Mark Hopkins, Jr. (1813 - 1878)

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Birthplace: Henderson, Jefferson County, New York, United States
Death: Died in Yuma, Yuma County, Arizona, United States
Managed by: Adrienne Virginia Soto
Last Updated:

About Mark Hopkins, Jr.

Mark Hopkins was born 1 September 1813 in Henderson, New York, and died 29 March 1878. He died in his sleep aboard his private rail car in Yuma at age 64.

At the time of his death, the value of his estate was estimated at $40-50 million.

Parents: Mark Hopkins (1779 - 1828) and Anastasia Lukens Kellogg Hopkins (1780 - 1837)

He married a cousin, Mary Sherwood, in 1854. They had no children of their own, but did adopt one son, Timothy.

Brief Biography

Mark Hopkins, Jr. (September 1, 1813 – March 29, 1878) was one of four principal investors who formed the Central Pacific Railroad along with Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Collis Huntington in 1861.

Hopkins was born to Mark Hopkins, Sr. and Anastasia Lukens Kellogg (who were first cousins). The Family moved to St. Clair, Michigan in 1824. His father, Mark Hopkins (1779–1828), served as St. Clair's first postmaster. Hopkins Senior died in 1828, and Hopkins Junior left school to work as a clerk. In 1837 he studied law with his brother Henry, but moved on through several business ventures. He was a partner in a firm called "Hopkins and Hughes", then a bookkeeper and later manager for "James Rowland and Company".

When the California Gold Rush began, Hopkins formed the "New England Mining and Trading Company", a group of 26 men each of whom invested $500 to purchase goods and ship them to California for sale. On January 22, 1849 Hopkins left New York City on the ship Pacific. After rounding Cape Horn, the ship arrived in San Francisco on August 5, 1849.

He opened a general merchandise store in Placerville in 1849, hauling his own goods from Sacramento with an ox team. He expanded into the wholesale grocery business the next year and later partnered with Collis P. Huntington in 1855. Huntington & Hopkins initially entered the hardware business in Sacramento, and later combined forces with Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford to form the celebrated "Big Four" partnership, which tackled much bigger enterprises.

When the Central Pacific Railroad Company was organized by the Big Four in 1861, Hopkins became Treasurer, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. Every project the partnership embarked on was submitted to Hopkins for his final approval. All the other partners had implicit faith in his judgment, honesty, and integrity. Collis Huntington once remarked that he "never thought anything finished until Hopkins looked at it." After the Central Pacific the Big Four built the Southern Pacific, which spanned all of California and provided a second transcontinental route. In private life, he was a member of the Congregationalist Church.

Mark Hopkins was a New York City bookkeeper when he caught word of gold. He immediately got himself to Sacramento and headed north to prospect. Rumors of misfortune in the mountains ahead caused him to return to the city. Hopkins scraped together a living selling supplies in the countryside. Soon, he owned a grocery store. In 1856 he partnered with K Street neighbor Collis Huntington.

Attentive Bookkeeper

The two made natural allies. Hopkins' quiet demeanor contrasted nicely with Huntington's bombast. Hopkins was the paper man. He handled the books while Huntington took care of wheeling and dealing, a relationship they would later replicate with the railroad venture. His attention to business matters was absolute. "I never thought anything finished until Hopkins had seen it," Huntington said. "He never had anything to do with trade and never would. He had general supervision of the books and the papers, contracts, etc. When he said they were right, I never cared to look at them." Earnestness and frugality combined with a slight gray beard to earn Hopkins the nickname "Uncle Mark." But the unthreatening exterior disguised a resolute mind. Partner Charles Crocker would say, "When Hopkins wanted to be, he was the stubbornest man alive."

Early California Republicans

Politics cemented Hopkins' relationship to Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Crocker's brother Edwin. Although he began as a Know-Nothing, Hopkins shifted to California's burgeoning Republican Party, which chartered itself at the Huntington & Hopkins hardware store in March 1856. They had a difficult go at first; local Democrats invaded meetings, or accosted them on the street with shouts of "Black Republican!" All five future railroaders were in fact abolitionists, as were many of their Republican peers, but they knew a controversial platform would not get the party on its feet. So they picked something more palatable. "We are in favor," read the California Daily Times, the newspaper printed at 54 K Street, "of Fremont and the Pacific Railroad."

In on the Ground Floor

When railroad advocate Theodore Judah caught Huntington's ear in 1860, he insisted that Congress would soon pass a railroad bill -- and it would do so under the aegis of the incoming president, Abraham Lincoln. Huntington used this logic to sell the venture to his business partner: if their small group of associates got in on the ground floor of a railroad proposal, kindred spirits in Washington might well reward them construction rights when the measure passed. All they had to do was invest in the energetic engineer. Judah would survey his route and take the findings to Capitol Hill; Huntington and Hopkins would stand to reap the benefits and control the Central Pacific. Hopkins was cautious, but convinced. He put $1,500 into the new company and assumed a place on its board. In June 1861, when the directors gathered to select their officers, the bookkeeper was, of course, named treasurer.

Burned Record Books

Over the years of construction, Hopkins ran the Central Pacific finances much as he had the store, except now the market was bigger -- and the stakes higher. He still preferred to recede into the background, letting his more voluble partners deal with government, public, press, and workers. He in turn kept a sharp eye on the books, considering the financial ramifications of every move, clearing a route for the complex finances of the massive undertaking. Hopkins could be strict with his partners, refusing to endorse schemes that expanded Central Pacific holdings but distracted focus from the main line. He discouraged Huntington's speculative grabs at Utah's Wasatch coalfields. Similarly, he disapproved of E. B. Crocker's scheme to buy the Western Pacific Line linking Sacramento and San Francisco. Crocker hoped to initiate a railroad empire throughout California, but Hopkins and his abacus brain could only justify financing the nuts and bolts of the monumental construction immediately at hand. The impasse caused a rift among the Associates for weeks. But stalwart Hopkins could be persuaded by the enthusiasm of his partners; the company absorbed the Western Pacific in June 1867. Hopkins advocated deals, legal or otherwise, that made fiscal sense, and reacted in horror when the Associates made promises beyond the pale of reason. Often he scrambled to clean up the mess. In 1872, when the biggest mess of them all -- Credit Mobilier-- called Central Pacific deal-making into question, Hopkins burned the record books.

A Modest Man

Though the Central Pacific made him very rich, Hopkins continued to live frugally. He rented a small cottage in San Francisco until his wife forced him to build a larger home, which he did not live to see completed. In 1878, true to his temperate nature and the enterprise that defined him, he died in his sleep aboard a railroad car.

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Mark Hopkins, Jr.'s Timeline

1813
September 1, 1813
Henderson, Jefferson County, New York, United States
1859
March 2, 1859
Age 45
Hallowell, Kennebec County, Maine
1878
March 29, 1878
Age 64
Yuma, Yuma County, Arizona, United States
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In 1880, he was buried at Sacramento Historic City Cemetery (aka Old City Cemetery), Sacramento, California, United States