Thursday, April 26, 2007

Transcontinental Railroad Passenger Lists; First railroad train to San Francisco


My great grandfather Samuel George Sloan came out on the first railroad train to San Francisco, California. I was wondering if you might advise me on how to further research this and maybe where to find passenger lists?

You have a wonderful site!

—Janet M. LaWall


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Thank you for such a great and informative reply.

I shall look into your suggestions and when I locate what I am looking for, I will contact you with the information,

Continued success,

—Janet M. LaWall

4/26/2007 12:41 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Mullaly, Larry"

I am not familiar with the practices of the 1869 San Francisco newspapers. However, within a year or two of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, they would often list the "named passengers" (most likely, traveling first-class) on their pages. Names were taken at Elko or Carlin and then telegraphed ahead to the City. Possibly this was done for the First Train and appeared in the Sacramento Daily Union.

—Larry Mullaly

4/26/2007 9:28 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

One preliminary question: did your gr-great grandfather actually take the first through special excursion train to San Francisco (which wasn't a typical journey) or did he travel like most others as far as Oakland, then board the Central Pacific Railroad's ferry boat to San Francisco? Direct transcontinental trains into San Francisco were rare events; the vast majority of transcontinental trains, after crossing the Sierra Nevada, departed Sacramento south to Stockton then went west over Altamont Pass into Niles Canyon then rolled up through the then-agricultural East Bay district and onto Oakland Pier. To actually travel entirely by railroad into San Francisco meant diverting at Niles Junction for San Jose, then changing trains onto a San Jose-San Francisco local service train. If Mr. Sloan was a member of a special excursion train party, newspapers along the line might have picked up his name.

Unlike 19th century sail and steamship operations, railroads did not generally gather nor publish a passenger list. A passenger sometimes booked a ticket through an agent in larger cities, but in most places just went down to the depot and bought tickets. The best you can hope for, list wise, is to check a larger terminal city newspaper to see if the press picked up or printed the names of arriving (and departing) passengers. Until the novelty of transcontinental train travel wore off circa the late 1870s, big city papers often had beat reporters hanging about in railroad depots to seek out newsworthy names. Small towns, even through the 1920s, did the same for their smaller newspapers to fill local items columns.

The simplicity or complexity of a long railroad journey cross-country depended as much on how much a given passenger chose to spend and the distance of the trip. Not everyone travelled in the same "class." There were luxury cars for the moneyed, plainer day coaches for the masses, and on most of the transcontinental railroads circa-1870-1890 emigrants had their own very plain "emigrant cars" – bare-bones basics that contained wood or (later on) rattan-upholstered seats for use by day and fold-down berths that contained no bedding of any kind – the emigrants had to bring their own.

The vast number of people travelled in day-coaches, which meant sitting and sleeping mostly upright in seats that did not recline for the best part of five days if going coast to coast, and at least a few train changes as the passenger went the entire distance over one railroad then stepped aboard the cars of the connecting railroad. Dining meant bring your own and eat from a "pic-nic" basket on your lap, or hold out for the inconsistent and usually not very good foods offered at key stations along the line where trains crews changed, the engines took fuel and water or where engines were exchanged.

You'd do well to read a few key books on the subject to get the gist of transcontinental rail travel: Reinhardt's Out West on the Overland Train (1967) is one of the oldest, and though now dated remains useful for its comparitive content. Reinhardt republished the 1877 Frank Leslie/Leslie's Illustrated News transcontinental passenger tour and then observed the same rail journey in 1967. You'll still find it in any number of libraries and relatively cheap via online used book dealer's listings. Another excellent book is – a reprint of what thousands of 19th century transcontinental passengers also read before and while traveling – The Pacific Tourist. Originally published by Adams & Bishop in 1884, Bounty Books/Crown Publishers reissued its 370+ pages in 1970. The good thing about the latter book is that it was originally published after the completion of the other major transcontinental railroad lines including the Southern Pacific Railroad (New Orleans-San Antonio-El Paso-Los Angeles) and the Northern Pacific Railroad ([Chicago]-Minneapolis/St.Paul-Yellowstone-Portland/Seattle). There are even some very useful mid-1880s fares tabulated in The Pacific Tourist.

Best wishes as you do your research!


4/26/2007 9:42 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related FAQ.

4/26/2007 9:48 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I will add that in the early days of the new railroad it was not uncommon for the newspapers to list people arriving by train.

This is not systematic nor all-inclusive, but you might get lucky.

The reference to "the first railroad train to San Francisco" is a bit confusing since a number of different events spread over about 6-8 years or more might qualify, depending on what is actually meant. Do you have any information on exactly when this was, where he started from, and whether the train actually came into San Francisco, or whether the trip ended, say, in Oakland or Alameda with a ferry trip to San Francisco – or maybe even a riverboat trip from Sacramento. The transcontinental trains did not actually physically enter San Francisco, although there were other trains that did.


4/26/2007 6:27 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

In the California State Library, at 9th and N St., Sacramento, there are books that name the passengers, from 1869 through 1880 or so. I have seen them, and noted that J H Strobridge rode the rails from time to time.

... there are a couple of books that list the passengers by name, and date of travel. Haven't had the need to use them for several years, so have forgotten the name ...


4/26/2007 8:52 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Can I check these books out? Let me know if you remember anything
additional. Thanks for the info.


4/28/2007 11:09 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

... The books at the California Room of the California State Library are, more than likely, a reprinting of the newspaper articles showing the passenger lists.

My recollection is that they were done by the same fellow that did the ship passenger lists.

Sorry I cannot be of more assistance.


4/28/2007 10:12 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see, research using primary sources.

Also see, 19th century transcontinental railroad first person travel accounts.

4/29/2007 11:32 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Found the following reference:

Railway Passenger Lists of overland trains to San Francisco and the West by Louis J. Rasmussen.

Vol. 1 July 26, 1870 - November 11, 1871. 1966 ISBN 0911792-50-3
Vol. 2 November 12, 1871 to April 23, 1873. 1968 ISBN 0911792-51-1

4/29/2007 12:07 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Thank you very much – you have been a very big help.

—Janet LaWall

5/01/2007 9:48 PM  

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