Saturday, April 03, 2010


From: "Steve and Julie Gilman"

What group of people suffered as a result of the United States Transcontinental railroad?


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

We're curious as to where the question originated, as it could be very misleading.

The transcontinental railroad was constructed using mostly Chinese workers on the western portion (Central Pacific Railroad) and Irish workers on the eastern portion (Union Pacific Railroad). This greatest engineering project of the 19th century of building a railroad by hand across the wilderness of the western United States was certainly incredibly difficult and dangerous work but the story of the railroad is not one of suffering people treated unfairly by the standards of the time nor being intentionally harmed, and the railroad management was out there in the wilderness along with the workers under the same conditions to build the railroad. For example, the Chinese workers were mostly extremely poor peasants from Canton province in southern China many of whom responded to advertisements for workers to come to America. The provision of Labor to the CPRR was organized by six Chinese companies, and the Chinese workers received wages in gold – about $30/month (about the same as caucasians) allowing them to save $20/month from their wages so that they could return to China as wealthy men by their standards.

[continued below]

4/03/2010 12:00 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

It is important to honor the memory of the heroic Chinese transcontinental railroad workers by telling their story with historical accuracy. Chinese in 19th century California faced appalling racism, but it was typical of the time, and it appears that the Chinese themselves were similarly xenophobic against "foreign devils." Because many men in California wanted to mine for gold, not take a job, the railroad was desperate for workers and so was forced by economic necessity of the market economy to overcome prejudice against the Chinese who they quickly found were terrific construction workers and were hired in large numbers.

Perhaps the question is intended to make you fall for the myth arising from a single short newspaper report (that was contradicted the same day by another newspaper) that "thousands died" building the Central Pacific railroad, while the best evidence suggests that fewer than 150 died (including from a smallpox epidemic in Nevada).

This misinformation is often coupled with an equally false claim of corporate racism as supposedly demonstrated by the absence of Chinese in the famous A.J. Russell photograph taken at the completion of the railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869. Chinese actually participated in the ceremony as shown in another A.J. Russell photograph taken during the ceremony, and three of the eight Chinese men who laid the last rail, Ging Cui, Wong Fook, Lee Shao, lived long enough to be in the parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of the event. The reason that the Chinese men are not in the more famous photograph is that it shows the two locomotives head to head on the already completed track after the ceremony at the same time that the Chinese men were in a rail car with the railroad management who was toasting and cheering the Chinese for their contribution:

"J.H. Strobridge, when the work was all over, invited the Chinese who had been brought over from Victory for that purpose, to dine at his boarding car. When they entered, all the guests and officers present cheered them as the chosen representatives of the race which have greatly helped to build the road....a tribute they well deserved and which evidently gave them much pleasure." —Sacramento Daily Bee, May 12, 1869

The suffering of travelers crossing the American continent (the Donner Party was the most extreme example) was prevented by the transcontinental railroad which made travel about 60 times safer than previously, while reducing the duration of the trip from six months to six days.

[continued below]

4/03/2010 12:11 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Far from being indifferent to worker's well being, the Central Pacific Railroad created the very first multi-location health maintenance organization, with the CPRR Hospital in Sacramento. The history of the past 150 years is of incredible material and human progress, increasing longevity, spreading wealth, and elimination of scarcity and deprivation, in contrast to and in spite of the false propaganda of would be tyrants who would steal your freedom using the big lie that companies are racist evildoers that cause suffering, while actually the suffering and starvation common in the past is rapidly disappearing from the world as a result of the innovations of the market economy. The truth is that the descendents of the railroad workers are in many ways richer today that the kings and queens of past centuries.

4/03/2010 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

East coast Clipper ship captains' employment suffered as they found the need for sailing around the horn of South America obsoleted. But, likely more trade increased the need for ships sailing the Pacific ocean to the orient.

The CPRR had cordial relations with the Indians, but Plains Indians suffered in their war with the UPRR and the U.S. army including decimation of the buffalo herds (but apparently elimination of the buffalo herds was half complete due to hunting by indians prior to the railroad).

4/03/2010 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The railroad seems incidental to the problems the Plains Indians faced due to conflict with settlers. Would it really have made any significant difference to the outcome for the Plains Indians if the settlers continued to arrive by wagon instead of by train? Similarly, while shooting wildlife out the window of a passing train is dramatic, the percent of the land area of the great plains that is within range of a bullet shot from a train seems infinitesimal. In both cases, it is the settlement of the great plains, not the railroad that matters. The portion of the western continent suitable for agriculture is the region served by the Union Pacific, not the arid west and Sierra Nevada mountains traversed by the Central Pacific. Since the great plains serviced by the Union Pacific was the relatively easier portion of the continent to traverse by wagon, it seems doubtful that absence of the UPRR would have prevented the settlement that resulted in displacement of the plains indians.

4/03/2010 1:25 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"
Subject: Question - suffering due to the railroad

The railroad negatively impacted vested interests – for the most part San Francisco-based – in distribution and transportation. The former were the City's large mercantile houses that had prviously depended on round-the-Horn shipping and were able to monopolized distribution of select goods to the interior towns. The latter were the inland freighting, staging, toll road, telegraph, and riverboat companies.

There was also a negative impact on California manufacturing felt above all in San Francisco where local producers of goods found it difficult to compete with lower Mid-Western and Eastern prices.

In general the consumer benefited from the railroad, as did the farmer, the small town merchants, and even the ranchers (the latter were notoriously opposed to the Iron Horse).

While improved ease in travel is usually recognized as the railroad's most important contribution, the changes in freight costs were equally important.

—Larry Mullaly

4/03/2010 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Stanford Indians got screwed. Period.

Your obedient servant,
—little choo choo

4/13/2010 12:26 PM  

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