Major General Grenville Mellen Dodge

Major General Grenville Mellen Dodge—it is a name that is indelibly linked to the opening of the West as a result of Dodge's work on the Union Pacific creating the continent’s first transcontinental railroad. Grenville M. Dodge was born on April 12, 1831, in Danvers, Massachusetts. At the age of fourteen, he began working on a local farm. Here he was introduced to railroading when a farmer’s son asked him to help lay a short stretch of track. The work excited him... and Dodge’s future soon became clear.

After his brief stint as a tracklayer, Dodge decided to become an engineer. He studied in New Hampshire and Vermont before attending a private engineering school, from which he graduated as a qualified surveyor. In 1851, he moved to Peru, Illinois, to perform surveys. He soon entered railroading, working for the Illinois Central and then the Rock Island Railroad. In 1853, Dodge took charge of a crew surveying central Iowa to find a terminus for the Rock Island Railroad on the Missouri River. Dodge chose Council Bluffs, Iowa, as that ending point, and he settled his growing young family there in 1855. In Council Bluffs, he created a banking house which later merged into the Pacific National Bank. Dodge made the acquaintance of railroad lawyer Abraham Lincoln, who was also interested in establishing a transcontinental route. They met in the White House in 1863, shortly before President Lincoln declared Omaha, across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs, as the eastern end of the new transcontinental.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Dodge went into service with 600 other engineers. Dodge began as Colonel of the 4th Iowa infantry. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1862 and on June 7, 1864, he became a Major General. While in the service, he directed the rebuilding of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and the Richfield & Decatur line. He also oversaw the construction of a number of pontoon bridges but was severely injured in the Battle of Atlanta in 1864. Two years later, General Sherman granted Dodge a leave of absence from the army to enable him to join the Union Pacific as chief engineer.

At the time he took control of the Union Pacific, only 40 miles of track had been laid. Dodge, therefore, demanded absolute control as the chief engineer because he knew from previous experience in the military that divided commands fail. Using his surveys, the Union Pacific laid 240 miles of track in 1867 and 260 miles in 1868. On May 10, 1869, the lines of the two companies building the transcontinental met at Promontory Summit in Utah. The final golden spike was driven in by Dodge and Samuel S. Montague, his counterpart on the Central Pacific.

Dodge resigned from the Union Pacific in 1870, though he continued to serve as a director until 1897. He contributed to the construction of the Texas & Pacific, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas, and the Fort Worth & Denver City, and consulted for more than thirty other roads. Between 1874 and 1879, Dodge visited Europe and conferred with German and Italian engineers who were building a tunnel under the Alps. He also assisted in the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Dodge lived out his final years at home in Council Bluffs. He was bedridden with cancer in 1914 and died in 1916. He received a full military funeral with over 2,000 people in attendance.

For more information, visit:

The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa

Five-volume typescript autobiography of Grenville Mellen Dodge (1831-1916)

Encyclopedia Britannica: Grenville Mellen Dodge

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