Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Golden Spike Ceremony Marking the
Completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad
Promontory Summit, Utah
Friday, May 10, 2019
During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, our country celebrates the many contributions that Asian Pacific Americans have made to the United States throughout our history. During the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike ceremony, it is especially fitting to honor and memorialize the tremendous contributions of the approximately 12,000 or more Chinese workers who braved incredible hardships and danger to help complete one of the most important pieces of infrastructure ever built — the American Transcontinental Railroad. Linking the Union Pacific Railroad in the East, with the Central Pacific Railroad in the West, the transcontinental railroad was a seminal feat of engineering, innovation and manpower that was key to unleashing the economic power of the United States.
The Central Pacific Railroad hired 15,000 workers, of which approximately 12,000 or more were Chinese immigrants, to construct the western portion of the transcontinental railroad. The intrepid Chinese workers blasted and chiseled their way through the most difficult and dangerous terrain — the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains. Using manual hammer drills, pickaxes and explosives, they dug 15 tunnels through hard granite. Snow fell so deeply in the mountains that they had to build roofs over 37 miles of track so supply trains could make it through. The conditions were merciless, dangerous and harsh. An estimated 500-1,000 Chinese railroad workers lost their lives. But the Chinese workers persevered, and played a key role in building one of the greatest pieces of infrastructure in the world. In fact, one of the four entrepreneurs from the Central Pacific Railroad who initiated this project noted that the early completion of the transcontinental railroad was due in no small part to the “fidelity and industry” of the workers of Chinese ancestry. In conquering the Sierra Nevada mountains, they proved that no construction task was too daunting, too dangerous or too difficult to master. This was despite the fact that many of the workers of Chinese ancestry could not bring their families with them and did not have the opportunity to become American citizens.
So on this day, May 10, 2019, commemorating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Golden Spike celebration, it is my honor to pay tribute on behalf of the United States of America to the Chinese workers and pioneers of the transcontinental railroad. May their contribution to America’s transcontinental railroad always be remembered, cherished and celebrated.
Elaine L. Chao
U.S. Secretary of Transportation