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Building the Transcontinental Railroad

Our Building the Transcontinental Railroad collection showcases business correspondence and financial papers belonging to railroad baron Thomas Durant and documents the construction of the transcontinental line that transformed the nation. A colorful and unscrupulous figure best known for the Crédit Mobilier financial scandal of 1872, Durant holds a place in current pop culture as a character in the AMC television series “Hell on Wheels.” Typical of his high-pressure style is this note to chief engineer Peter Dey (former owner of University of Iowa’s Dey House), who eventually quit the railroad when asked to pad his estimates for work:

“Want preliminary survey at once to make location of starting point. Delay is ruinous. Everything waits for you.” — Thomas Durant letter, 1863

Have a look in this collection and help tell the story of western expansion.