Just four years after the war that nearly tore the nation apart, the fledgling railroad industry helped bind it together again. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, with the gentle tapping of four precious metal spikes into a laurelwood tie, the first transcontinental railroad was completed. Perhaps in reference to the Civil War, the official Golden Spike was engraved, “May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.”
The two engines that touched noses at the Golden Spike ceremony, coming from east and west, were both 4-4-0’s — a wheel arrangement celebrated in Currier & Ives prints and so prevalent on U.S. railroads that it was called the American. The 4-4-0 was the passenger engine of the last half of the nineteenth century. It carried the nation westward, transported millions of Americans out of their home towns for the first time, and hauled a good deal of freight as well. Often beautifully colored and pinstriped, the 4-4-0 steam engine became a symbol of U.S. railroading.
The Pennsylvania Railroad, never one to do things in a small way, built or bought over 1500 Americans between 1849 and 1910. For five decades, engines of this wheel arrangement were the road’s principal passenger power. Some remained in local service as late as World War II.