The Big Four


As partners in Central and Southern Pacific Railroads, each man played a specific role. Stanford was the politician.  Huntington the financer and Washington lobbyist.  Crocker was in charge of construction.  Hopkins, the trusted elder,  kept the books.These men controlled business and government in the Western United States for over fifty years.    

Collis P. Huntington
1821 – 1900
Perhaps the most ruthless of the Big Four, Huntington was the railroad’s financier and lobbyist. He grew to dislike his partners and spent most of his time in New York, managing money and influence.
Born on a farm in Connecticut, Huntington came to California as a travelling peddler during the Gold Rush.  He became partners with Mark Hopkins in a Sacramento hardware business.

His nephew H.E. Huntington became president of the railroad after his uncle’s death.  


Mark Hopkins
1813 - 1878

Called “Uncle Mark” by his partners, Hopkins was known to be thrifty, some would say miserly.  He was treasurer and chief accountant of the Central and Southern Pacific.

Born in upstate New York, Hopkins came to California in 1849 and started an iron foundry in Sacramento.  He later partnered with Collis Huntington in a hardware business.   

He was the only one of the Big Four that never lived on Nob Hill. He died before his mansion there was completed.

Leland Stanford
1824 – 1893
A lawyer from a wealthy New York family, Stanford had a successful law practice in Wisconsin.  After a fire destroyed his office and large law library, he and his wife Jane came to California in 1856.
   
His legal experience made him a good choice to be President of the Central Pacific.  He built a strong political machine in the West, serving as Governor of California and later U.S. Senator.

He and his wife founded Stanford University to honor their only son Leland Jr. who died at age 15 of typhoid fever while the family was traveling in Italy.

Charles Crocker
1822 - 1888
  Crocker came to California from Indiana by wagon in 1859.   He settled in Sacramento and opened a dry goods store.
 
Although Crocker had no experience in building, his partners put him in charge of construction.   He was notorious for squeezing his subcontractors on price and holding them to impossible deadlines.

To cut costs, around1865 he began to bring in workers from China, who worked in slave-like conditions and were mockingly called “Crocker’s pets.”

Crocker's oldest son, William, founded Crocker Bank.

Photos courtesy:  San Francisco Public Library History Center, San Francisco Public Library

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