Charles Crocker

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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
DiedAugust 14, 1888(1888-08-14) (aged 65)
Political partyRepublican
Mary Ann Deming
(m. 1852; died 1887)
Children6, including Charles, George, William
RelativesEdwin 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.[1]

Early years[edit]

Crocker was born in Troy, New York on September 16, 1822.[1] 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.[1]

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.[2]

Founding a railroad[edit]

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.[3]
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.[4]

In 1864, Charles asked his older brother Edwin to serve as legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad.[2]

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.[5] 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 driven 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.[6]


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.[7] 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[8] and later, Crocker National Bank.[9] The San Francisco-based bank no longer exists, as it was acquired by Wells Fargo in 1986.[10][11]

Nob Hill and the 40 foot tall spite fence[edit]

Crocker built a mansion on Nob Hill. When his attempts to buy Nicholas Yung's adjacent 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.[12] In 1910, in the same plot where the fence stood, the cornerstone was laid for Grace Cathedral.[13]

Personal life[edit]

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

In 1852, Crocker was married to Mary Ann Deming (1827–1889).[14] Mary was the daughter of John Jay Deming and Emily (née Reed) Deming. Together, they had six children, four of whom survived to adulthood:[15]

Crocker was seriously injured in a New York City carriage accident in 1886,[23] never fully recovered, and died two years later on August 14, 1888.[24][1] 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.[25][26] Crocker's estate has been valued at between $300 million and $400 million at the time of his death in 1888.

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).[27]

Through his daughter Harriet, he was the grandfather of Mary Crocker Alexander (1895–1986), who married diplomat Sheldon Whitehouse.[28] Their son was Charles Sheldon Whitehouse (1921–2001), the United States Ambassador to Laos and Thailand,[29] and their grandson, Crocker's great-great-grandson, is U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.[29]

Through his son William, he was the grandfather of Charles Crocker, William Willard Crocker, Helen Crocker (Russell) and Ethel Mary Crocker (de Limur).[22]

Family tree[edit]

Family of Charles Crocker
Nancy Crocker
Isaac Crocker
Mary Norton
Edwin B. Crocker
Margaret Rhodes
Mary Ann Deming
Charles Crocker
Clarke Crocker[a]
Henry S. Crocker[b][c]
Mary Norton Crocker
[two marriages]Edwin Clark Crocker
Nellie Margaret Crocker
Aimée Isabella Crocker
[five marriages]Henry J. Crocker[d][e]
Kate Eugenie Crocker
James O.B. Gunn
Jennie Louise Crocker
Jacob Sloat Fassett
[multiple children][f][multiple children][multiple children]
Emily Elizabeth Crocker
Emma Hanchett
George Crocker
Harriet Valentine Crocker
Charles Beatty Alexander[g]
Jennie Easton[h]
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[i]
Charles Templeton Crocker
Janetta Alexander
Arnold Whitridge
Harry Crocker[e]
Malcolm Whitman
Jennie Adeline Crocker
Robert Henderson
Mary Crocker Alexander
Sheldon Whitehouse
[multiple children][multiple children][one child][multiple children][multiple children][multiple children][j]
  1. ^ Married to Julia A Kimball (1830–1901)
  2. ^ Married to Clara Ellen Swinerton (1845–1910)
  3. ^ At least one son, Charles Henry (1865–1935)
  4. ^ Married to Mary Virginia Ives (1863–1929)
  5. ^ a b Multiple siblings (not shown)
  6. ^ Including actress Kate McComb (1871–1959), from Mary Crocker's first marriage to Charles L. Scudder.
  7. ^ Uncle of Eleanor Butler Roosevelt (1888–1960)
  8. ^ Niece of Darius Ogden Mills (1825–1910)
  9. ^ Daughter of William G. Irwin (1843–1914)
  10. ^ Including Ambassador Charles S. Whitehouse (1921–2001), father of US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (1955–); and Sylvia Whitehouse (1930–), wife of Ambassador Robert O. Blake (1921–2015) and mother of Ambassador Robert O. Blake Jr. (1957–).
  • "Crocker Family Tree". San Mateo County Historical Association.


Mount Crocker is named in his honor.[30] It is located in California's Sierra Nevada mountains.


