At Promontory, Utah, a golden spike was driven to finish the first coast-to-coast railroad in the United States. Until then, travel across the continent was by horse, wagon, or walking. Merchandise and building materials, and sometimes people, could travel by ship, but sailing was not a fast way to go and was expensive. Ships loaded on the eastern shore had to then sail around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America and back up the west coasts of South America before docking at a western port such as San Francisco.
At the Golden Spike National Historic Site, the ceremonial meeting of a locomotive from each of the competing companies is semi-recreated each day. In 1869, the Union Pacific No 119, coming from the east, and the Central Pacific's Jupiter, coming from the west, met head to head, and the final golden spike was driven into the tie to signify the connection of the two ends of the continent.
And with this completion came the real opening of the west. Goods, services, and people could make the trip more quickly, with less loss of goods, and in more safety. The west would never be the same.