Charles Crocker (1822-1888) was a failed miner who became a successful shop-owner in the California Gold Rush, then reinvested the profits from his store to become one of the "Big Four" directors of the Central Pacific Railroad. In that role, Crocker oversaw the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Crocker—like his "Big Four" colleagues Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, and Mark Hopkins—earned extravagant wealth from the Central Pacific railroad empire.
In 1865, when faced with a strike threat from white workers building the transcontinental railroad, Crocker hired a gang of 50 Chinese workers to take their jobs. Within two years, 90% of the Central Pacific's labor force was made up of Chinese immigrants, who worked long hours in backbreaking conditions for very low pay. While white workingmen denounced Crocker for hiring "coolie labor," the railroad work Crocker provided sustained California's fledgling Chinese community.