Stanford
JULY 25, 2014
Visualization
Distribution of Union Pacific Stockholders by City (1869)
Distribution of Union Pacific Stockholders by City (1869)

Authors: Evgenia Shnayder, Toral Patel, Killeen Hanson, and Richard White

On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah, Americans finished the first transcontinental railroad by joining the Union Pacific (built west from Omaha) and the Central Pacific (built east from Sacramento).

The distribution of stockholders for the Union Pacific is both revealing and deceptive. This map shows a concentration of stockholders in New York and in New England, particularly in the vicinity of Boston. This reveals the way ownership of the Union Pacific concentrated in a small section of the country. However, the map is deceptive because it tempts us to conclude that the it depicts the investment of capital in the road. In fact, not all of these stockholders had bought their stock. Many of the largest stockholders had invested little or nothing in the Union Pacific; they had bought stock in the Credit Mobilier, the insider construction company that had reaped large profits from building the road and then ended up controlling the stock in the railroad. The Credit Mobilier had then distributed this stock to its investors.

The map then is not so much a map of capital invested as a map of how the West got a federally financed railroad and the East got insider networks which controlled it.

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