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Charles Crocker
Charles C Crocker by Stephen W Shaw.jpg
c. 1872 by Stephen W. Shaw
Born (1822-09-16)September 16, 1822
Died August 14, 1888(1888-08-14) (aged 65)
Net worth $20 million at death in 1888
(1/608th of U.S. GNP)
Political party Republican
Mary Ann Deming
(m. 1852; her death 1887)
Children 6, including Charles, George, William
Relatives Edwin B. Crocker (brother)
Harry Crocker (grand-nephew)

Charles Crocker (September 16, 1822 – August 14, 1888) was an American railroad executive who was one of the founders of 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

Crocker was born in Troy, New York on September 16, 1822. He was the son of Eliza (née Wright) and Isaac Crocker, a modest family. They joined the nineteenth-century migration west and moved to Indiana when he was 14, 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. His older brother Edwin B. Crocker had become an attorney by the time Crocker was investing in railroads.

Founding a railroad

San Francisco Pacific Railroad Bond WPRR 1865
Pacific Railroad Bond, City and County of San Francisco, 1865
Truckee River at Verdi, east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Nevada, Central Pacific R.R, by Thomas Houseworth & Co.
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.
Isaiah West Taber (1830-1912) Charles Crocker's Residence, San Franciscoca. 1880 SFMOMA
Crocker's mansion on Nob Hill, San Francisco (c. 1880)

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.

In 1864, Charles asked his older brother Edwin to serve as legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad.

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 silver 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. On September 5, 1876 at the Lang Southern Pacific Station, a California Historic Landmark, Crocker hammered a golden spike into a railroad tie, the ceremonial spike was d to celebrate the completion of San Joaquin Valley rail line. The completion of the line connected the City of Los Angeles with San Francisco and First Transcontinental Railroad line.


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.. 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 and later, Crocker National Bank. The San Francisco-based bank no longer exists, as it was acquired by Wells Fargo in 1986.

Nob Hill and the 40 foot tall spite fence

Crocker built a mansion on Nob Hill. When his attempts to buy out Mr. Nicholas Yung from his property were rebuffed, he built a 40-foot spite fence around three sides of the neighbor's property. Legal challenges to the fence were unavailing. The feud lasted many years, and the fence was only removed after the death of Mrs. Yung, and the sale of the property by Yung's heirs to Crocker's family. Spite fences were thereafter made illegal in San Francisco. The mansion was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Though the disaster rendered the infamous dispute and its resolution moot, Crocker's family donated the entire block of land to charity, in support of the Episcopal Diocese of California. In 1910, in the same plot where the fence stood, the cornerstone was laid for Grace Cathedral.

Personal life

Harriet Valentine Crocker Alexander, by Giovanni Boldini
Painting of Crocker's daughter, Harriet, by Giovanni Boldini, 1887

In 1852, Crocker was married to Mary Ann Deming (1827–1889). Mary was the daughter of John Jay Deming and Emily (née Reed) Deming. Together, they had six children, four of whom survived to adulthood:

  • Charles Frederick Crocker (1854–1897), who married Jennie Ella Easton (1858–1887).
  • George Crocker (1856–1909), who married Emma Hanchett (1855–1904).
  • Harriet Valentine Crocker (1859–1935), who married Charles Beatty Alexander (1849–1927).
  • William Henry Crocker (1861–1937), who married Ethel Sperry (1861–1934).

Crocker was seriously injured in a New York City carriage accident in 1886, never fully recovered, and died two years later on August 14, 1888. 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. Crocker's estate has been valued at between $300 million and $400 million at the time of his death in 1888.

Charles Crocker Tomb, Oakland, CA
Crocker's tomb in Mountain View Cemetery


Through his son Charles, he was the grandfather of Mary Crocker (1881–1905), who married U.S. Congressman Francis Burton Harrison; Charles Templeton Crocker (1884–1948); and Jennie Adeline Crocker (1887–1974).

Through his daughter Harriet, he was the grandfather of Mary Crocker Alexander (1895–1986), who married diplomat Sheldon Whitehouse. Their son was Charles Sheldon Whitehouse (1921–2001), the United States Ambassador to Laos and Thailand, and their grandson, Crocker's great-great-grandson, is U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Through his son William, he was the grandfather of Charles Crocker, William Willard Crocker, Helen Crocker (Russell) and Ethel Mary Crocker (de Limur).

Family tree

Family of Charles Crocker
Nancy Crocker
Isaac Crocker
Mary Norton
Edwin B. Crocker
Margaret Rhodes
Mary Ann Deming
Charles Crocker
Clarke Crocker
Henry S. Crocker
Mary Norton Crocker
[two marriages] Edwin Clark Crocker
Nellie Margaret Crocker
Aimée Isabella Crocker
[five marriages] Henry J. Crocker
Kate Eugenie Crocker
James O.B. Gunn
Jennie Louise Crocker
Jacob Sloat Fassett
[multiple children] [multiple children] [multiple children]
Emily Elizabeth Crocker
Emma Hanchett
George Crocker
Harriet Valentine Crocker
Charles Beatty Alexander
Jennie Easton
Charles Frederick Crocker
Francis Crocker
Ethel Sperry
William Henry Crocker
Mary Crocker
Francis Burton Harrison
Harriet Crocker Alexander
Winthrop W. Aldrich
[multiple children]
Helene Irwin
Charles Templeton Crocker
Janetta Alexander
Arnold Whitridge
Harry Crocker
Malcolm Whitman
Jennie Adeline Crocker
Robert Henderson
Mary Crocker Alexander
Sheldon Whitehouse
[multiple children] [multiple children] [one child] [multiple children] [multiple children] [multiple children]
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