Their names are Leland Stamford, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, and Collis P. Huntington. I suspect people are aware of some of these names, but they are best (or worst) recalled for their effect on California and the western United States. "The Big Four" were the four money men - entrepreneurs, who built the huge railway system of the west coast. I mentioned Collis P. Huntington when I discussed the issue of how Ambrose Bierce and William Randolph Hearst attacked him as a public thief (which he was) for pocketing nearly $96 million dollars from the public treasury in gobbling up land for his Southern Pacific Railroad (the "Octopus" of Frank Norris's novel). Huntington was forced to settle with the government.
Charles Crocker is immortalized by the bank that he founded that lasted and prospered until the 1990s on the west coast. Mark Hopkins was the quietest of the four tycoons, and the least remembered.
Stamford is immortalized by three events: His only son died shortly after being rejected by Harvard and Yale for admission to college. Embittered, Stamford decided to build the finest university on the west coast of the United States, to rival the snooty ones that rejected his son. Hence the great Stamford University in California.
The second event was a bet that he made about 1875 regarding whether or not a horse ever is off all four legs at the same time when racing. The matter was only settled by the photographic intelligence of Eadward Muybridge, who used photographs that were specially placed along a race track, with trip wires taking the photos. To prove the pictures were not faked, Muybridge invented a device that flipped the pictures in procession so the image looked like it was moving. His zoopraxiscope was one of the main predecessors of the motion picture camera: and the answer to the bet, by the way, is that the horse does have all four feet off the ground while racing every couple of gallops.
The final event in the Stamford saga was that as President of the Union Pacific Railroad, he drove the "golden spike" at Promintory Point, Utah, in September 1869, thus unifying his railroad with the Central Pacific Railroad, and creating the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.
It is this that the episode on "Cavalcade of America" is about, for Thomas Judah was the engineering genius who pushed the idea of blasting through the Sierra Mountains and the Rockies to get the Union Pacific out of California. It was such a weird idea that "crazy Judah" was one of the names he was given by the public - until his feat was accomplished.
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