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Chinese American Labor on the Transcontinental Railroad

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How vital were the Chinese laborers in opening up the West for America through the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad? Elizabeth Chen 8290673 Word Count: 1887 How vital were the Chinese laborers in opening up the West for America through the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad? A. Plan of Investigation This investigation evaluates the importance of Chinese immigrants who labored to complete the transcontinental railroad, and how their role opened the settlement of the West for America.

To assess this, this case will study the characteristics of the Chinese, also compared to other European workers, the principles that made them become prominent figures in the railroad construction despite discrimination, and the how the Central Pacific Railroad could have never been completed without the effort of the Chinese.

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The sources used are books written by historians, quotes from important figures, and articles written in the time period.

The two chief sources used were Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 written by Stephen Ambrose and Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad by David Haward Bain.

These two sources will be evaluated for their perspectives and value. B. Summary of Evidence Beginning in 1830 the transcontinental railroad had been advocated for and desired by the American people. The people wanted a modern form of transportation that connected to two great oceans.

Abraham Lincoln promoted the railroad, and by 1853 Congress ordered the routing of the new transcontinental railroad. Starting from Sacramento, California, the Central Pacific Railroad Company built east while the Union Pacific Railroad Company built west from Omaha, Iowa. The key figures in the Central Pacific Railroad Company, were known as the ‘Big Four’. These men were Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. Also, head of construction was James Harvey Strobridge. It was Strobridge who grudgingly admitted that the company needed to hire the Chinese due to their shortage of workers.

He was originally against this because of strong prejudices against the Chinese. In the 1860’s, there were about 60,000 Chinese in California, nearly all of which were adult males. The Chinese were heavily discriminated against: not allowed to vote, testify in court, and denied citizenship. They were often called ‘coolies’, a Hindu term that meant unskilled laborers. Leland Stanford even called the Chinese the “dregs of Asia” in his campaign for Governor of California. In 1858, California law officially outlawed Chinese from immigrating into America.

Although poorly enforced, this law was not formally repealed until 1943. Strobridge was hesitant to accept Chinese workers, because he feared his employed white workers would quit from outrage of having to work with the Chinese. Instead, once the Irishmen, rebelling for higher wages, heard of the Chinese workers, they abandoned their strike and went back to work. Strobridge agreed that the Chinese could push his men to work for fear of competition. The Chinese proved to work diligently. They were described as working in a “steady, rhythmic cadence”. They were dedicated, and worked endlessly.

The Chinese customs were found to be much different than the workers of European descent. Their extensive palate of dried oysters, bamboo sprouts, fresh pork, poultry, and much more was strange, as opposed to the red meat and whiskey of the white workers. Stranger even, the Chinese did not drink whiskey like the Irishmen. Everyday the Chinese boiled water for tea throughout the day. The biggest accomplishment of the Chinese workers was completion of the Summit Tunnel. It was at the elevation of 7,000 feet and built cutting through 1750 feet of solid granite.

The Chinese workers labored through the winter in non-stop three round shifts. Fearless Chinese volunteered to blast through the tunnel with new, unstable explosives called nitroglycerin. At the final ceremony celebrating the finished railroad, in Promontory, Utah, teams of Chinese and Irish workers were selected to lay the final rails. The Chinese were commemorated, and even as the Big Four ceremoniously drove in the last spikes, it was the Chinese who set up the spikes and checked the integrity of it afterwards. C. Evaluation of Sources

The two most helpful sources, Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 and Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad are books that accurately narrate the building of the transcontinental railroad. The historians, Stephens Ambrose and David Bain are both qualified in their writing, both already have written numerous books on other topics. Ambrose’s Nothing Like It in the World was written to depict the workers of the railroad and how it was made, “How it was done is my subject.

