110 In the Shade: The Golden Spike

Richard Ryan

Look at that Stanford University T-shirt your niece is wearing. Do you know its history? Not the shirt’s manufacture or the university’s reputation, but the history of its founder, Leland Stanford. Robber Baron Leland and his wife, Jane, founded Stanford University. He was a New York transplant who followed the gold rush and built an industrial empire. Stanford’s power emerged from the nexus of business and politics. Leland was both a California governor and U.S. senator.

Stanford was the president of the Southern Pacific (Central Pacific) Railroad when it joined with the Union Pacific to create the nation’s transcontinental railway system. This was a big deal, and it deserved a gold spike to unite the last rail to a railroad tie made of polished California laurel. So Stanford and David Hewes, a San Francisco financier, got to drive the Golden Spike home at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, in 1869. The site is now home to the Golden Spike National Historical Park. Re-enactments of the meeting of the two locomotives are held during the summer.

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