Who was Charles Crocker?

Oct 20, 2023Union Pacific Railroad

First, I must confess that little by little I am testing ChatGPT to see how well it can bring back semi-complex questions and then I plan to conduct additional research to ensure that whatever I write about is factually sound. As such I read a short article about a lovely emerald bracelet, and it mentioned the above-noted Charles Crocker. I had no idea who he was and figured you may not know anything about him either.

Charles Crocker hails from Troy, New York, and was born in 1822. In his teens, his family moved to Indiana and ran a farm. His elder brother, Edwin, became an attorney and moved to California. Charles decided to work hard and save. When he saved enough money, he began to invest in an iron forge and railroads. This turned out to be a very smart decision.

Charles also made his way to California landing in Sacramento. He tried his hand at several businesses that did not net him much if anything. Crocker married Mary Ann Deming in 1852. They had six children of which four lived.

Charles became involved in the Republican Party where he met many entrepreneurs and other business people. Three men became his close friends. They were Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Collis Huntington. Eventually, Huntington offered him an investment in his railroad. That was 1860 and the railroad was the Central Pacific. This was a life-changing event for Charles and his brother who became legal counsel for the railroad.

Charles with no prior construction experience went on to win the contract to construct the railroad and connect it with its counterparts across Arizona and New Mexico. The first portion of actual construction he subcontracted so he could learn how to perform this job. That was money well invested. The project was said to have cost over two million dollars which was a lot of money back then. Crocker and his associates were some of the first to hire a crew of Chinese to work the railroads for them. It was laborious and they were fortunate to have them since there was a tremendous labor shortage at that time. (1865)

Once construction was complete for the Central Pacific Railroad (San Francisco) and it had been attached to the Southern Pacific Railroad (Los Angeles) they were well on their way to becoming the Transcontinental Railroad. The next part of this huge project was laying track in the northern territories. Work progressed into Nevada, Utah, and eastward, but it was especially difficult. Coming in the opposing direction was the Union Pacific Railroad. Supplies were oftentimes delayed due to shipping route accidents, lack of proper building supplies, and weather. Crocker became adept at navigating such obstacles by cutting corners whenever possible.

All this experience propelled Charles into another very special financially beneficial classification of investor/owner-shareholder statis.  For a short period of time, Crocker was a controlling stockholder and President of Wells Fargo Bank. He next set his sites on Woolworth National Bank which he managed to acquire a controlling interest in and turned over to his son, William. Afterward, they changed the name to Crocker-Anglo Bank. Charles and Edwin resigned in 1870 and in 1873 Charles came back in a ceremonial post that he stayed in until his death in 1888.


Strangely enough, in 1963, Citizens National Bank in Los Angeles absorbed Crocker-Anglo Bank becoming Crocker-Citizens Bank and then Crocker National Bank. In 1986 Wells Fargo took over Crocker National Bank. Charles began his banking tenure at Wells Fargo and after his death, his familial bank ended up back there. It is funny how some things come full circle.






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