  1. ^ a b c d "Obituary. Charles Crocker". The New York Times. August 15, 1888. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "People & Events: Edwin Bryant Crocker (1818-1875)". Public Broadcasting Service. 1999–2003. Retrieved March 17, 2011.
  3. ^ "Home|Verdi History". Verdi History Preservation Society, Inc. Retrieved August 11, 2020.
  4. ^ "Charles Crocker", The West', PBS-WETA
  5. ^ "Deming, NM (DEM)". Great American Stations. Retrieved August 11, 2020.
  6. ^ "CHL # 590 Lang Southern Pacific Station Los Angeles". Retrieved August 11, 2020.
  7. ^ Fradkin, Philip L. (2002). Stage Coach, The History of Wells Fargo. ISBN 978-0-7432-2762-9.
  8. ^ "Banking: The Urge to Unrmerge". Time. August 27, 1965. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  9. ^ Furlong, Tom; Feb. 8 (February 8, 1986). "Crocker Takeover Left Him Behind : Executive Out in the Cold in Surprise Wells Fargo Deal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 16, 2021.
  10. ^ "Wells Fargo to acquire Crocker National Corp". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. February 8, 1986. p. 12C.
  11. ^ "Wells Fargo acquires Crocker". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 30, 1986. p. 16.
  12. ^ Rosse, Jake. "The Man Who Built a 40-Foot Spite Fence Around His Neighbor's Home". Pocket worthy: Stories to fuel your mind. Mental Floss. Retrieved May 2, 2020. When Nicholas Yung wouldn't sell his land to railroad baron Charles Crocker, Crocker built a 40-foot fence around his house and blotted out the sun.
  13. ^ "History". Grace Cathedral. March 7, 2016. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  14. ^ "Home". Mary A. Crocker. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  15. ^ "Charles Crocker's Will". The New York Times. August 30, 1888. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  16. ^ "C. F. Crocker Dead. Vice President of the Southern Pacific Railway Expires in San Mateo, California". The New York Times. July 18, 1897. Retrieved February 9, 2010. Col. Charles F. Crocker, Vice President of the Southern Pacific Railway Company, died at his home here to-night. (subscription required)
  17. ^ "Clasped in the Arms of Death". San Francisco Call. Vol. 82, no. 48. July 18, 1897. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  18. ^ "Geo. Crocker Dying, a Victim of Cancer; Long a Sufferer from the Same Disease That Killed His Wife in 1904. Call His Brother Home - William H. Crocker Hastens from Europe -- $6,000,000 Inheritance Won By Five Years' Fight Against Drink". The New York Times. New York City, New York. November 17, 1909. Retrieved April 14, 2017.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  19. ^ "George Crocker Dies of Cancer". The New York Times. New York City, New York. December 5, 1909. p. 13. Retrieved April 14, 2017.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  20. ^ "MISS ALEXANDER TO WED S. WHITEHOUSE; Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Alexander Engaged to Diplomatist. FIANCEE NOW IN EUROPE Mr. Whitehouse Is Chief of the New Eastern Division, Department of State". The New York Times. July 30, 1920. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  21. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Index to Politicians: Whitehouse". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  22. ^ a b "W. H. Crocker Dies, Banker On Coast". The New York Times. September 26, 1937. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  23. ^ "Thrown from His Wagon.; Millionaire Crocker Seriously Hurt While Driving". The New York Times. April 21, 1886. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  24. ^ "Charles Crocker Dying". The New York Times. August 12, 1888. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  25. ^ "The Tombs of Charles Crocker etal". Central Pacific RR Photographic Museum.
  26. ^ "For May Day, Remembering Vincent St. John". Archived from the original on December 9, 2015. Retrieved January 14, 2007. Use "Crocker" as the search text.
  27. ^ "Crocker, Noted Scientist, Dies In Home At SF". Madera Tribune. No. 113. U.P. December 13, 1948. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  28. ^ "Mary Whitehouse, 90, Leader of Civic Groups". The New York Times. January 24, 1986. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  29. ^ a b Lewis, Paul (July 1, 2001). "Charles S. Whitehouse, 79, Diplomat and C.I.A. Official". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  30. ^ Erwin G. Gudde, California Place Names, University of California Press, 1969, ISBN 9780520266193, page 96.

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