A World Transformed: The Transcontinental Railroad and Utah


Transcontinental Railroad Exhibit Graphic

May 10, 2019, marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first North American transcontinental railroad. Most people know of the ceremony at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869, where the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads joined and where a solid gold railroad spike became the symbol for the completion of the railroad. What many people don’t know is that Utahns played a major role with the transcontinental railroad through investment, surveying, and labor. In turn, the railroad brought significant cultural, economic, and environmental changes to the state. Utah became less isolated and more connected to the rest of the nation. Eastern goods could be shipped quickly and cheaply to Utah, and Utah products became available to a national market. The railroad both challenged and strengthened the religious status quo, by diversifying the state and changing what it meant to be a Latter-day Saint.

The Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University and the Utah Division of State History have partnered to create A World Transformed: the Transcontinental Railroad and Utah, which shares the story of Utah’s contribution to the transcontinental railroad and the railway’s transformational effects on the state. It draws upon many rich historical resources held by different institutions across Utah and the United States, including diaries, letters, photographs, maps, art, and lithographs. In addition to providing a historical background for the transcontinental railroad and discussing the many changes it brought to Utah, it also examines certain topics in depth such as surveying, laborers, railroad photography, and the Ghost Dance, through the eyes of individuals whose lives were forever changed.

A World Transformed will travel throughout Utah from January 2019 to March of 2020. A condensed version of the exhibit is available for booking through the Utah Division of Arts & Museums’ Traveling Exhibitions Program.

Exhibition Credits

  • Dan Davis (Curator)
  • Frankie Urrutia-Smith (Curator)
  • Tess Cramer (Project Manager)
  • Mikkel Robb (Graphic Design)
  • Devin Greener (Preparator and Photographer)
  • Darcy Pumphrey (Digital Team)
  • Alison Gardner (Digital Team) 
  • Maren Anderson (Scanning Technician)
  • Jon L. Hunt (Scanning Technician)
  • Megan Wilson (Scanning Technician)