The Big Four, as they were called in the day, began as merchants in Sacramento during the California Gold Rush. In the 1860’s they won the contract from the Federal Government to build the western end of the transcontinental railroad that was joined in 1869.  
The Big Four were:
Leland Stanford 1824-1893
Charles Crocker 1822-1888
Collis Huntington 1821-1900
Mark Hopkins 1814-1878

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