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Theodore D. Judah

AKA Theodore Dehone Judah

Born: 4-Mar-1826
Birthplace: Bridgeport, CT
Died: 2-Nov-1863
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Yellow Fever [1]
Remains: Buried, Federal Street Cemetery, Greenfield, MA

Gender: Male
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Engineer, Activist
Party Affiliation: Republican

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: American Transcontinental Railroad

In his early career as a civil engineer, Theodore D. Judah worked on construction of the Niagara Gorge Railroad and helped build the Erie Canal, but his dream was to construct an American railroad that would span the continent from ocean to ocean. Proponents called it "the most magnificent project ever conceived", while opponents derided him as "Crazy Judah", but he almost single-handedly advanced the debate from questions and skepticism to a specific, well-detailed financial and geographic plan, which was published in 1857 and widely distributed to financiers and politicians.

In 1860 Judah met with four money men dry goods merchant Charles Crocker, hardware magnates Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington, and lawyer and future California Governor Leland Stanford and convinced them to establish the Central Pacific Railroad. Still, despite a nationwide railroad boom and a growing consensus that the project would be profitable, major funding was impossible to find. Judah was sent to Washington DC to lobby for passage of the Pacific Railroad Bill, which was finally signed in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, and provided funding and land grants. As the Central Pacific Railroad's chief engineer Judah surveyed the route over the Sierra Nevada mountains, a complex task indeed, as the rail's path needed to safely climb and descend some 7,000 feet over the summit, while never exceeding a slope of 105 feet in any single mile.

Just months after construction of the Transcontinental Railroad finally began in 1863, Judah took a long ocean voyage from San Francisco around South America to the New York City, where he hoped to meet with railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt and secure more funding for the project. He became ill as the ship briefly docked at the isthmus of Panama, and died shortly after arriving on the East Coast, at 37 years of age. His assistant, Samuel Skerry Montague, was promoted to Chief Engineer and oversaw construction of the Transcontinental Railroad until its completion in 1869. Judah is the namesake of Judah Street in San Francisco, where the N-Judah commuter train makes 130 round trips daily from downtown to the Ocean.


[1] Panama fever, according to contemporary reports. In modern medical parlance this is generally called yellow fever, though some obituaries at the time reported that Judah died of typhoid, a different disease.

Father: Henry Raymond Judah (Christian minister, b. 20-Jan-1794, d. 2-Nov-1836)
Mother: Mary Jane Reece Judah (b. circa 1802, d. 26-Apr-1872)
Brother: Henry Moses Judah (US Army officer, b. 12-Jun-1821, d. 14-Jan-1866)
Brother: Charles David Judah (attorney, b. 16-May-1823, d. 1877)
Brother: Edward Douglas Judah (b. 24-Aug-1828)
Sister: Harriet Bronson Judah Trask (b. circa 1831)
Sister: Elizabeth Judah (b. circa 1833)
Sister: Charlotte Jessup Judah Beardsley (b. circa 1834)
Brother: Sutherland Douglas Judah (hardware merchant, b. circa 1834)
Wife: Anna Ferona Pierce Judah (b. 30-Jun-1828, m. 10-May-1847, d. 2-Sep-1895, no children)

    University: BS Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1847)

    Central Pacific Co-Founder and Chief Engineer (1861-63)
    California Central Railroad Chief Engineer (1858-60)
    T. D. Judah & Company Proprietor (1857-61)
    Sacramento Valley Railroad Engineer (1854-58)
    Buffalo & New York Railway Engineer (1851-54)
    Troy & Schenectedy Railroad Engineer (1847-51)
    Jewish Ancestry Paternal
    Spanish Ancestry
    Portuguese Ancestry
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
A Practical Plan for Building the Pacific Railroad (1857)


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