Theodore Judah

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Theodore Dehone Judah
CPRR Chief Engineer Theodore D. Judah.jpg
T.D. Judah c1862
Born (1826-03-04)March 4, 1826
Bridgeport, Connecticut
Died November 2, 1863(1863-11-02) (aged 37)
New York City
Cause of death
Yellow Fever
Other names "Crazy Judah"
Education Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Occupation Civil engineer
Employer Central Pacific Railroad
Known for railroad pioneer
Title Chief Engineer, CPRR
Spouse(s) Anne Pierce Judah
Signature Theodore D. Judah Signature.png
Sketch of the Sacramento Valley RR as provided by its engineer, Theodore Judah.

Theodore Dehone Judah (March 4, 1826 – November 2, 1863) was an American railroad and civil engineer who was a central figure in the original promotion, establishment, and design of the first Transcontinental Railroad. He found investors for what became the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR). As chief engineer, he performed much of the land survey work to determine the best route for the railroad over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Early life and education[edit]

Theodore Judah was born in 1826 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of an Episcopal clergyman. After his family moved to Troy, New York, Judah studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

At age 21 Judah married Anna Pierce on May 10, 1847. Theirs was the first wedding in the then new St James Episcopal Church of Greenfield,MA.

Career[edit]

After working on a number of railroads in the Northeast, Judah was hired as the Chief Engineer for the Sacramento Valley Railroad in California. It was the first railroad built west of the Mississippi River. Throughout the 1850s, Judah was known as "Crazy Judah" for his idea to build a railroad through and over the Sierra Nevada, a project which many people at the time considered impossible.

CPRR[edit]

As the chief engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR), Judah surveyed the route over the Sierra Nevada along which the railroad was to be built during the 1860s. Failing to raise funds for the project in San Francisco, he succeeded in signing up four Sacramento merchants, known as the "Big Four": Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker. They managed financing and construction of the CPRR.

With their backing, Judah lobbied for federal authorization and government financing of the transcontinental railroad in Washington, D.C.. He contributed to the passage of the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act, which authorized construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. After passage of the 1862 Act, the Big Four marginalized Judah. They put Crocker in charge of construction. Construction was completed in 1869, with virtually the entire course of the railroad having followed Judah's plans.

Death[edit]

Judah died of yellow fever on November 2, 1863. He contracted the disease in Panama while taking a ship voyage with his wife to New York City, apparently becoming infected during their land passage across the Isthmus of Panama. He was traveling to New York to seek alternative financing to buy out the Big Four investors. Abigail took his body back to Greenfield MA, where he was buried in the Pierce family plot in the Federal Street Cemetery.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • The CPRR named one of its steam locomotives (CP No. 4) after him. Judah crossed paths with the 19-ton locomotive bearing his name while on his way to New York.
  • Mount Judah, an 8,245 foot peak in Placer County, CA, located adjacent to Donner Peak and Mount Lincoln in the Sierra Nevada Tahoe National Forest, was formally named for Judah on October 18, 1940 by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.[1][2][3] Running through the mountain about 1,000 below the summit is the 10,322-foot long single track UPRR Sierra Grade Tunnel #41 (aka "The Big Hole") which was opened in 1925 and carries both UPRR freight and Amtrak passenger trains in both directions over Donner Summit between Soda Springs and Eder. This route bypasses the original, now abandoned 1868 CPRR "Summit Tunnel" (#6) surveyed by Judah which is located a mile to the north and had remained in service until 1993.[4]
  • Judah Street in San Francisco and its N-Judah Muni streetcar line are named after him.
  • Memorial plaques dedicated to him have been erected in Folsom and Sacramento.
  • An elementary school in Sacramento, California was named after Judah.[5]

Within days of Judah's death, the CPRR's first locomotive, Gov. Stanford, made a trial run over the new railroad's first 500 feet of track.

Historical analysis[edit]

Theodore Judah monument in Old Sacramento

Historians have been sharply divided over his legacy. They agree that he had a vision, and his optimism helped popularize the remarkable plan of building a transcontinental railroad, convinced the Big Four to finance it, and was instrumental in securing Congressional passage of the 1862 law.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]