While reading the fabulous book entitled Mavericks of the Sky, I was intrigued by how the route chosen for the first transcontinental airmail trip was nearly identical to an overland route so often tread by foot, hoof, wagon wheel, rail, electronically, and tire between New York City and San Francisco. The fact that New York City, Cleveland, Chicago, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and San Francisco are situated in close latitude proximity to one another helped secure this route as the first across North America for many forms of transportation. The discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento didn’t hurt any either during the 1840s and 1850s.
Below are a series of maps of the California and Mormon Trails, the Pony Express Trail, the transcontinental telegraph and railroad lines, Lincoln Highway, and Interstate 80. Each of these transcontinental passages follow a virtually identical course, as did nation’s first transcontinental airmail route, which is also depicted.
California Trail (1841)
Mormon Trail (1846)
Pony Express Trail (1860)
Transcontinental Railroad – Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads (1869)
Lincoln Highway (1913)
No map was found, but it connected New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. The photo is from Wendover, Utah.
First Transcontinental Airmail Route – United States Post Office (1920)
Interstate Highway 80 (started in 1952)
An interesting footnote to this list is the nation’s first transcontinental stagecoach service did not follow this same well-worn route. Instead, as the map depicts below, the first transcontinental stagecoach line took a much longer and circuitous southerly route from St. Louis to San Francisco by way of cities like Fort Smith, El Paso, Tucson, Yuma, and Los Angeles.