Why plays a role, of course, along with the financing and the political argument, but how is the theme. ” His research is in-depth and clearly organized. The chapters and how the book was organized was a manner that was efficient at explaining the setting of the railroads. The construction of the railroad is divided between the Union Pacific line and the Central Pacific Line, and Ambrose does a good job of clearly separating the two. This source is also valuable, because it commemorates the Chinese in their efforts while describing the environment of the racial discrimination.

The research is engaging, because it reads easily like a story. Bain’s Empire Express is the book that reads from the perspective of an American viewing the Chinese during the time period. His book has many first hand accounts that are used to piece the story of the Chinese laborers. In this writing he takes on the mindset of the American, and it is interesting to see how the Chinese were viewed using terminology such as, “Chinese chow chow” and “chattering Mongolian phalanx”. Together, these two sources gave me a complete portrayal of the Chinese laborers on the Transcontinental Railroad.

D. Analysis Although Strobridge resisted the hiring of Chinese workers, he soon discovered that they were hardworking and reliable people. “The Chinese are faithful and industrious […] many of them are becoming expert in drilling, blasting, and other departments of rock work”. In fact, many foremen “spoke well of the almond-eyed strangers and praised them especially for their docility and intelligence” Much of this was due to their diligent nature, cultural differences, and fearless dedication to the completion of the railroad.

In a magazine article that ran in 1868, it urged Americans to put aside discriminations toward the Chinese. It describes them as people who “display a remarkable adroitness. ” It also states that, “[…] by his untiring persistence he accomplishes more work than he Caucasian,” These peaceful Chinese, with their persistence, were more reliable than other workers. Strobridge was so impressed that in 1867, the Big Four decided to import Chinese into America to work for them. “The agents go to get a large immigration to come over and work. The Chinese had become a desired commodity in the railroad industry. Americans in that time were scared of the Chinese for their strange customs and job monopolizations. However, a Chinese immigrant who wrote about his experiences shares his views on the Chinese: “The Chinese were persecuted not for their vices, but for their virtues. No one would hire an Irishman, Germanman, Englishman, or Italian when he could get a Chinese because our countrymen are so much more honest, industrious, steady, sober, and painstaking. ”

In comparison to the Irishmen who were also employed by the Central Pacific Railroad Company, the Chinese were much more reliable and less troublesome. They did not drink liquor, and instead only drank boiled water used for tea. This protected the Chinese from the dysentery that plagued the Irishmen who drank from communal, unclean water buckets. The Irishmen also drank whiskey and often were absent from work on “Blue –Mondays” due to hangovers. The Chinese gambled and smoked opium as vices, which were much less unruly. They learn quickly, do not fight, have no strikes that amount to anything, and are very cleanly in their habits. They will gamble and quarrel among themselves most noisily-but harmlessly”, Strobridge noted about the Chinese. In the winter of 1886-67, Strobridge and his workers encountered a sheer cliff of granite. They began to blast into the mountain using only black powder and manpower. When there were no men capable of blasting through the sheet rock, a Chinese went to Strobridge and said; “”Maybe, we can be of some help,” he supposedly said, “My people, you know, built the Great Wall of China! ” That winter brought heavy snow. The steadfast Chinese dug snow tunnels and “pressed on, drilling holes in the granite, placing the black powder and then the fuse, lighting the fuse, getting out of the way, and then going back to clear out the broken granite” Many Chinese gave their lives to the cause of building the railroad. The progress of blasting through the granite was slow, and Strobridge began using the volatile explosive, nitroglycerin. Because of the nature of the dangerous material, only the Chinese volunteered to handle it. Progress of the blasting increased from 1. 8 to 1. 82 feet per day. The Chinese and their extraordinary devotion to the building of the railroad and strong virtues allowed for the railroad to completed in a timely fashion, if at all. Leland Stanford, strong advocator for the expulsion of the Chinese even wrote the President Andrew Johnson saying, “Without the Chinese it would have been impossible to complete the western portion of this great National Highway. ” E. Conclusion Through toiling dedication, the Chinese leave an unrecognized impact on the Transcontinental Railroad that last for centuries.

