1886 Skeleton Map of the Union Pacific Railway

This is a promotional skeleton map of the Union Pacific Railway, touted as “the most popular transcontinental line.” The map was published in 1886 by Matthews, Northrup & Co., Buffalo, NY for the Union Pacific Railway. The rail route is depicted in red, with white circles and black text indicating each stop. A topographic profile runs along the bottom of the map, extending from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Francisco, California. The well-executed profile identifies important towns, flora and fauna, and natural resources along the route. It presents both an elevation chart and illustrations of mountains themselves.

The map is filled with numerous pictorial scenes from the Great Plains and the West, including harvesting and plowing scenes, buffaloes, a cowboy, Salt Lake City, Alpine Pass, Garfield Landing, Native American figures, Shoshone Falls, Mt. Hood, Yosemite, and Mining in California, among others. A pair of vignettes titled “The New Way” and “The Old Way” appears at the bottom of the map and touts the success and ease of rail travel. The former depicts a locomotive gliding forward unencumbered; the latter shows a team of horses and carts struggling over rough terrain.

The Union Pacific Rail Road was founded in July of 1862, during the second year of the American Civil War.  It was incorporated under an act of Congress, the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. The act was approved by President Lincoln and provided for the construction of railroads from the Missouri River to the Pacific as a war measure for the preservation of the Union. The Union Pacific was constructed in two parts, westward from Council Bluffs, Iowa to meet the Central Pacific Railroad line, which was constructed eastward from Sacramento, California. The railroad tycoon Leland Stanford drove the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory on May 10, 1869, connecting the lines and creating the first transcontinental railroad. 

Combined, the Union Pacific-Central Pacific Railway line became known as the Overland Route. By the late 1800s, the Union Pacific was not the only fully linked line leading westward, as both the Northern Pacific and the Southern Pacific were in operation, and appear in this map. Even so, none of the competing routes offered the size and flexibility of the Union Pacific. By the early 20th century the Union Pacific had merged with or absorbed many competing lines and still operates today as one of the world's largest railroads.


Offset lithograph with original printed color. Color is vibrant. Toning is light. Minor wear at folds and small stain in upper left margin. Map has been archivally framed in a custom-built wooden frame and linen top mat. Framed dimensions: 15 1/2" H x 31" W.

Related Items

Subscribe and save!

Sign up for our emails to receive exclusive flash sales! Get 50% off list price of incredible pieces, only offered to our subscribers.