There were no railroads west of St. Louis in 1850. It was 1852 before the first locomotive made its way out of the early downtown St. Louis depot for a short journey to Shaw’s Garden.
It was May 10, 1869, before the last spike was driven with a silver hammer at Promontory Summit in Utah Territory, joining railroads from each direction. Called the Golden Spike, it was cause for celebration throughout the nation. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad meant increased settlement, industry and commerce in the West.
Eastern enterprises benefitted as well because they would be able to ship goods to the West Coast. Also known as the Overland Route, it also brought improved communication to the entire nation as mail could be transported by rail, eventually replacing the Pony Express.
That first train that chugged westward from St. Louis in 1850 was the beginning of something big. It was dubbed the “Pacific,” doubtless referring to the dream of reaching the Pacific Ocean. That much-awaited maiden voyage of a 22-ton locomotive on the Missouri Pacific Railroad signaled the beginning of Westward Expansion by rail.
That first little train to head west was equipped with a funnel-shaped stack that belched black smoke as it made its way west. There was a brass bell that clanged when the engineer pulled on the rope in the hope of clearing the track, as well as to announce the arrival of the railroad.