The Key Players
President of the Central Pacific Railroad, an elected member of the California State legislature and a successful dry goods merchant, Charles Crocker relied on his political influence to raise funds for the transcontinental railroad project. He served as manager of construction as the crew tunneled through the rugged mountains during harsh winter conditions. Responsible for many innovative solutions and known as a harsh task-master, he was able to complete the railroad ahead of schedule by hiring thousands of hard-working Chinese men to perform the difficult work. The success of the project helped Crocker become one of the wealthiest men in the west.
With his future partner Mark Hopkins, Huntington re-located his eastern mercantile business to the west in order to profit from the needs of miners in the California Gold Rush. Opened in 1854, Huntington & Hopkins hardware store became highly successful. Huntington was instrumental in recruiting Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford to the Big Four, and the Central Pacific Railroad was formed. Huntington committed himself to securing sizeable funding from his eastern associates and continually lobbied Congress to support the transcontinental railroad project.
President of the Central Pacific Railroad and Governor of California, Leland Stanford used his considerable political influence to help obtain land grants and substantial state funds to support the transcontinental project. His professional expertise as an attorney as well as a politician also proved useful to the Big Four. In 1891, he and his wife founded Leland Stanford University in Palo Alto (now Stanford University) as a memorial to their son. Later, he served many years as a U.S. Senator.
Mark Hopkins originally perceived the California gold Rush of 1849 as an opportunity to become wealthy selling supplies to miners. He and his business partner Collis Huntington operated the extremely profitable hardware store in Sacramento, and when the Central Pacific Railroad Company was formed, Hopkins became Treasurer. Trusted and respected for his acute business acumen, his contribution to the Big Four was invaluable.
An engineer, lobbyist, and surveyor, Theodore Judah had overseen construction of the Niagara Gorge railroad and several eastern routes before becoming obsessed with his dream to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With the Big Four's political and financial backing, he completed the original land survey, and his maps and elevations were used to guide the transcontinental project. Although he served as chief engineer, disagreements with the Big Four caused their association to unravel, and on a trip to the east to seek capital and support, he was stricken with yellow fever and died. Sadly, Judah never witnessed completion of his dream.