JF Ptak Science Books Post 1791 [Part of the History of Dots series.]
Def. 1.1. A point is that which has no part.
Def. 1.2. A line is a breadthless length.
Def. 1.3. The extremities of lines are points
--Euclid, The Elements
Please see the associated post on the History of the West and the History of Lines: Telegraphs, Railraods, Treaties, and Barbed Wire.
I really don't mean to tangle this post up in what might be one of the most profoundly significant books ever written, mainly because the I'm talking about "dots" and not "points", though several points do come into play in the story.
The dots come into the story with the finishing of the great Overland Route, the Transcontinental Railroad, which was built between 18631 and 1869, and which via massive construction tied together various lines to make the fist continuous connections by rail between the American Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The construction for the vast missing connecting chunks were undertaken by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad, building (respectively) their ends extending from Oakland (CA) to Council Bluffs (IA). (A map of the railroad line can be seen below in a clickable whole and then again in the "continued reading" part of the post in more detailed sections. Interestingly this map shows both a plan and profile of the line, and when you take a closer look at the bottom part of the map it is easy then to see why the Central Pacific had so many delays getting through the Sierra Nevada.)
The building of the railroad line was notoriously difficult, undertaken by companies desperate to build their ends fast and not using the best materials or doing the best work (with millions needing to be spent on repair of the Central Pacific effort as soon as the line was completed), or treating the largely immigrant workforce (mainly Chinese and Irish) fairly. But the job did get done and it got done relatively quickly, considering too that the first primitive locomotives didn't appear in the U.S. until 1831--it didn't take long at all to produce thousands of mile of line as well as the sophisticated machinery to run on them. The great engineer Oliver Evans waged a little war on the future by allowing himself to see the following:
"The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines from one city to another, almost as fast as birds can fly, 15 or 20 miles an hour.... A carriage will start from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup in New York the same day.... Engines will drive boats 10 or 12 miles an hour, and there will be hundreds of steamers running on the Mississippi, as predicted years ago." --Oliver Evans, 1800 [Evans built the first stationary steam engine in 1800, and then in 1804 built the first steam engine powered boat.]
He wasn't talking about railroads per se, as the steam locomotive hadn't been invented yet. But 30 years later or so there was the first appearance of these machines, and then another thirty years after that they were running across the United States, which was a remarkable turnaround in the economy of transportation.
The very end of this story though is told in dots. When the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific met in the lonely Promontory Summit, Utah, there was an on-site celebration where the two lines were famously tied together using a golden spike. (Actually there were two gold, one silver one blended gold/silver, and one plain spike used int he ceremony.) The news of the event was carried out to the rest of the country via another new and remarkable medium, the transcontinental telegraph, which had been completed in October 1861 and which allowed nearly simultaneous communication between the two American coasts, with this innovation also taking place about 25 years after the general invention of the telegraph.)
It is interesting to note that it was during the Lincoln administration--in the earliest part of Lincoln's presidency--that these two great unifying elements were established. The railroad was started in the first year of the Civil War, and the telegraph finished just months into the conflict. It is ironic that the first communication going west-to-east by Stephen J. Field (on 24 October 1861) to President Lincoln spoke of the medium's great power in uniting the country, if only East and West: "will be the means of strengthening the attachment which binds both the East and the West to the Union". Which may or may not have been true--communications wouldn't necessarily unite, as the country was already deeply at war with itself North and South, and there were already ample telegraphs enough existing between the two that did not manage to keep the country firmly within itself.
Back to Promontory--the proceedings of the celebration were "broadcast" by telegraph, the event being very heavily listened-to news. There were speeches of course and then toward the end there was a sermon followed by a long entreaty to the almighty. That finished, the Central Pacific top man, Leland Stanford, was to drive home the final golden spike uniting the lines. When the spike was driven and finished, the news would be related by the telegraph as so:
"Dot. Dot. Dot."
Three dots would signal the end of the work, and the completion of the railroad. Stanford reportedly missed on his first swing with his silver hammer, but the news was sent out anyway, saying the work was done. The signifier relating the connection of thousands of miles of railway track being three simple dots.
Hart stereoview #355, detail, "The Last Rail - The Invocation. Fixing the Wire, May 10, 1869."
Courtesy National Park Service. [Source for image, here.]
1. Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862 which set the stage for the building of the Transcontinental.