Engine “Nashville” of the Lincoln Funeral Train

Photograph, 1865

Photo shows a Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad engine, with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln mounted on the front. The engine was one of several used to carry President Lincoln's body from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Of the many competing ideas for the Transcontinental Railroad, a clear path was created in the early 1860s through the vision and advocacy of two prominent figures: Theodore Judah and Abraham Lincoln.

As a congressional lobbyist and co-founder of the Central Pacific Railroad, Theodore Judah was the Transcontinental Railroad's foremost advocate. It was Judah’s proposal through the Sierra Nevada mountain range that proved the most viable option for the railroad path.

As a longtime railroad advocate and previous Illinois railroad lawyer, President Lincoln was elected in 1860 on a platform that included a call for a transcontinental railroad: “that a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction; and that, as preliminary thereto, a daily Overland Mail should be promptly established.”

The two men unfortunately did not live to see this dream materialize. Judah died from yellow fever in 1863 and President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Judah’s vision for a path forward and President Lincoln’s signature on the Pacific Railway Act made it possible for the Transcontinental Railroad to live beyond them.