Their diligent demeanor, superior cultural customs, and fearless devotion led the Chinese to being the most valuable workers on the railroad. Without them, the construction of the railroad would have been delayed, and therefore delayed the exploration and settlement of the West. In the newspaper Alta California, a reporter calls the Chinese, John Chinaman in his article describing his observations. “John comprehending fully the importance of the event, loses his natural appearance of stolidity and indifference and welcomes with the swinging of his broad brimmed hat and loud, uncouth shouts the iron horse.

With his patient toil, directed by American energy and backed by American capital, John Chinaman has broken down the great barrier at last and opened over it the greatest highway yet created for the march of civilization. ” F. Bibliography “Bridges & Tunnels on the Transcontinental Railroad”, Linda Hall Library Resources, accessed January 2, 2013, http://railroad. lindahall. org/essays/tunnels-bridge. html. Chinese Exclusion repeal Act of 1943″ (Chap 344, 17 Dec. 1943), 57 United States Statutes at Large, pp. 600-601. The Chinese in California”, Lippincott’s Magazine, March 1886, pp. 36-40 David Haward Bain, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad, (New York: Penguin Books, 2000) John Chinaman, San Francisco Daily Alta California, April 28, 1869. John Hoyt Williams, A Great & Shining Road: An Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroad, (New York: Times Books, 1988) Lee Chew, “A Chinese Immigrant Makes His Home in America”, Independent Magazine, February 19, 1909, reprinted on http://historymatters. gmu. du/d/41/ Stan Steiner, Fusang: The Chinese Who Built America: The Chinese Railroad Men, (New York: Harper and Row, 1980) Stephen Ambrose, Nothing Like It In The World: The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Stephen Ambrose, Nothing Like It In The World: The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 25 [ 2 ]. Ibid, 31. [ 3 ]. Ibid, 55. [ 4 ]. Ibid, 19. [ 5 ].

David Haward Bain, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad, (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 97 [ 6 ]. Ambrose, Nothing Like It In the World, 149-150 [ 7 ]. “Chinese Exclusion repeal Act of 1943” (Chap 344, 17 Dec. 1943), 57 United States Statutes at Large, pp. 600-601. [ 8 ]. Ambrose, Nothing Like It In the World, 152 [ 9 ]. Bain, Empire Express, 97. [ 10 ]. “Bridges & Tunnels on the Transcontinental Railroad”, Linda Hall Library Resources, accessed January 2, 2013, http://railroad. lindahall. org/essays/tunnels-bridge. html. [ 11 ].

Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 369-371. [ 12 ]. Ibid, 18. [ 13 ]. Bain, Empire Express, 97 [ 14 ]. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 164. [ 15 ]. Ibid, 240. [ 16 ]. “The Chinese in California”, Lippincott’s Magazine, March 1886, pp. 36-40. [ 17 ]. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 243. [ 18 ]. Lee Chew, “A Chinese Immigrant Makes His Home in America”, Independent Magazine, February 19, 1909, reprinted on http://historymatters. gmu. edu/d/41/ [ 19 ]. John Hoyt Williams, A Great & Shining Road: An Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroad, (New York: Times Books, 1988) [ 20 ].

Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 162 [ 21 ]. Ibid, 164, [ 22 ]. Stan Steiner, Fusang: The Chinese Who Built America: The Chinese Railroad Men, (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), 215. [ 23 ]. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 157 [ 24 ]. Ibid, 157 [ 25 ]. “Bridges & Tunnels on the Transcontinental Railroad”, Linda Hall Library Resources [ 26 ]. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 164. [ 27 ]. Ibid, 308, quoted in John Chinaman, San Francisco Daily Alta California, April 28, 1869.

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Chinese American Labor on the Transcontinental Railroad. (2016, Sep 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/chinese-american-labor-on-the-transcontinental-railroad/

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