Overland to California: Commemorating the Transcontinental Railroad draws from the California Historical Society’s vast archival and photographic collections to consider railroad’s impact on the industry and culture of California. Featuring photographs, stereocards, historical objects, and ephemera, this exhibition explores how rail access to California contributed not only to population growth and industrial development, but also to the construction of the state’s enduring mythology as a tourist destination and land of opportunity. Overland to California will also examine the railroad’s complex labor history, taking into consideration the immigrant populations who built its infrastructure, as well as the scandals surrounding the monopolistic practices of the so-called “Big Four”: Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins.
“We might assume that the expansion of the railroads into California was inevitable, or that it was an overwhelmingly popular decision,” says Natalie Pellolio, Assistant Curator at the California Historical Society. “But its construction was highly contentious at the time, and the major railroad companies relied on promotional materials and publicity stunts to help sway public opinion in their favor.”
The exhibition features important archival material from CHS’s permanent collection including a mammoth plate photograph by Carleton Watkins and an Edweard Muybridge photograph of the second United States Mint building in San Francisco, as well as a first edition copy of Frank Norris’ 1901 novel, The Octopus. Also in the exhibited is a 9.25 ounce gold spike, the last to be driven into the railroad that connected Los Angeles and San Francisco on September 5th, 1876, thereby joining Los Angeles to the East Coast. The spike was donated to CHS by an heir of railroad magnate Charles Crocker in 1956. It will be on view during special events and viewing days during the run of the exhibition.