants. As the track approached Utah Territory, work gangs were made up almost entirely of Mormons. The Central Pacific line was constructed primarily by many thousands of Chinese emigrants. In addition to track laying, which was only about a quarter of the labor force, there were also hundreds of tunnelers, carpenters, explosive experts, masons, teamsters, bridge builders, blacksmiths, engineers, telegraphers, surveyors, and cooks employed by the railroad companies.
Six years after the groundbreaking, representatives from the east and west rail lines met at Promontory Summit, Utah. Approximately 1000 people were in attendance including politicians, officials of both the railroads, workers, soldiers from the 21st U.S. Infantry Regiment and members of the public, including a small number of women and children. Here, Governor Leland Stanford drove the "golden spike" officially joining the rails of the transcontinental railroad. The two trains seen in the famous images of this day are Union Pacific's "Engine 119" and Central Pacific's "Jupiter." Often cited as the world's first live mass-media event, the hammer and spike were wired to a telegraph line so that each hammer stroke would be heard as a click at telegraph stations nationwide. When the ceremonial spike was replaced by an iron spike, a message was transmitted that read, "DONE," which was celebrated throughout the country.