Monday, October 12, 2009

How much were the Chinese paid?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Tuesday, August 9, 1887, during the Pacific Railroad Commission hearings, James Harvey Strobridge was asked "What was paid for labor at the time?" His response "For Chinamen, we paid $35 a month." However, a few minutes later he said "As I recollect it now, we paid white men $35 a month and Chinamen $30." (Stobridge was hired by Charles Crocker to supervise the building of the Central Pacific, commencing at MP 33, New Castle, Cal. in June, 1864)
All laborers were paid in gold coin.
While you did not ask, you may be interested in the following question, asked of Stobridge that same day in August, 1887: "What did your force of Chinamen average from New Castle, section 33, during the four years that you were building to Promontory Point?" His response" "I do not recollect now. During the years 1866 and 1867, and along there, we had a very large force. After we got out of the mountains and on to the plains our force was considerably lighter. As I recollect it now, we had in 1866 and 1867 about 13,000 or 14,000 men.....Something about 11,000 Chinamen and the balance white men." In response to another question, Strobridge said "In 1868 I think we had about 5,000 as I now recollect it."
G J Chris Graves, New Castle, Cal.

10/12/2009 9:25 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"


Thank you. I have often wondered what one would do with an army of 14,000
men in the deserts of Nevada and Utah.


10/13/2009 5:32 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Bob Pecotich"

I recall reading somewhere that the white men received "board" but the Chinese were expected to provide their own. My memory may also be hazy in this regard, as the recollection is at least 40 years old.

—Bob Pecotich

10/13/2009 5:33 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Here are some references to the pay Chinese received while building the Central Pacific. Note that it does vary over time, and also may not be the same for all individual employees. Note also these are likely wages for unskilled workers. Skilled workers, whether Chinese or Caucasian, would command higher salaries.


10/13/2009 5:37 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Chinese & White Wages on CP

Beyond the Mississippi by Albert D. Richardson

The cars now (1867) run nearly to the summit of the Sierras. ... four thousand laborers were at work—one-tenth Irish, the rest Chinese. They were a great army laying siege to Nature in her strongest citadel. The rugged mountains looked like stupendous ant-hills. They swarmed with Celestials, shoveling, wheeling, carting, drilling and blasting rocks and earth, while their dull, moony eyes stared out from under immense basket-hats, like umbrellas. At several dining camps we saw hundreds sitting on the ground, eating soft boiled rice with chopsticks as fast as terrestrials could with soup-ladles. Irish laborers received thirty dollars per month (gold) and board; Chinese, thirty-one dollars, boarding themselves. After a little experience the latter were quite as efficient and far less troublesome.

10/13/2009 5:38 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Testimony of J. H. Strobridge, US Pacific Railway Commission, pp 3139-41, as printed in Stuart Daggett: Chapters in the History of the Southern Pacific, p 70n.

Year Chinese Rate of Pay White Workers Rate of Pay
1864 Very few - 1,200 & nbsp; $30 a month
1865 7,000 $30 a month 2,500 $35 a month
1866 11,000 $35 a month 2,500 - 3,000 $35 a month
1867 11,000 $35 a month 2,500 – 3,000 -
1868 5,000 – 6,000 - &n bsp; 2,500 – 3,000 -
1869 5,000 - 1,500 – 1,600 -

Note that across Nevada the Central Pacific also employed the local Indians, not reflected in the above chart.

10/13/2009 5:39 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Above table formatted.

10/13/2009 5:45 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Central Pacific Railroad Statement Made to the President of the United States, and Secretary of the Interior, on the Progress of the Work. October 10th, 1865. H.S. Crocker & Co., Printers, 92 J Street, Sacrame nto.

A large majority of the white laboring class on the Pacific Coast find more profitable and congenial employment in mining and agricultural pursuits, than in railroad work. The greater portion of the laborers employed by us are Chinese, who constitute a large element in the population of California. Without them it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprrise, within the time required by the Acts of Congress.

As a class they are quiet, peaceable, patient, industrious and economical—ready and apt to learn all the different kinds of work required in railroad building, they soon become as efficient as white laborers. More prudent and economical, they are contented with less wages. We find them organized into societies for mutual aid and assistance. These societies, that count their numbers by thousands, are conducted by shrewd, intelligent business men, who promptly advise their subordinates where employment can be found20on the most favorable terms.

No system similar to slavery, serfdom or peonage prevails among these laborers. Their wages, which are always paid in coin, at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents, who attend to their business, in proportion to the labor done by each person. These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them their supplies of food, the value of which they deduct from their monthly pay. We have assurances 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.

