Williams’ New Trans-Continental Map of the Pacific R.R. and Routes of Overland Travel to Colorado, Nebraska, the Black Hills, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, California and the Pacific Coast

Map, 1877

This tourist map of the Transcontinental Railroad, which names every town along its route, illustrates a unified American nation.

Courtesy Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

Many Americans had a long-held dream of a transcontinental railroad.

As early as the 1830s, the United States began exploring the idea of building a railroad to connect the country east to west and extending U.S. reach to the Pacific Ocean. This idea was a popular one, with many competing parties, routes, and surveys, which created what seemed to be an insurmountable task of planning, engineering, and construction.

After the southern states left the Union as a result of the American Civil War there was an opportunity to break this gridlock. The U.S. Congress passed the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862. With President Lincoln’s signature, the Act dictated that the 41st Parallel or Central Route would be the route selected out of the competing options.


Map of Routes for a Pacific Railroad Compiled to Accompany the Report of the Hon. Jefferson Davis, Sec. of War, In Office of P. R. R. Surveys

Map, 1855

All of the surveys for the transcontinental railroad were hastily compiled in 1855. Routes through the Utah Territory included south around the Great Salt Lake, passing through Salt Lake City, and another going through Provo Canyon. The route from Weber Canyon to Brigham City then north of the Great Salt Lake turned out to be the most efficient.

Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration