A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


It’s almost impossible to image what Oakland would look like today if the Western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad hadn’t been established here in 1869. Where there had once been marshy wetlands, industry rushed in to build factories at this nexus of steel and sea. The railroad connected a broken country still recovering from the Civil War and solidified Oakland’s position as a hub of global commerce, for better or worse.

Oakland didn’t choose this destiny for itself – the decision was made by “The Big Four,” a cadre of robber barons who controlled the Central and Southern Pacific Railroad lines (and a host of related shell companies). This episode features an interview with Roland De Wolk, author of “American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford,” a new book that explores the life of the man who served as president of the railroad companies as well as senator and governor of California. De Wolk also highlights undeniable parallels between the Big Four’s predatory, monopolistic ethos and today’s Silicon Valley business culture.

The seed of Big Tech was planted by Leland Stanford and the university he founded. And just like during the Gilded Age, the East Bay is being impacted by tycoons disconnected from what their decisions mean to people living here. As Richard White, a Professor of American History at Stanford, wrote about the railroad bosses, “They laid hands on technology they did not understand, initiated sweeping changes, and saw these changes often take on purposes they did not intend.” Listen to the interview here or on your preferred podcast app.

East Bay Yesterday can’t survive without your support. Please donate to keep this show alive: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday

“If one person can personify the epic historic evolution of agrarian, adolescent America into industrial world power USA, there is no better avatar than Leland Stanford.” [Caption: Roland De Wolk, Image: UC Press]
The Central Pacific Train Depot at 7th & Adeline St. in Oakland. William Keith painted this in 1867, two years before the Transcontinental Railroad was first connected in Utah. [Image: Oakland Museum of California]
Before the Oakland Terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, trains completed their journey at the foot of Pacific Ave. in Alameda. [Image: Oakland History Room] 
In 1870, passengers continuing on to San Francisco needed to disembark at the Oakland Wharf and then take a ferry across the Bay to reach their final destination. [Image: Oakland History Room]
The previous photo above inspired this image on my Long Lost Oakland map, which is now available to purchase at Wolfman Books. If you missed the Long Lost Oakland podcast miniseries, you can listen here. [Illustration: T.L. Simons]
“Originally constructed in 1873, this building at 464-468 7th Street (near Broadway) was the Oakland train station for the Central Pacific Railway. In 1885 Southern Pacific took over the Depot. In 1939, the building became the new location for Mi Rancho market.” [Caption via Oakland Wiki; Image via Oakland History Room; Image restoration courtesy of Bennett Hall.]
The Stanford University museum was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, one of many setbacks the institution faced in its early years. [Image: Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries]

East Bay Yesterday can’t exist with your support! If you enjoy the episode, please donate: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday


Leland Stanford, the original tech bro
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