The Central Pacific and Transcontinental Eleven Step: How to Run a Transcontinental Railroad

Cut paper illustration and animation, 2010.


How did the transcontinental railroad shape our perception of space and time in the American West?

An 11-part illustrated argument that shifts our assumptions about the impact of the Transcontinental Railroad. The easy story frames the famous 1869 meeting of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah as the great unifier of America. The real story is rather different: While regional rail networks often proved profitable, the transcontinental rail line was built far ahead of demand and was initially a failure. The first three decades of the original Pacific Railroad and subsequent transcontinentals were fraught with financial troubles, internal corruption and fierce competition with cheaper, more established shipping routes. It wasn't until nearly 1900, with the appearance of refrigerated cars and a growth in California’s fruit production, that cross-country rail traffic became consistently profitable.

Produced in collaboration with Emily Brodman and Richard White for the Shaping the West project at the Spatial History Lab, now part of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), at Stanford University.

You can see an animation of all 11 illustrations here.

All materials are property of the Spatial History Lab at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford University.