Theodore Judah

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Theodore Dehone Judah (March 4, 1826–November 2, 1863) was an American railroad engineer who dreamed of the first Transcontinental Railroad. He found investors for what became the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR). As chief engineer, he performed much of the land survey work to determine the best possible route for the railroad over the Sierra Nevada mountains.


Early life and education

Theodore Judah was born in 1826 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of an Episcopal clergyman. After his family moved to Troy, New York, Judah studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute .

On May 10, 1847 at age 21, Judah married Anne Pierce. Twenty-two years later, to the day, some six years after Judah's death, the "golden spike" was driven, completing the Transcontinental Railroad. No one thought to invite Anne to Utah.


After working on a number of railroads in the Northeast, Judah was hired as the Chief Engineer for the Sacramento Valley Railroad in California. It was the first railroad built west of the Mississippi River. Throughout the 1850s, Judah was known as "Crazy Judah" for his idea to build a railroad through and over the wall of mountains known as the Sierra Nevada, a project which many people at the time considered impossible.


As the chief engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad, Judah surveyed the route over the Sierra Nevada along which the railroad was to be built during the 1860s. Failing to raise funds for the project in San Francisco, he succeeded in signing up four Sacramento merchants—the "Big Four": Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker. They managed financing and construction of the CPRR.

With their backing, Judah lobbied for federal authorization and government financing of the transcontinental railroad in Washington, D.C.. He contributed to the passage of the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act, which authorized construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. After passage of the 1862 Act, the Big Four marginalized Judah. They put Crocker in charge of construction. Construction was completed in 1869, with virtually the entire course of the railroad having followed Judah's plans.

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