Chinese Immigrants and the Transcontinental Railroad Secondary Source



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Chinese Immigrants and the Transcontinental Railroad

Secondary Source
Chinese peasants began arriving in California in 1850. They were partially forced to come over because of poverty and overpopulation in their homeland. As more Chinese immigrant came, they faced growing prejudice and restrictive laws.
Labor Shortage
In early 1865, the Central Pacific had work enough for 4,000 men. Contractor Charles Crocker could only find 800 laborers, mostly Irish immigrants. Railroad work was hard, and the railroads could not figure out how to keep a work force. The railroad thought the Chinese were unreliable, but Crocker still considered them because of the shortage of workers. Foreman Jame Jarvey Strobridge was very against hiring the Chinese.
Impressive Workers
Finally, Strobridge changed his attitude and hired 50 Chinese workers. Their work ethic impressed him, and he hired more Chinese workers for more difficult tasks. Soon, companies were searching for Chinese workers and Crocker began to advertise work in China. In 1868, there were 12,000 Chinese workers, which made up over 80% of the Central Pacific workforce. "Wherever we put them, we found them good," Crocker recalled. The Chinese workers were punctual, willing, and well-behaved.
The Ten-Mile Day
Near the end, Crocker decided to try for a record and lay 10 miles of track in one day. He was confident in his workers and on April 28, 1868, they were well prepared. Watching the scene was a team of soldiers. Its commander praised Crocker and his workers for their effort to lay so much rail in so little time. "Mr. Crocker, I never saw such organization as that; it was like an army marching over the ground and leaving a track built behind them." At the end of the day, the workers had successfully laid 10 miles of track.ten miles of track laid in one day, april 28, 1869.


  1. Underline/highlight parts of the reading that show how successful the Chinese workers were.

  2. How do you think Strobridge felt about the Chinese workers after seeing them work?

  3. The army commander praised the workers for their organization and hard work. Why was that such a compliment?


Chinese Immigrants and the Transcontinental Railroad

Primary Sources

The Library of Congress states that:  "No first-person memoirs of the Chinese experience in nineteenth-century California are known to survive.” This is surprising because Mark Twain wrote that they all could “read, write, and cipher with easy facilitiy.”

1. Why do you think there are no primary sources written by Chinese workers of the time period?

2. If the workers had written journals or diaries, what do you think they would have said/written about?



Because there are no direct writings, we have to look at what others said about their work.

John T. Doolittle (CA) speech to the U.S. House of Representatives

April 29, 1999

Today, I rise to honor the Chinese-American community and pay tribute to its ancestors' contribution to the building of the American transcontinental railroad.

To conquer the many sheer embankments, the Chinese workers used techniques they had learned in China to complete similar tasks. They were lowered by ropes from the top of cliffs in baskets, and while suspended, they chipped away at the granite and planted explosives that were used to blast tunnels. Many workers risked their lives and perished in the harsh winters and dangerous conditions.

Without the efforts of the Chinese workers in the building of America's railroads, our development and progress as a nation would have been delayed by years. Their toil in severe weather, cruel working conditions and for meager wages cannot be under appreciated. My sentiments and thanks go out to the entire Chinese-American community for its ancestors' contribution to the building of this great Nation.


3. Underline or highlight parts of the piece that talk about what the workers had to do while working. Does this make what other people said about them more impressive? Why or why not?
Quotes from Observers

"Wherever we put them, we found them good. They worked themselves into our favor: if we found we were in a hurry for a job of work, it was better to put [them] on." – Charles Crocker

"Chinese are faithful and industrious and, under proper supervision, some become skillful in the performance of their duty." – S. S. Montague, Chief Engineer

4. Whose quote is more positive?



5. Do you think these people were surprised when they said these things? Why or why not?


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