Following the approval of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, which provided aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, the Union Pacific Railroad was incorporated on July 1, 1862, under the guidance of its dominant stockholder Thomas C. Durant.
Setting up headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, the company first began laying tracks in its hometown, gradually moving westward through some of the most difficult terrains in the nation. As the Union Pacific built westward, the Central Pacific Railroad of California was building eastward from Sacramento, California. By the end of 1865, United Pacific had already spent half a million dollars but laid only 40 miles of track, or as one newspaper put it: “two streaks of rust across the Nebraska prairie.”
However, when the role of Chief Engineer was given to a young Union General and civil engineer by the name of Grenville Dodge, progress began in earnest. Hiring thousands of men, who braved frequent Indian attacks, extreme weather, and almost insurmountable canyons and mountains.
The United Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads finally came together at Promontory, Utah on May 9, 1869. The railroad was complete, bringing an end to the many wagon trail across the west. However, it was just the beginning of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Panic of 1873 led to bankruptcy for Union Pacific, but under the leadership of Jay Gould, the organization stayed afloat and for the next two decades expanded rapidly. However, over-speculation again led to bankruptcy in 1893. Again, the company made it through its difficult financial times and by 1901 had recovered to the point that it was able to take control of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Over the years, the Union Pacific also acquired the Missouri Pacific, Chicago & North Western, Western Pacific, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, and the Rio Grande Railroads. Today, the company is one of the largest transportation companies in the United States, as well as the oldest railroad company in continuous operation under its original name west of the Mississippi River. It continues to be headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.