Pres't C. P. R. R. Co.

10/13/2009 5:47 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Alta California, San Francisco, November 9, 1868.

“Systematic workers these Chinese – competent and wonderfully effective because tireless and unremitting in their industry. Order and industry then, as now, made for accomplishment. Divided into gangs of about 30 men each, they work under the direction of an American foreman. The Chinese board themselves. One of their number is selected in each gang to receive all wages and buy all provisions. They usually pay an American clerk – $1 a month apiece is usual – to see that each gets all he earned and is charged no more than his share of the living expenses. They are paid from $30 to $35 in gold a month, out of which they board themselves. They are credited with having saved about $20 a month. Their workday is from sunrise to sunset, six days in the week. They spend Sunday washing and mending, gambling and smoking, and frequently, old timers will testify, in shrill-toned quarreling. ... ”

10/13/2009 5:48 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see, Chinese workers on the Central Pacific Railroad.

10/13/2009 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And lets not, please, forget that James Harvey Strobridge and his partner, Edward M. Pitcher (son of the Governor of New York) had 18 Chinese workers on their hay farm in what is now Rio Linda, Cal., in 1852. These 18 men were listed as "miners" on the special 1852 census, however there are no mines within 30 miles of Rio Linda. Because Mr. Strobridge did have mining interests near what is now Placerville, Cal. it would not be too far fetched to believe that the Chinese were working for him in that mining endeavor as the census was being conducted. In addition to the hay operation, Mr. Strobridge and Mr. Pitcher operated a hotel known as the Starr House on the same property. James Harvey Strobridge was no stranger to the exceptional work that Chinese workers could accomplish. Mr. Pitcher died on the farm, and was buried there; the Rio Linda School District built a bus barn over the cemetery, it is now under concrete and steel, this per Rio Linda historians.
G J Chris Graves, NewCastle, Cal.

10/14/2009 7:30 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see, "China Labour" – CPRR Payroll, March, 1865.

10/14/2009 8:37 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Governor Low's Evidence, 1881:

" ... They were offering then, if I recollect rightly, $45 a month and board for white labor ... "

"I saw the progress that was being made in the employment of Chinese, and talked with Strobridge about it. In less than six months, I think, they had the Chinese doing everything; not only filling the carts but driving the horses, and Strobridge told me that, taken altogether, the Chinese did 80 per cent, as much as the whites. They paid the Chinese $31 a month, and they boarded themselves. To the white laborers they professed to pay, and did pay, $45 a month and board, which amounted, they considered, to two dollars a day."

By senator Sargent. Q. Suppose that instead of paying $45 they paid $50? I myself was paying $65 at that time. A. Crocker said there was not sufficient labor in the country; that he could not get it."

10/16/2010 10:38 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The February, 1865 CPRR Crocker payroll seems to show white laborer Thomas Conner being paid $0.95/day which seems comparable to the reported $30-35/month which both the Chinese and caucasian laborers were paid, and not the higher figure of $45/month that Governor Low remembered. The Foreman and Carpenters were paid more.

10/16/2010 11:57 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related discussion.

12/23/2010 12:12 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The New York Tribune, June 26, 1869:

" ... Chinamen ... receive $35 per month (gold) and board themselves. Of this they save from $20 to $23. The Union Pacific Company ... is paying its laborers $2 per day (currency) ... "

8/07/2011 10:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see related discussion.

8/18/2011 8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The University of California. Davis, History Project writes:

"Less Pay
The Chinese teams were organized into groups of 20 under one white foreman; as the difficulty of construction increased, so often did the size of the gangs. Initially, Chinese employees received wages of $27 and then $30 a month, minus the cost of food and board. In contrast, Irishmen were paid $35 per month, with board provided. The Central Pacific was able to purchase Chinese labor for approximately 2/3 the price of white labor, and the eventually saved approximately five and a half million dollars by hiring Chinese instead of white unskilled laborers."

Even if for a limited period of time there was a $5 difference in monthly wages, how does 30/35 = 2/3 ???

5/23/2012 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Originally, the Chinese were paid $26 a month and $13 of that would go towards their rations." according to the Chinese Historical Society of America. Unfortunately, no reference is cited to allow verification of this information about the cost of rations which, unless they were saving about 100% of their remaining income, might appear inconsistent with later reports about the amount of money they were able to save:

"The Chinese [railroad workers] ... are paid from $30 to $35 in gold a month ... They are credited with having saved about $20 a month." —Alta, California, November 9, 1868 Newspaper.

" ... Chinamen ... receive $35 per month (gold) ... Of this they save from $20 to $23. ... " —The New York Tribune, June 26, 1869.

