Railway photos shown to honor 150th anniversary

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Union Pacific, in partnership with Joslyn Art Museum and the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa, announces a new traveling exhibition in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

Traveling exhibit celebrates Promontory Summit’s 150th anniversary

Andrew J. Russell imperial print, “Promontory Trestle Work and Engine No. 2,” plate 222. The locomotive No. 119 is pictured on the trestle bridge and Andrew Russell’s photography wagon is in the valley below.

Andrew J. Russell imperial print, “Promontory Trestle Work and Engine No. 2,” plate 222. The locomotive No. 119 is pictured on the trestle bridge and Andrew Russell’s photography wagon is in the valley below.

The Race to Promontory: The Transcontinental Railroad and the American West celebrates the “Meeting of the Rails” at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, through the photographs and stereographs of Andrew Joseph Russell (1830-1902) and Alfred A. Hart (1816-1908). Drawn exclusively from the Union Pacific Historic Collection, located at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, these images represent the largest collection in the world of original photographs documenting the construction of the transcontinental railroad between 1866 and 1869.

Appropriately, this transformative endeavor was captured by the equally groundbreaking medium of photography, which was used to document the railroad’s arduous construction and then capture the moment of its completion and distribute it around the world. From east to west, the Union Pacific line was photographed by Russell, and west to east by Hart, for the Central Pacific. 

The Race to Promontory features approximately 40 framed Imperial plate albumen prints by Russell, including images from his album, The Great West Illustrated, as well as rare, unpublished prints from the Union Pacific Collection, including Russell’s famous image from Promontory Summit, East and West Shaking Hands. One hundred eight stereograph cards by Hart will also be displayed, and two stereograph viewers will allow museum visitors to view Hart and Russell images in three dimensions. 

Union Pacific Collection

One of Andrew Russell’s photographs from a bound volume entitled “The Great West Illustrated.” During construction of the transcontinental railroad, this photograph of General Casement’s construction train and crew was taken in Utah, 1869. Plate 44. Photo courtesy Union Pacific Museum.

One of Andrew Russell’s photographs from a bound volume entitled “The Great West Illustrated.” During construction of the transcontinental railroad, this photograph of General Casement’s construction train and crew was taken in Utah, 1869. Plate 44. Photo courtesy Union Pacific Museum.

The exhibition will also include archival material from the Union Pacific Collection, commemorative objects relating to the events at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869 – including the original “Arizona Spike” from the celebration of the laying of the last rail – as well as artifacts and records from the construction of the railroad.

Crocker Art Museum [www.crockerart.org] Director and CEO Lial Jones said, “As Sacramento was the terminus of the Central Pacific Railroad, and the Crocker family was so involved in its creation, the Museum is delighted to host this exhibition telling the story of the Transcontinental Railroad. That story is a big part of Sacramento’s story, and that of the Museum’s founder E. B. Crocker. Seen through the eyes of Russell and Hart, this essential part of our national history comes alive for a twenty-first century audience.”

Scott Moore, Union Pacific senior vice president of Corporate Relations and chief administrative officer, said, “The transcontinental railroad formed our nation’s backbone, building communities along the way and uniting our nation. Union Pacific continues to be at the forefront of innovation, using technology to make meaningful change in every aspect of our business, enabling us to deliver the goods Americans use every day and help build safe, vibrant and prosperous communities in the 23 states where our employees live and work. The Race to Promontory exhibit underscores this connection and recognizes our responsibility to share our history with the American people.

Transcontinental railroad completion celebrations

“East and West shaking hands at laying of the last rail,” Promontory Summit, Utah. Photograph was taken by Andrew Russell on May 10, 1869. General Dodge, chief engineer for Union Pacific, is pictured shaking hands on the right, with Central Pacific engineer Montague on the left. This print was created before the original glass plate was broken. The glass plate negative is in the collection of the Oakland Museum (California). Photo courtesy Union Pacific Museum.

“East and West shaking hands at laying of the last rail,” Promontory Summit, Utah. Photograph was taken by Andrew Russell on May 10, 1869. General Dodge, chief engineer for Union Pacific, is pictured shaking hands on the right, with Central Pacific engineer Montague on the left. This print was created before the original glass plate was broken. The glass plate negative is in the collection of the Oakland Museum (California). Photo courtesy Union Pacific Museum.

The completion of the transcontinental railroad was as celebrated a national – and international – event as the first moon landing, exactly a century later in 1969. Forty-six months after they began construction, the two railroads came together and officially “united” the United States. Western Union offered coverage direct from the scene – the first major news event carried “live” from coast-to-coast. Telegraph wires were attached to one of the ceremonial spikes and as it was gently tapped with a silver maul, the “strokes” were heard across the Country. Whistles were blown in San Francisco, the Liberty Bell was rung in Philadelphia, and a ball was held in Washington, D.C. 

The transcontinental had opened the heart of the continent, and, within days of its completion, the country was transformed. Travel from New York to San Francisco was reduced from six months to 10 days – and at 10 percent of the cost. This new era witnessed the development of settlements for millions of Americans and an incredible surge in industrial growth. Agricultural products were transported east from California, changing how Americans filled their dinner tables. The railroad led to the creation of Standard Time, to allow trains to move safely along a single track. Communication flowed quickly and reliably across the country on mail cars and by telegraph lines along the track. The railroad also connected the United States to the world, carrying products from Asia and Europe – the first freight shipment across the new railroad included casks of tea from Japan – and building new markets for imported and exported goods. 

The effects of the transcontinental railroad

One of Andrew Russell’s photographs from “The Great West Illustrated.” High Bluff Rock in the Black Buttes in Wyoming, was an extraordinary rock formation found along the route of the transcontinental railroad. This photograph of High Bluff Rock was taken in 1869 and features people attempting to climb and traverse the impressive rock formation. Plate 21.

One of Andrew Russell’s photographs from “The Great West Illustrated.” High Bluff Rock in the Black Buttes in Wyoming, was an extraordinary rock formation found along the route of the transcontinental railroad. This photograph of High Bluff Rock was taken in 1869 and features people attempting to climb and traverse the impressive rock formation. Plate 21.

On a larger scale, the railroad also obliterated the idea of the “frontier,” and forever changed the lives of indigenous Plains tribes. New migration spurred by the railroad hastened the end of the Indian Wars and the beginning of the reservation era. The Pacific Railway and Homestead Act insured the resettlement of new territories under the control of the federal government, reinforcing the 19th century ideal of Manifest Destiny as the United States expanded from sea to sea. 

Race to Promontory Exhibit Venues

Joslyn Art Museum
Omaha, Nebraska
(Oct. 6, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019)

Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Salt Lake City, Utah
(Feb. 1-May 26, 2019)

Crocker Art Museum
Sacramento, California
(June 23-Sept. 29, 2019)

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