Who was the most important individual in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad?

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Imagine you were a historian tasked with identifying the most important individual who built the Transcontinental Railroad. Surely there are many candidates for that enviable title.

Perhaps you’d say Abraham Lincoln, a tireless supporter of the railroad before ground was even broken. As President, he signed the 1862 bill that started the process. Another candidate for that honor would be Ted Judah, the indefatigable Engineer who identified the route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Other candidates who must include The Big Four, C.P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford for the Central Pacific. Any list for that honor must include the important men for the Union Pacific. That list would be incomplete without Dr. Thomas Durant, General Grenville Dodge, Samuel Reed, the Casement brothers, Peter Dey, and Oakes Ames.

It is arguable that the actual ‘most important men’ were the Chinese, the Irish immigrants, Utah’s Mormon laborers, freed slaves, and Civil War veterans who made up the bulk of the tens of thousands of unknowns who did the work, doing the day-to-day labor, blasting tunnels, grading roadbeds, laying ties and rails, building great spans over rivers, or creating cuts that beggar the imagination. Maybe its time to reread Stephen Abrose’s definitive work, Nothing Like It In the World.

Could you pick an individual as ‘the most important man’ who built the railroad? Who would you vote for?
 

paulschafer

Sojourner
I would say on the Central Pacific side, it would be Ted Judah and especially his wife.
On the UP side, it would be General Dodge and Dr. Thomas Durant.
Being a land surveyor and general mechanical engineer back in that day must have been awesome. To have the foresight to see a path in a mountain range or the great plains, these guys were really smart.
 
I would say on the Central Pacific side, it would be Ted Judah and especially his wife.
On the UP side, it would be General Dodge and Dr. Thomas Durant.
Being a land surveyor and general mechanical engineer back in that day must have been awesome. To have the foresight to see a path in a mountain range or the great plains, these guys were really smart.
In a book about Ted Judah, it was stated he crossed the Sierra 23 times making his surveys. A docent at the Sacramento Railroad Museum stated that he crossed 200 times! I was so surprised by that statement that I didn't think for ask for the source!
 




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