Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 1 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas DurantHell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 1 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant

Thomas Durant is not just one of Hell on Wheels' most compelling characters -- he was actually a fascinating real-life player in the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. Click through this gallery to see artifacts from the real Thomas Durant's life.
Photo by Levi Leonard Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries

Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 2 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas DurantHell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 2 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant

Thomas Durant (seated) on an excursion to one of the camps along the Union Pacific railroad.
Photo by Levi Leonard Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries

Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 3 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas DurantHell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 3 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant

Thomas Durant’s Nov. 3 letter pressuring Union Pacific Chief Engineer Peter Dey comes one month before ground was broken for the railroad. As the date of the ground breaking ceremony drew nearer, Durant's Nov. 30 letter continues to escalate the pressure on Dey. In the end, the ceremony was successful, although the actual starting point was still not established.

Nov. 3 letter (left): "Want preliminary survey at once to make location of starting point. Delay is ruinous. Everything waits for you."
Nov. 30 letter (right): "You are behind time for so important an enterprise. Break ground on Wednesday."
Photo by Levi Leonard Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries

Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 4 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas DurantHell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 4 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant

Portion of a receipt from Thomas Durant’s credit account at Tiffany’s in 1863, showing charges including $550 for a bracelet, $1350 for diamond earrings, and other charges all made during the year preceding Union Pacific groundbreaking.
Photo by Levi Leonard Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries

Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 5 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas DurantHell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 5 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant

Stock certificate for the Crédit Mobilier of America construction company, formed by Thomas Durant and George Francis Train in 1864.
Photo by Levi Leonard Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries

Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 6 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas DurantHell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant 6 - Hell on Wheels - The Real Thomas Durant

Portrait of Thomas Durant at his desk.

To see more artifacts from the Hell on Wheels era, check out the University of Iowa Libraries Levi Leonard Papers.
Photo by Levi Leonard Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries

Historical photos of the man on which the Hell on Wheels character is based.
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