Church History

“Railroad,” Church History Topics



Fourteen years after the Latter-day Saints had first entered the Salt Lake Valley, the American Civil War broke out, and United States government officials sought to improve the nation’s young railway infrastructure to assist the war effort. A new law created a railroad bonanza, with over 100 million acres of public land offered to companies to lay track.1

Many Latter-day Saints in Utah Territory feared that the rapidly expanding railroad system would bring hostile outsiders or worldly influences that would disrupt religious and economic life in the settlements. But Brigham Young also saw how this new means of transportation could greatly benefit the work of the Church. Railroad company managers approached Brigham Young in 1868 about completing a line that would connect the eastern United States with the Pacific coast—a “transcontinental” network. Young had promoted the railroad coming through Utah as early as a decade before, and he urged the Saints to contribute to its construction. He signed contracts with the Union Pacific and Central Pacific companies, pledging a total of 5,000 men to help finish over 350 miles of track.2

Less than a year later, on May 10, 1869, the final rail tie was placed at Promontory Summit in northern Utah, officially completing the transcontinental railroad. The presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific companies credited the Saints with clearing the final obstacles. The railroad immediately benefitted the work of the Church, as one week later, Latter-day Saint workers began construction on an extension connecting the transcontinental line to Salt Lake City. Transportation of commodities to and from Utah improved. An additional rail line was completed in 1871 that facilitated the hauling of stone from Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Salt Lake Temple site. Missionaries traveled to and within assigned missions more easily. Migrant Saints no longer had to make the journey to Utah by wagon team or handcart, ending the overland travel era. What took several months to cross by wagon in 1847 could now be traversed in just a few days by rail.

crowd of people and trains

The joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit in northern Utah on May 10, 1869.


  1. See Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011), 24.

  2. Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), 258–65.