John Henry was a hammer swinging laborer in the 19th century who could be called the first real "superhero" of modern North America. His first memory was of watching the law pursue his father and his father telling him "Work hard son, be a man, not a thief or scoundrel, learn a skill, be the father I never was," before being dragged off by law men.
John was born a slave in the state of Missouri but John became a free man when his slave master became so afraid of his massive size and power that he released John and all his family. He was only 14 at the time and stood over six feet tall and weighed over 200lbs when the Civil War ended. It was because of his father's complete failure at everything he had done that John dedicated himself to doing right and working hard. He began working first for the C&O Railway company and later worked for C&W Railway in Alabama, which spread his legend as a steel driving man across the country.
In 1887 a very successful mining and manufacturing company named Chemical X Solutions proposed the idea of a 'Steam Hammer Robot' that would replace workers on the rail lines and in the mines. They believed if the Robot could drill steel spikes into the ground for the railroads and maneuver on the tracks, it could be implemented in the mines to drive dynamite deep into the rock and soil. Their plan was to lay track for the Canadian National Railway Line, from the coast of Seattle to Halifax. C&O Railway wanted the contract as well but could not convince the U.S. and Canadian governments to support them; the Steam Hammer Robot was just too impressive.
John had been serving time in prison in Virginia for an assault against a group of white men that would have been considered self-defense if John was not 6'8" and weighed over 300 pounds. Knowing his reputation, the share holders of C&O leased John from the prison under the condition that he would prove superior to the Steam Hammer Robot. John agreed, as long as C&O moved his wife and family nearby. They agreed and John was given a huge, expensive hammer.
In order to break open the rocks that would sometimes fall on the tracks, one man would have to hold a long steel nail while another swung the hammer. The goal was to strike the nail hard enough, in the most sensitive area, so that the rock would break apart. At the very least, a hole could be created to slip in a small stick of dynamite. CN Railway had a representative who worked for Chemical X as a liaison who was present at the competition. Canada and the Southern states were heavily competing for reconstruction jobs following the Civil War. Jim Crodes, the liason from Chemical X, came to see John Henry the night before to see what the real man was like. Jim was also a black man but one who had fought for the South for his own benefit. He had fled to the northern states to escape punishment from his neighbors and the freed slaves who saw him as the worst kind of traitor.