Transcontinental Railroad

The joining of the rails at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869, marked the beginning of a new era for the nation, the West, and for Utah. These resources for teaching the Transcontinental Railroad explore this rich history and the many ways the railroad transformed life in Utah.

Lesson Plans General Resources Places to Visit Videos

Lesson Plans

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The Great Race to Promontory
An interactive website illustrating the journey through 46 communities profoundly impacted by the railroad.
PBS: The Transcontinental Railroad
This lesson plan has students assess the need for a transcontinental railroad in the 1860's. (Grades 6-12)
Spike 150 Celebration - May 10, 2019
Experience the celebration at Promontory Summit honoring the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike ceremony, which marked the 1869 completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in Utah.
The Transcontinental Rail Network, 1878
Using a general map of U.S. railroads in 1878, students examine the geographic, political, and economic factors that influenced the growth of this network. (Grades K-12)
National Archives: Reasons for Westward Expansion
Students will examine a variety of documents that reference reasons why Americans living in the East migrated west of the Mississippi immediately before, during, and right after the Civil War. Documents cover the mining industry, new inventions used on the Plains, the growth of the railroad, the Homestead Act, and the Cattle Kingdom.
National Archives: The Settlement of the American West
Students will analyze primary sources with an eye for cause-and-effect relationships.They will identify the roles of government policy and technological improvements in the settlement of the West, and explain their impact on Native Americans.
National Archives: Evaluating Perspectives on Westward Expansion
In this activity, students will use primary sources as historical evidence to determine if western expansion was worth it.
National Archives: The Impact of Westward Expansion on Native American Communities
In this activity, students will examine the impact of westward expansion and settlement on Native American communities following the Civil War. Students will explore a variety of documents to get a sense of the issues faced by Native Americans due to settlement and U.S. Government Indian policy.
National Archives: What Else Was Happening During the Civil War Era?
In this activity, students will explore changes that occurred in the United States in the greater context of the Civil War era. Students will gain an understanding of the simultaneous nature of these events and the multifaceted nature of American government during wartime.

General Resources

Transcontinental Railroad Story Map
Created by the Utah Division of State History Antiquities program, this story map offers historical context on how the construction of the railroad was such a watershed event for Utah and the American West. Produced in partnership with Spike150.
Gilder Lehrman History Now
This issue of History Now is devoted to the impact of this most famous moment in American rail history: the joining of the East and the West by the transcontinental railroad. Gilder Lehrman proves lesson plans and images. Some materials require signing up for a free account.
Free downloadable audio tours of Historic Ogden!
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad, What’sHerName Podcast has created two free downloadable audio tours of historic Ogden, Utah, in cooperation with the Weber County Heritage FoundationUnion Station, and the Weber State University Special Collections.
Spike 150
Spike 150 is an initiative of Utah’s Transcontinental Railroad 150th Celebration Commission. The Utah State Legislature and Governor Gary Herbert established the Commission in 2017.
The Great Race to Promontory
Union Pacific railroad presents The 150th Anniversary of Driving the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah.
Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University
The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project seeks to give a voice to the Chinese migrants whose labor on the Transcontinental Railroad helped to shape the physical and social landscape of the American West.
Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
This feature from the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum includes history, exhibits, and photographs.
Westward Expansion, 1860–1890
This interactive map allows you to explore several ways in which the United States experienced substantial growth between the years 1860–1890.
Article: Railroads in Utah
This article from the Utah History Encyclopedia describes the impact that all rail lines, not just the Transcontinental Line, had on Utah.
SPICE Lessons on the Chinese Workers
The Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE), using research and findings from the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University, has created lessons for high school students.   

Places to Visit

Utah State Railroad Museum
In 1988 the State of Utah designated the Union Station in Ogden, Utah as the Utah State Railroad Museum to handle railroad artifacts.
Western Mining and Railroad Museum
This museum is located in Helper, Utah, which got its name because of the engines required to help the trains climb the steep grades to Soldier Summit.
Golden Spike National Historic Site
Visit this historic site to view locomotive demonstrations and reenactments of the driving of the last spike ceremony. The website has good information too.
A World Transformed Exhibition
Visit the large exhibition starting January 2019 at any of it's four locations. A digital format, located at has lessons plans. You can also book a small version to visit your school.


A Peoples' History of Utah: Tying of the Transcontinental Rails
46 seconds
A Peoples' History of Utah: The Coming of the Railroad
30 minutes
Spike 150 Augmentent Reality (AR) Tool
Golden Spike's Unsung Heroes by Max Chang
Where the Railroad Ends by Oakridge Elementary 4th Grade Class



PBS UtahD Promontory

Promontory is a documentary by Ken Verdoia that answered the question, "Why wasn't Brigham Young at Promontory on May 10, 1869?" The program was first broadcast on PBS Utah, Channel 7, in May 2002 (57 minutes).