Constructing the Transcontinental Railroad

This digital photo‚Äźarchive consists of images by photographer Andrew J. Russell, taken during the construction of the transcontinental railway in the 1860s.  Russell was one of two photographers commissioned by the two railroad companies doing the construction. In total there were nearly 1300 images taken by these photographers.  Russell’s work is thought to comprise 237 large format photographs, which were the focus of this project.  The project team has digitized close to 200 images made from the original glass plate negatives.  These negatives come from the collection of the Oakland Museum in California.  It is these images that comprise the collection here in the University of Florida’s digital collections.  Subsequently to their availability here, the Oakland Museum made their own scans from the original glass plate negatives.  To view these, and for any reproduction and copyright policy questions of our images, please visit the Museum’s website:

Andrew J. Russell was born on March 20, 1829 in Walpole, New Hampshire. He grew up in New York, where his family worked in canal and railroad construction. Originally a painter, as an army captain during the Civil War he was assigned special duty as the only member of the armed services to serve as a photographer.  After the war, Russell became fascinated with the national project of constructing a transcontinental railroad. During 1868 and 1869, his camera recorded the incredible progress of the Union Pacific Railroad building west from Laramie to Promontory Summit. Covering the May 10, 1869 "Wedding of the Rails" for Frank Leslie's Illustrated, Russell made a series of photographs which included one of the most famous images in American history (Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum:

Dr. Glenn Willumson was a professor of art history and the director of the museum studies program at the University of Florida from 2001 until his retirement in August 2016.  His research interests are in the fields of American visual culture and the history of photography.  Willumson’s long-time interest in the photographs of the first continental railroads led him to write the book, Iron Muse: Photographing the Transcontinental Railroad (2013) in which he analyzed four bodies of images that were commissioned by the two railroad companies building the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s.  Other publications by Willumson include a look at the photography of W. Eugene Smith, various publications on the history of photography, and articles on audiences at university museums.

Dr. Richard Freeman is currently an assistant university librarian and the anthropology subject specialist at the University of Florida.  His background includes degrees in photography, visual and cultural anthropology, and library science.  He has published on the use of photographs in anthropology and is currently working on two visual projects.  One looks at the practice of the Vodou religion in Haiti, Florida, and Cuba, working with Dr. Ben Hebblethwaite, UF professor of cultures and languages.  For the second project he is working with anthropologist Dr. Bill Wood from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  This project is being conducted with members of a cooperative in the coastal community of Ventanilla in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Members are developing an eco-tourism industry and have plans to construct a small museum to supplement their eco-tours in the nearby bay, which also helps them finance their environmental preservation work.

Funding for this project was provided through a Smathers Libraries Mini Grant program,