CALIFORNIA (KTXL) — On May 10, 1869 the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean were connected by rail with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad marking a moment of unity just a few years after the conclusion of the Civil War.
After around six years of construction, the iconic meeting of the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento and the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska caused quite the fanfare when the two rail teams met.
On that day four ceremonial spikes were presented to Central Pacific Railroad President Leland Stanford and Union Pacific Vice President Thomas Durant.
Stanford was presented with two golden spikes for California and Durant was given a silver spike for Nevada and a gold-silver spike for Arizona.
But whatever happened to these emblematic spikes?
The Last Spike
One of the spikes was the brainchild of Stanford’s brother-in-law David Hewes, who was also a prominent figure in San Francisco and Oakland.
Hewes was a great supporter of the cross-country rail line and was disappointed when he found there was no commemorative item to mark the completion of the railroad.
Using $400 of his own gold, Hewes hired William T. Garatt Foundry of San Francisco to cast the golden spike. The 17.6 carat gold spike measured 5 5/8 inches long and weighed 14.03 ounces.
Engravings were made on all four sides of the spike and its top. Two sides have the name of railroad officers and directors.
Another side has a message reading:
“The Pacific Railroad ground broken Jan 8th 1863 and completed May 8th 1869.”
The final side was engraved with:
“May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world. Presented David Hewes San Francisco.”
Not wanting to damage the spike Stanford only took light blows against the spike with the ceremonial silver-plated hammer.
After the ceremony, the spikes were removed and put on display for a short time until Hewes’ golden spike was given to David Hewes.
Leland Stanford Junior University would receive The Last Spike in 1892 when David Hewes donated it to the university. Today it resides in the universities Cantor Arts Center.
The Lost Spike, twin of the Last Spike
For more than 100 years it was unknown that Hewes had a golden spike made at the same time The Last Spike was made.
A copy of the bill from Schulz, Fischer and Mohrig silver ware from May 4, 1869 reads “Finishing 2 Gold Spikes” which led historians to believe there was a second golden spike somewhere in the world.
In 2005, fifth-generation dependents of Hewes placed the spike on consignment with a South California antiques dealer and attempted to sell the spike to the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian turned down the offer to purchase the spike, but did tip off staff at the California State Railroad Museum of the never before seen spike.
In November 2005, the California State Railroad Museum purchased the spike for an unknown amount of money and have it on display today at their location in Old Town Sacramento.
Some key differences separate The Last Spike and The Lost Spike.
The Last Spike has the completion date of the railroad as May 8, 1869 and the Lost Spike has the completion date as May 10, 1869.
The Lost Spike has the proper date as the scheduled completion date of May 8, 1869 was postponed by two days. This indicates that The Lost Spike was engraved after the ceremony.
Also, the engraving on The Last Spike is described as “crude” due to the hurried nature of its making. The Lost Spike’s engraving is more precise due to the fact that it happened after the ceremony and had no need to be rushed.
Finally The Lost Spike still retains the spur at the tip of the spike, a left over from the casting process. The spur was knocked off of the end of The Last Spike as it was used in the ceremony.
The San Francisco News Letter Golden Spike
The second golden spike that Stanford was given during the ceremony was commissioned by Frederick Marriott, founder of the San Francisco News Letter.
This spike was smaller and valued at half the amount of The Last Spike. It was 5-inches long, weighed 9 1/2 ounces and made from $200 worth of gold.
It also had an inscription that read:
“With this spike the San Francisco News Letter offers its homage to the great work which has joined the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This month-May, 1869.”
Following the ceremony it is unclear what came of this second golden spike. It is believed that it was given to a Union Pacific dignitary or sent back to the News Latter where it may have been destroyed in the 1906 fire of San Francisco.
The Silver Spike of Nevada
This forged silver spike was commissioned by F.A. Trittle on May 5, 1869, 25 ounces of silver was provided by Virginia City assayers E. Ruhling and Co. and Robert Lodge of Dowling Blacksmith Shop forged the silver into a 6-inch long and 10 1/2 ounce spike.
At the time Trittle was the Railroad Commissioners and a candidate for Governor of the newly formed state of Nevada.
Following the ceremony the spike was sent back to Virginia City where it was polished and engraved by Nye and Co. jewelers.
The engraving reads:
“To Leland Stanford President of the Central Pacific railroad. To the iron of the East and the gold of the West Nevada adds her link of silver to span the continent and wed the oceans.”
Today the silver spike lives along side The Last Spike at Candor Arts Center at Stanford University.
Arizona’s multi-alloy spike
Deciding to approach their spike a little but differently, Arizona’s Governor Anson P.K. Safford commissioned a iron spike to be plated on the top in gold and the lower section in silver.
It is unknown who made the spike and when it was made, but the engraving on the spike reads:
“Ribbed with iron clad in silver and crowned with gold Arizona presents her offering to the enterprise that has banded a continent and dictated a pathway to commerce. Presented by Governor Safford.”
Following the ceremony it is unknown what became of the multi-metal spike, but today it is on display at the Museum of the City of New York.