Monday, November 03, 2014

Were there advertisements in China for railroad workers for the Central Pacific Railroad?

From: "Margit McGuire"

I’m writing a curriculum for middle schoolers and trying to determine if there were advertisements or other ways in which Chinese RR workers found out about opportunities on the railroad. Or did information come to them once they arrived in the US? Thanks for your assistance.

Margit E. McGuire, PhD, Professor
Seattle University, Seattle, WA


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Sacramento Union carried a Central Pacific advertisement calling for '5,000 laborers for constant and permanent work; also experienced foremen.'"

11/03/2014 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"
Subject: Were there advertisements in China for railroad workers for the Central Pacific Railroad?

Dear Margit,

Thank you for your stimulating question. I have often felt that if I could only go to the Red River Delta and was able to read old Chinese newspapers, perhaps I could learn how recruitment took place.

My general sense is that Chinese workers were signed/assigned into labor gangs before coming to America. These gangs/groups were then subcontracted out by Chinese labor bosses in San Francisco to various projects. They could have been sent to working in mines, building dikes or canals, or working for the railroad. In the off-season the workers tended to reside in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

As for initial recruitment, it is hard to say how this is done. Since most of the workers were illiterate, I doubt if posters would have had much meaning — word of mouth was far more likely. The desire to leave China for foreign work, whether in South America, California, or elsewhere was heavily influence by local political and economic conditions that are difficult to reconstruct.

All of this makes for a rather complex picture particularly when trying to share this information with younger students.

The Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroad routinely contracted its labor through the firm Sisson & Wallace, who ran hardware and supply stores in different parts of California. The railroad did not directly engage in hiring Chinese — although perhaps there were individual exceptions to this rule. In the commissary system, the labor provider has the rights to provide workers food, clothing, tools etc. the value of which was deducted from the workers wages. The Southern Pacific employed the commissary system with Mexican labor as late as 1940's. But the commissary system was used throughout the country with many nationalities and on many railroads.

I have attached a summary of a Supreme Court case in which there is at least a reference to an American possibly going to China in 1881 to recruit labor. I think this was somewhat unusual. I think I recall seeing the the name of Koopmanschap in Central Pacific Railroad correspondence of the 1870's, but have not been able to locate any of these references.

Good luck! I would be very interested in hearing what others have to say about this topic.

—Larry Mullaly

11/12/2014 10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sisson & Wallace: Chinese Commissary System

California unreported cases: being those determined in the Supreme Court and ... By California. Supreme Court, Peter V. Ross p. 35-39

Action for an accounting, brought by Emeline "Wallace and Cora A. Herzstein against Joseph H. Sisson and Milo A. Burke, executors of A. "W. Sisson, deceased, and Julia Ann Crocker, executrix of Clark W. Crocker, deceased. Judgment for defendants. Plaintiffs appeal. Reversed.A. N. Brown (D. M. Delmas of counsel) for appellants; Mastic, Belcher & Mastic for respondents.

HAYNES. C.—Appeal from a judgment for defendants, and from an order denying plaintiff's motion for a new trial. A. W. Sisson, W. H. Wallace and Clark W. Crocker were copartners in the name of Sisson, Wallace & Co. Wallace died intestate, October 2,1881. This action was commenced in May, 1884, against Sisson and Crocker, and, Sisson having died before judgment his executors were substituted, and defendant Crocker having died since this appeal, his executrix was substitituted in this court. The firm was organized about 1868, having its principal place of business at San Francisco, and subsidiary places of business at different points on the line of the Central and Southern Pacific Railroads during the construction and operation of those roads. The Pacific Improvement Company, the Western Development Company, and the Southern Development Company were corporations severally engaged in the construction of these railroads under contracts with the railroad companies. Sisson, Wallace & Co. were dealers in merchandise, but their principal business was procuring Chinese laborers for the railroad and construction companies, and furnishing them with supplies of food and clothing while laboring for those corporations. As Chinamen were needed for construction or repairs, orders were given Sisson, Wallace & Co. for the men, and these would be procured and forwarded. No compensation was paid by the corporations for this service, but there was an understanding that Sisson. Wallace & Co. should supply the men so furnished with food and clothing, out of the profits of which they would be compensated for their labor and expense in procuring them. The Chinamen labored under the immediate direction of the railroad or construction company, who also kept their time; but the payrolls, when made out, were delivered to Sisson, Wallace & Co., and the, money called for by the rolls was paid to them, and they retained the amounts due them from the Chinamen for supplies, and paid them the remainder. In June or July, 1881, more Chinamen were required than could be obtained here. One Koopmanschap suggested to Mr. Sisson that he could obtain in China all the men required, but it would involve the expense of procuring them, and of their transportation from China. Sisson communicated the suggestion to Mr. Wallace, who thought the risk too great to justify incurring so large an outlay. Sisson, however, took Koopmanchap to Charles Crocker, the president of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, and introduced the subject of procuring men from China, and an arrangement was afterward perfected under which a large number of Chinamen were imported. What this arrangement was. Who were parties to it, and whether it constituted a contract under which Sisson, Wallace & Co. had a right to supply the Chinamen for any definite time, or while they should labor for the construction company, are the principal questions involved in the appeal.

