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January 9 and December 2, 1863

UP and CP Break Ground

Already 11 months behind Central Pacific, Union Pacific leaders felt the pressure to begin their journey west. Doc Durant exerted his influence to make Omaha, instead of Council Bluffs, the actual starting point. A gala groundbreaking ceremony and banquet were quickly organized and 1,000 revelers eagerly took a holiday to celebrate the event. At a former ferry landing at 7th & Davenport, Governor Alvin Saunders turned the first shovel of dirt, accompanied by brass bands, cannons and fireworks. However, it was another 18 months before UP laid its first rails. Central Pacific began construction at the foot of I Street in Sacramento without ceremony.

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According to the U.S. Library of Congress, then-Union Pacific President John Dix asked Abraham Lincoln to write a message that could be read at the groundbreaking ceremony. However, a bout with a mild form of smallpox prevented Lincoln from drafting the letter.

In 2012, Union Pacific celebrates the shared stories that have shaped our country since 1862. To mark our 150th anniversary, we invite you to explore how the nation’s largest railroad came to be and how UP continues to build America with innovation and tenacity, touching the lives of nearly every citizen.