Architect of the Railroad

Theodore Judah
1826 - 1863

Theodore Judah is the unsung hero of the western railroad.  It was Judah's vision and planning that made it possible for the Big Four to build the rail line through the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Judah was a civil engineer and a surveyor from Connecticut.  He came to Sacramento in the 1850s to work on the Sacramento Valley Railroad.  He was surveying a wagon road through the Sierra Nevadas when he discovered a feasible path for a railroad line through the Donner Pass. 


With financial backing from four Sacramento merchants – Huntington, Hopkins, Stanford and Crocker – Judah headed to WashingtonD.C.   In 1862, President Lincoln signed the first of five Pacific Railway Acts granting the partners right of way and government financing to build a railroad west along Judah’s route.


Judah returned to California to find that his four partners had put Crocker, better at  bribery and cutting corners than Judah, in charge of construction.  FuriousJudah sailed back to New York to look for financing to buy out the Big Four and reclaim his railroad.  He died of yellow fever on the ship. 
Photo courtesy:  San Francisco Public Library History Center, San Francisco Public Library

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