11/12/2014 10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Kyle Wyatt"

It is also pertinent to observe that following completion in May 1869, it appears that the Central Pacific Railroad may have directly employed Chinese as section hands. Many CP station plats included housing for Chinese workers. The California State Railroad Museum has such station plata from the 1880's, and looking at the stations across Nevada I noted a number of such facilities. (I didn't look for it on plats from other areas.)

—Kyle Wyatt

11/13/2014 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Denny Dickinson"


I have forwarded this email to my historian friends at the Truckee Donner Historical Society. The Society has a library in Truckee with a wealth of Chinese history that will be helpful in your quest to write a curriculum. I complied a large book with major papers on the Chinese history to help researchers just like you to get a quick overview on the Chinese during the building of the CPRR. The Chinese came and stayed in Truckee. What happen to them in this area would be considered a hate crime punishable by law in today's world. Besides building the railroad, the Chinese where involved in the ice harvesting industry, and the lumber industry. The story of what happen to the Chinese after the completion of the transcontinental railroad needs to be told. The Chinese played a major role in building the" West" and were kick out. Hopefully you will include that in you curriculum.

Your quest of knowledge has just begun. I suggest that you read The High Road to Promontory by George Kraus. Then contact the Truckee Donner Historical Society to fill in holes in your research. I would even suggest that you visit the Truckee Donner Historical Library and the Sierra Sun archives located on microfilm at the Nevada County Truckee Library.

By the way, Sission, Wallace & Co. (later Sisson, Crocker, & Co.) had a large presence for many years in this area. There is a building here in Truckee (still standing and in use) that was built in the Truckee Rail Yard to supply the railroad and Chinese. That company played a big role in the "Truckee Method" by saying NO along with Elle Ellen, a major supplier of lumber to the railroad.

I hope that my email gets your attention. You can spend a life time researching the story. All I ask is that you get if right.

—Dennis A. Dickinson – Truckee Historical

11/13/2014 9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the correct statement that "The Chinese played a major role in building the 'West' and were kick out." there is some detail that is important to know:

White labor was virulently anti-Chinese, while the railroad was pro-Chinese and actively assisted the Chinese who where being kicked out of Truckee. (This is as expected, because in a market economy, discrimination is very costly, and the railroad would have had to bear the economic cost of not hiring the best person for the job.)

11/13/2014 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Stephen Harris"

My research in conjunction with the Truckee Donner Historical Society indicates that the railroad companies, at least indirectly, actively recruited labor from China in the latter 19th century. This was accomplished principally through the agency of what were known as 'Chinese Benevolent Associations', or "Tongs"; these associations acted on behalf of Chinese immigrants to secure employment, lodging and other basic necessities for Chinese laborers who were largely uneducated and spoke no English. The "Tongs" were composed of Chinese professionals, also conversant in English and American law, who took a fee for their services. Evidence of their use by the CPRR railroad company is documented in the book High Road to Promontory by George Kraus on p. 111:

"Stanford, in a report to President Andrew Johnson on October 10, 1865, wrote...
'We have assurance from leading Chinese merchants that, under the just and liberal policy pursued by the company, it will be able to procure during the next year not less than 15,000 laborers. With this large force the company will be able to push on the work so as not only to complete it far within the time required by the Acts of Congress but so as to meet the public impatience.' "

A visit to the [Truckee Donner] Historical Society research library would provide more information on this topic. ...

—Stephen Harris, TDHS

11/13/2014 3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Daily Alta California, July 15, 1869 published a report on the Chinese Labor Convention. In that report, "Mr. Koopmanschap, of San Francisco, addressed the convention, stating his house brought 30,000 Chinese to California...."

1/14/2015 6:38 PM  

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