The Waterfront Changes Hands  

Horace Carpentier held onto Oakland's waterfront until 1868 when he sold his control of the waterfront to the Central Pacific Railroad. His deal with the railroad was a key element in persuading the railroad to choose Oakland for the terminus of the transcontinental railroad. Carpentier benefited handsomely from the deal but so did Oakland.

The transcontinental railroad cut travel time between California and the East Coast from 118 days to 6 days. The economic benefit for Oakland, at the end of the rails, was enormous as travelers and freight flowed through the city and its waterfront. Hotels, restaurants, barber shops, drug stores and other services for travelers sprang up around the 7th Street depot. Attracted by railroad jobs at the Central Pacific yards in West Oakland and by business opportunities spurred by the flow of goods and raw materials, legions of newcomers swelled the population of Oakland which grew from 1,543 in 1860 to 34,555 in 1880.

The waterfront and the railroad were closely connected. Trains traveled straight down 7th Street to the Long Wharf that jutted two miles out into the Bay. The Long Wharf was a hub of shipping activity with acres of cargo sheds and hundreds of longshore jobs. Carpentier's lucrative ferry service now belonged to the railroad. By 1877, over 4 million passengers a year were commuting on ferries between San Francisco and Oakland.

The railroad's economic resources, including control of Oakland's waterfront, gave it enormous political power in the city. And the railroad used its power to make sure its own economic interests were served, regardless of the impact on the public good. Competitors were not tolerated. For example, in 1893, John L. Davie launched the "Nickel Ferry" from the Franklin St. pier in an attempt to break the railroad monopoly on ferry service to San Francisco. But the railroad had the resources to win in a fare war and drove Davie out of business in a couple of years. Political opposition was not tolerated. Newspaper accounts tell of railroad workers marched to the voting booths to follow their employer's instructions. City politicians were regularly described as "railroad men" who voted against any measure that might curtail railroad profits.

The railroad's ruthless control fueled numerous attempts to oust them. Opposition to the railroad usually met defeat. But by the end of the century, the political forces of the Progressive Movement were determined to break the power of Central Pacific's successor, the Southern Pacific Railroad.

From Beth Bagwell, Oakland, The Story of a City

Oakland Museum of California Logo  "Walk Along the Water"
  Oakland Museum of California, used with permission.

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