6/27/2013 9:58 AM  
Blogger 新疆老李 said...


In your response on Davis history group's writing. You asked how the $5 difference ($35 vs. $30) can get a conclusion that Chinese labors only got 2/3 what White got.

It seems like they counted the food and board which Chinese labors didn't receive. Right?

In several occasions you explained the reason why Chinese didn't get food provided by CPRR is due to their choice, because they don't like American food.

Then I have questions:

1) Food may be cheap at the time, but still cost money. How could you conclude all the Chinese labor would give up 'free food' in order to take their own food?

2) If they gave up the 'free food' provided by CPRR, why they didn't ask any compensation for the food cost from CPRR?

I just try to make sense for your explanations.



11/24/2013 7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Chinese labor likely would have declined and placed no value on food from a western diet because such food is of a type which they did not eat. Presumably this was negotiated in the contract with the Six Companies.

As noted above, on Tuesday, August 9, 1887, during the Pacific Railroad Commission hearings, James Harvey Strobridge was asked "What was paid for labor at the time?" His response "For Chinamen, we paid $35 a month." However, a few minutes later he said "As I recollect it now, we paid white men $35 a month and Chinamen $30."

So this is an uncertain detail that clearly was not remembered exactly being guessed at after more than two decades had passed. Trying to do precise calculations that require distinguishing small differences in wage rates, if any existed, does not seem possible with this degree of uncertainty of the recollection. This is particularly difficult as the wage rate changed over time, and there can be no assurance that wage rates being compared were even for the same years.

11/24/2013 8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another account (see above) says "Irish laborers received thirty dollars per month (gold) and board; Chinese, thirty-one dollars, boarding themselves."

If these wage rates are accurate, then they support the idea that the Chinese railroad laborers were paid slightly more than the Irish laborers because they supplied their own food according to their customs.

Chinese receiving higher wages than Irish certainly doesn't support the notion that the Chinese were being underpaid or discriminated against.

11/24/2013 9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much did immigrants get paid?

4/14/2014 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Behind Chinese workers got less paid, large number of them didn't make it till the end of the project. Thousands of them loss their life and the company no need to paid them anymore!!

5/15/2014 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wrong, wrong, wrong again! Do your homework before posting misinformation.

No need to restate the corrections as they already appear above on this page and elsewhere on this website.

5/15/2014 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related discussion of the Chinese Workers Strike, 1867.

5/21/2014 10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was provided for the workers?

11/18/2014 12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"According to Olga Eng Chin, her grandfather Eng Mun Dom (We Wen Tan) worked on the railroad from California to Utah. He came from the ancestral village of Munlow, where all the Engs came from. After working he returned to China with the equivalent of $10,000, which was viewed as a fortune."

—Stanford University's Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project

6/18/2015 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Roland De Wolk"

... you are, of course, absolutely correct in noting the many of the exaggerations about the Chinese workers (hanging in baskets at Cape Horn, number dead, etc.) Because of that I imagine you will want to correct the frequent assertions by some of your correspondents that the Euro-Americans were paid roughly the same as the Asian ones. Strobridge, in his testimony before the US Pacific Railway Commission (vol. 5) said the Chinese were initially paid $30 a month and the Irish (aka white) $35. On top of that, the Chinese bought their own food and hired their own cooks. The Stanford project has done a reasonable job in amortizing the effective difference in take-home. The strike, of course, was over getting $5 more as the Euro-Americans were getting as time went on. (A roughly 15 percent pay cut or raise is, I'm pretty sure, is pretty significant for anyone.)

Roland De Wolk

6/29/2017 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comparing wages rates that are poorly documented, vary over time, and with Chinese wages presumably negotiated with the Six Companies separately from other wage rates, all seems much too uncertain to ascribe much significance to the comparison. (Do we not expect to find similar wage rate variations between separately negotiated contracts with union versus non-union workers today?)

6/29/2017 8:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Roland De Wolk"

... Here are the page numbers for Vol. 5 of the USPRC report where Strobridge testifies about salaries: pp. 1478, 1482 ½, 1484 ½

The Stanford U. site I mentioned earlier, and which you no doubt know about, tries to give some monetary value to the board (food) the RR also provided the non-Chinese, as well as the added cost of paying for preparation. Together, that obviously makes more than the general 15 percent differential. ...

6/29/2017 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"The Chinese [railroad workers] ... are paid from $30 to $35 in gold a
month ... They are credited with having saved about $20 a month." —Alta,
, November 9, 1868 Newspaper.

" ... Chinamen ... receive $35 per month (gold) ... Of this they save from
$20 to $23. ... " —The New York Tribune, June 26, 1869.

