In the summer of 1929, some sixty-seven years after the Pacific Railways Act was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, construction of Union Station commenced. Gilbert Stanley Underwood, a brilliant architect, designed this building in the art deco style and utilized a terra cotta exterior overlay to create a visually stunning effect. He explained his concept and the architectural approach to his design by noting that "It breaks away from the acceptable classical standard, and I believe it more honest and sincere than passenger stations clothed in garb of Roman temples."
Peter Kiewit Sons', who have continued their involvement with the nurturing of the facility, were commissioned to build Underwood's steel framed structure. After twenty months and $3.5 million, on January 15, 1931, the 124,000 square-foot building was complete. Union Station is reputed to have been the first art deco railroad terminal in the United States and to this day is considered one of the finest examples of that architectural style in the country.
In addition to the breathtaking terra cotta cladding, six railroad employee figures are carved on the outside of the building, each holding a tool representing his expertise. On the north side of the building, above each of the two main entrances, a conductor and a locomotive engineer can be found; the former holding a lantern and the latter a wrench and an oil can. Above the Tenth Street entrance a civil engineer and a brakeman are depicted. The engineer holds a transit while the brakeman holds a track wrench. "We have tried to express (through these sculptures) the distinctive character of the railroad: strength, power and masculinity," Underwood said.
Engraved above the north entrances to the station are two powerful quotations. The first is drawn from comments made by Abraham Lincoln during his campaign for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. He noted on March 9, 1832 that "No other improvement... can equal in utility the railroad." The second reflects the culture of the Union Pacific System under its then president Carl L. Gray. His words "Dedicated by the railways of Omaha to the service, comfort and convenience of the people" became the motto for Union Stations employees.