Peter Peterson - Union Pacific Railroad Pioneer
ENTERED UNION PACIFIC SERVICE IN 1864
Peter Peterson, pensioned patternmaker, Omaha, enjoys the distinction of having entered the the service of the Union Pacific at an earlier date than any man now living. In 1864, at the age of 19, he went to work on the original grade of the road. This was five years before the driving of the golden spike. Later he went to work at the Omaha shops, where he continued until he retired in 1912. He was born March 5, 1845, in Sweden. Mr. Peterson passed through all of the trying vicissitudes which accompanied the efforts of the pioneers to build up the road and make it what it is today, and has many tales to tell of the days when the great Overland Route was still an unrealized dream.
Peter Peterson Began Work on Railroad in 1864; Still Hale
Omaha World-Herald, March 6, 1935
Peter Peterson, 3202 Miami street, who entered the employ of the Union Pacific railroad at an earlier date than any other man now living, was 90 years old yesterday. Peter Peterson, then 19, came from Sweden with his parents in 1864, and arrived at Omaha via steamboat from St. Joseph. They took rooms in a "row" at Eighteenth and Cass streets. Some capitalists were talking about building a railroad west of here, to unite the Atlantic and Pacific. Peter Peterson was asked if he wished to help. Since he was too young to file for a homestead, as did the rest of the men in his party, he accepted the job. So it was that he went to work on the original grade of the Union Pacific more than five years before the historic Golden Spike was driven. The young emigrant was put to work with pick and shovel cutting brush, out where the right-of-way now crosses South Twentieth street. He worked 10 hours a day, and received $2. From there his crew moved out to the present crossing with the Burlington, and from there out to the Little Pappio. They worked out on the Pappio for months, till February in fact, when a terrible rain came and washed out all the work they had done. The crew was next moved to South Omaha, where horses and scrapers supplanted wheelbarrows and shovels. Peter Peterson and his chum were both seized with typhoid fever. The chum was taken to a hospital and died; Peterson laid around in the workmen's shanties, nearly dead, but pulled through. After the typhoid, Peterson resumed the carpenter trade, which he had begun in Sweden. He built several houses in Omaha. One of them, originally erected at Eighteenth and Burt streets about 1869, was moved later to East Omaha, where it still stands. Mr. Peterson well remembers the furor when the Golden Spike was driven. He was working on the tower on the old Central High school at the time. Shortly thereafter, he returned to work on the Union Pacific as a carpenter. Union Pacific service has become a tradition in the Peterson family. One son, William L. Peterson, 4611 North Twenty-ninth street, has been with the company 45 years. Another son, Edwin R. Peterson, has 25 years service to his credit. A third son, Henry, who died in 1919, was with the system almost 30 years. The two remaining sons are farmers near Hooper, Neb. Mr. Peterson still has a steady hand, shaving himself twice weekly.
return to family picture page
return to HistoricOmaha.com homepage