Again, see related discussions,

USPRC pp. 3139-3141

How much were Chinese paid?

Chinese workers strike, 1867.

6/29/2017 11:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Roland De Wolk"


or this:

“The company in three years saved approximately five and half million dollars by hiring Chinese instead of white unskilled laborers.” —[Alexander] Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: [Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California], [1975], pp. 63-66.

(We can cite 19th century newspaper stories when it suits, ignore Strobridge sworn testimony when it doesn't, and pay attention to Saxton when that fits into the narrative. — But I suspect that's not what either of us would aim for!) ...

6/29/2017 11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, don't know the calculation leading to the conclusion “The company in three years saved approximately five and half million dollars by hiring Chinese instead of white unskilled laborers.” Makes no sense as sufficient white unskilled workers were not available in 1860's California. (They would take the train to the end of the line, and promptly disappear into the gold fields.) So how are "savings" possible when there is nothing real to compare. Seems a mistake to calculate fictional savings when the proposed alternative is not possible. Is this perhaps confusing the labor shortage in the 1860's that led to the railroad importing Chinese workers with the high unemployment rate after the crash in 1872 following completion of the Central Pacific?

What does "ignore Strobridge sworn testimony" mean? We cite this testimony and provide the text in full. He isn't sure about the numbers and doesn't specify which years, struggling to remember the details from two decades earlier. [James Harvey Strobridge was asked "What was paid for labor at the time?" His response "For Chinamen, we paid $35 a month." However, a few minutes later he said "As I recollect it now, we paid white men $35 a month and Chinamen $30."]

The statement "we can cite 19th century newspaper stories when it suits" seems an inappropriate rejection of primary source data. We cite and provide all the available information with nothing held back. If you have available any other primary source materials better telling us what the workers were paid, do please provide them.

Seems a mistake to attempt to assign any value to providing American food when negotiating wages with Chinese workers who would not eat such an American diet, and would likely regard it as worthless to them.

But attempting precise calculations when the wage data is so variable and uncertain (i.e., from $31 to $45 monthly) seems like the classic "garbage in – garbage out" computing fallacy.

6/29/2017 11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" ... 2,000 Chinese ... struck for one week ... a month later, they got ... their wage increase that they wanted from $35 to $40 a month ... " —Chinese-American historian SueFawn Chung, who is professor emerita of the University of Nevada Las Vegas

7/01/2017 12:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this wage increase to $40/month is correct, then the Chinese laborers would seem to have been better paid after the 1867 strike than white laborers.

The graph of the numbers of Chinese workers employed over time, shows that the vast majority of the Chinese labor was working only in 1866 in California when the data indicate that both white and Chinese laborers received equal pay of $35/month.

So, the evidence contradicts the idea of anti-Chinese discrimination in wage rates paid in 1866-1867 by the Central Pacific Railroad.

7/01/2017 1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Roland De Wolk"

Doesn't [Professor SueFawn Chung's] assertion contradict every other source, including Crocker?

7/01/2017 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A sentence quoted above was quoted incompletely. The full sentence reads: “Yet even if we accept the modest two-thirds ratio, it follows that the company in three years saved approximately five and half million dollars by hiring Chinese instead of white unskilled laborers.”

Since the data instead indicate that both white and Chinese laborers received equal pay of $35/month in 1866, the period when most of the Chinese employment occurred, such "savings" never occurred, nor were they possible.

So an incorrect premise resulting in an incorrect conclusion, and any resulting inference of racial discrimination is based on misinformation.

7/04/2017 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The June 21, 2019 Sierra Sun article "The Chinese Transcontinental Railroad" by Corri Jimenez states incorrectly that:

"In 1867, Chinese for example were paid $35/month (excluded room/board), the equivalent today of approximately $594.00, which was two-thirds less than their Irish-born coworkers."

However $594 is NOT the correct equivalent amount today because payments to the Chinese workers were made in gold coin, not paper money.

"The 1869 $20 Gold Coin [U.S. Liberty Head $20 Gold Coin] weighs 33.44 grams and contain 0.9613 ounces of gold." The Chinese were paid each month 35 x 0.9613 / 20 ounces of gold per month as $35 in gold coin, so the correct calculation is ($1399/oz gold x $35 x 0.9613oz)/$20 = $2,353.50.

6/24/2019 5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recalculating inflation adjusted Chinese railroad worker monthly salary for today's gold price of $1,951.90 /oz

($1,951.90/oz gold x $35 x 0.9613oz)/$20 = $3,283,63

3/30/2022 6:57 AM  

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