Sunday, May 21, 2006

Questions: Building RR, Crocker

From: "Erica Madison"

... I'm doing a research paper on the big four and the pacific railroad in California. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me.

1. Why did it take so long for California to get around to building a railroad?

2. Out of the four men why did Charlie Crocker get the job of actually building the railroad? ...



Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

1. The fact that no one knew how to raise the amount of capital that the railroad would require is undoubtedly part of the answer. But the central issue was probably jealousy. There were so many individuals who wanted to control any project to build the Pacific railroad that they blocked any effort of anyone else who looked like they might succeed. Most of this contest took place in Congress as it was expected that federal money wold be necessary. If it ever looked like one particular group might succeed in Congress, the others united against them. However, once they had succeeded in blocking anyone from getting legislation passed, their political aliance fell apart. The Civil War finally "solved" the impasse by removing many of the competing plans from consideration and by forcing the federal government to back the effort as a "military measure" to keep the Pacific settlements (with California gold and Nevada silver) in the Union.

2. "Charlie" is the one who stepped up to do the job.

There were actually five principals; people overlook Charles Crocker's older brother Edwin. These five men were an odd combination with their individual strengths and weaknesses. Collis Huntington knew business and had contacts in the East dating from his experience as a hardware wholesaler, so it was natural for him to go East to raise the money. Mark Hopkins was older and perhaps didn't feel up to either going East as Huntington did or working the men, so took the role of keeping his eye on things. Stanford was a politician. I'm not sure Huntington really liked or trusted Stanford. But this association dated back to the founding of the Republican party in California and existed initially for political reasons, and Stanford was one of their candidates. Frankly, it is possible that their initial public enthusiasm for the Pacific railroad was merely to attract voters to their party. At any rate, with Stanford actually governor, he could serve the company better in the capitol in Sacramento than out on the line. Edwin Crocker may actually have been better than Charles in directing the construction. Edwin was the only one of the five with any training in civil engineering (he actually had a degree from Rensselaer). But he had spent years as a lawyer, was older, and so played the role of strategic planner. Charles was relatively young and active. When the company failed to find local contractors to effectively do the work, Charles is the one who took over construction. None of these men had any idea what they were getting into, and I'm [sure] that if they had they wouldn't have been so enthusiastic about it.

—Wendell Huffman

5/21/2006 1:28 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


1. Building the Transcontinental Railroad was hugely expensive. Nobody had anywhere near enough money to do the job until after the Federal Government passed the Pacific Railroad Act to provide financial support for the construction. It isn't a simple question of "California not getting around to building the railroad."

2. There were more than four men involved in the Central Pacific, although I know that in modern times we often refer to them as the "Big Four." Of the leaders of the Central Pacific, each man took on responsibility for an area where he had expertise and ability. Stanford, President of the railroad, was the front man presenting the public face of the company. CP Huntington worked back East selling bonds to raise money, purchasing material and equipment and having it shipped to California, and lobbying in Washington. Mark Hopkins was the financial man, overseeing the company's money and expendiatures, making sure they didn't go bankrupt. EB Crocker (elder brother of Charles) was the attorney, handling legal matters. Charles Crocker organized the work for the construction.

—Kyle Wyatt

5/21/2006 1:29 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages