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Derek Miller: The Golden Spike marks Utah's greatest leap forward

The world changed on May 10, 1869, with the driving of the Golden Spike and the uniting of a nation. The first transcontinental railroad happened in Utah’s backyard. At the time, Promontory Point was in the middle of nowhere. It still is. If you have never been there, you should go, and you should prepare for a long drive, about two hours longer than you think. I don’t care how long you think it will take, plan for an extra two hours. And plan to be amazed when you get there.

The drive is well worth it. We are not just talking about history. We are talking about groundbreaking, earth-shaking history. Only a few events can lay claim to great leaps forward and the transcontinental railroad has a rightful place in that pantheon. One hundred years earlier, 13 colonies were beginning a journey to become the United States. One hundred years later, those United States put a man on the moon.

The transcontinental railroad stands alone as the greatest leap forward in the nation’s economic progress. With the driving of the Golden Spike, crossing the country went from weeks to hours. It is hard to imagine the scope of progress and innovation in the intervening 150 years, from the industrial revolution, air and space flight, electrification and of course the information age. It is even harder to imagine what the next 150 years will bring.

Equally challenging to predicting future innovations, is predicting how those innovations will be used. At the 1962 World’s Fair, new phones were showcased that would eliminate rotary dials. The prediction was true enough, except the new innovation that would supposedly revolutionize the industry was punch cards. As the creators of the first personal computer theorized how their innovation might be used, the best idea they could come up with was housewives using the machines to store recipes.

Utah played a pivotal role in that great leap forward in 1869. What role will the state have in today’s complex and quickly changing world? Looking to the past can provide clarity to our future. Utah was the obvious place to join both the transcontinental railroad and the transcontinental telegraph (check it out the next time you’re walking down Main Street in Salt Lake City). Utah’s strategic location truly makes it the Crossroads of the West. It was true in the pioneer westward expansion. It was true with the Pony Express, the railroad, the interstate freeway system and the nation’s high-speed fiber network. And it remains true today with the building of an inland port that will magnify Utah’s position as a center of commerce in the western United States.

Utah has been connected to the world since early in its founding. Utah was settled by thousands who came from faraway places around the world. Today, thousands of Utahns go out to the world and return home with newfound diversity of thought and experience. In the future, thousands will continue to relocate to Utah as modern-day pioneers. All of this enhances our state’s richness.

In a few weeks Utah will celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike and the beginning of Utah’s connection to the world. In addition to reflecting on the state’s past, let us take the opportunity to look to our future and focus on how those connections contribute to our ongoing opportunity and prosperity.