Charles Crocker

Charles Crocker

c. 1872 by Stephen W. Shaw
Born (1822-09-16)September 16, 1822
Troy, New York, U.S.
Died August 14, 1888(1888-08-14) (aged 65)
Monterey, California, U.S.
Net worth $20 million at death in 1888
(1/608th of U.S. GNP)[1]
Political party Republican

Charles Crocker (September 16, 1822 – August 14, 1888) was an American railroad executive who founded the Central Pacific Railroad, which constructed the westernmost portion of the first transcontinental railroad, and took control with partners of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Early years

Born in Troy, New York, Crocker was the son of Eliza (née Wright) and Isaac Crocker, a modest family. They joined the nineteenth-century migration west and moved when he was 14 to Indiana, where they had a farm. Crocker soon became independent, working on several farms, a sawmill, and at an iron forge. At the age of 23, in 1845, he founded a small, independent iron forge of his own. He used money saved from his earnings to invest later in the new railroad business after moving to California, which had become a boom state since the Gold Rush.

Founding a railroad

Pacific Railroad Bond, City and County of San Francisco, 1865
The Truckee River at Verdi, Nevada. When the Central Pacific Railroad reached the site in 1868, Charles Crocker pulled a slip of paper from a hat and read the name of Giuseppe Verdi ; so, the town was named after the Italian opera composer.[2]

In 1861, after hearing an intriguing presentation by Theodore Judah, he was one of the four principal investors, along with Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington and Leland Stanford (also known as The Big Four), who formed the Central Pacific Railroad, which constructed the western portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in North America. His position with the company was that of construction supervisor and president of Charles Crocker & Co., a Central Pacific subsidiary founded expressly for the purpose of building the railroad.

Crocker bought train plows to plow the tracks of snow through the mountains, but they derailed due to ice on the tracks. He had more than 40 miles (65 km) of snow sheds built to cover the tracks in the Sierra Nevada mountains, to prevent the tracks from getting covered with snow in the winter. This project cost over $2 million.[3]

While the Central Pacific was still under construction in 1868, Crocker and his three associates acquired control of the Southern Pacific Railroad. It built the westernmost portion of the second transcontinental railroad. Deming, New Mexico, is named after his wife, Mary Ann Deming Crocker. A golden spike was driven here in 1881 to commemorate the meeting of the Southern Pacific with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads, completing the construction of the second transcontinental railroad in the United States.


Crocker was briefly the controlling shareholder of Wells Fargo in 1869 and served as president. After he sold down, he was replaced by John J. Valentine, Sr..[4] Crocker also acquired controlling interest for his son William in Woolworth National Bank, which was renamed Crocker-Anglo Bank.

In 1963, Crocker-Anglo Bank merged with Los Angeles' Citizens National Bank, to become Crocker-Citizens Bank[5] and later, Crocker Bank. The San Francisco-based bank no longer exists, as it was acquired by Wells Fargo 30 years ago in 1986.[6][7]

Personal life

Crocker's mansion on Nob Hill, San Francisco (c. 1880)
Crocker's tomb in Oakland

He married Mary Ann Deming and they had four children, William Henry Crocker, George Crocker, Harriet Crocker, and Charles Frederick Crocker.

His older brother Edwin B. Crocker had become an attorney by the time Crocker was investing in railroads. In 1864, Charles asked Edwin to serve as legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad.[8]

Crocker was seriously injured in a New York City carriage accident in 1886, never fully recovered, and died two years later. He was buried in a mausoleum located on "Millionaire's Row" at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. The massive granite structure was designed by the New York architect A. Page Brown, who later designed the San Francisco Ferry Building.[9][10] Crocker's estate has been valued at between $300 million and $400 million at the time of his death in 1888.


  1. Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143
  2. "A Brief History of Verdi", Verdi History Center
  3. "Charles Crocker", The West', PBS-WETA
  4. Fradkin, Philip L. (2002). Stage Coach, The History of Wells Fargo. ISBN 978-0-7432-2762-9.
  5. "Banking: The Urge to Unrmerge". Time. August 27, 1965. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  6. "Wells Fargo to acquire Crocker National Corp.". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. February 8, 1986. p. 12C.
  7. "Wells Fargo acquires Crocker". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 30, 1986. p. 16.
  8. "People & Events: Edwin Bryant Crocker (1818-1875)". Public Broadcasting Service. 1999–2003. Retrieved March 17, 2011.
  9. "The Tombs of Charles Crocker etal.". Central Pacific RR Photograghic Museum.
  10. "For May Day, Remembering Vincent St. John". Use "Crocker" as the search text.
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