The Big Four

Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins, better known to history as the "Big Four," were instrumental in building the Central Pacific Railroad and developing California's railroad system in the years between 1861 and 1900. Of modest origins, all were born or had lived in upstate New York prior to being drawn West by the Gold Rush. Huntington and Hopkins were partners in a hardware company; Stanford operated a grocery business with his brothers; and Crocker was a dry goods merchant. Prosperous by 1860, they all supported the presidential candidacy of Abraham Lincoln and the new Republican Party when called together by Theodore Judah to hear his idea for a railroad to the East. The start of the Civil War prompted their active involvement, and they invested every energy in building the western part of the first transcontinental railroad. Eventually the Big Four controlled a far-flung network of railroad enterprises which gave them enormous wealth and political power. Admired and detested as the West's first "Railroad Kings," they left a legacy of railroad development which still influences transportation and politics in California.