Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way
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Alexander Gardner
American, 1867
Albumen print
13 x 18 11/16 in.

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On a bleak midwestern prairie, Alexander Gardner photographed workers laying track for the Union Pacific Railroad. A close look at the labor force reveals the cultural diversity of workers employed by the railroad companies, who advertised far and wide for able-bodied, adventurous men.

In the foreground, parallel wooden cross-ties are being laid in preparation for the iron track. Once the track was laid, the supply engine in the background could move forward. This ongoing system continued until the Union Pacific reached Promontory Summit, Utah, where it joined the Central Pacific rails that had been laid eastward from Sacramento, California. The meeting of the rails marked the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.