The Northern Pacific Railway 1864–1970

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Map Code: Ax02045

Approved in 1864, work did not begin on the Northern Pacific Railroad until 1870, owing to what would become a perennial struggle for financing. Intended to link the Great Lakes with the Puget Sound on the Pacific, the designated route traversed some of America’s most rugged wilderness: early work parties needed constant US Cavalry protection against Indian attack. The project twice lapsed into receivership, in 1875 and 1893, driving celebrated financier Jay Cooke into bankruptcy, and his successor, Henry Villard, to a nervous breakdown. Part of the railroad’s stated mission was to tame the wilderness; it was given possession of vast tracts of hinterland for sale to settlers. The most challenging link was achieved by blasting a tunnel through Stampede Pass in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains (1886). Initially uneconomic, the opening of links to Texas and Chicago in the early 20th century, and the sale of valuable timber tracts, rendered it commercially viable at last. In 1970 it was part of a consolidation of railways that created the Burlington Northern Railroad.

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