Before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibiting the entry of Chinese laborers to the U. S., thousands of Chinese were recruited by labor contractors, both non-Chinese and Chinese, to come work on railroad construction, mines, lumber camps, and other labor intensive work. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of their role in bringing large numbers of Chinese across the Pacific to work where they did not know the language and customs.
Below is an ad in 1870 for Sisson, Wallace & Co., a general agent company dealing in Chinese goods, groceries, and all kinds of family supplies in San Francisco. It also promoted the recruitment of supplies of Chinese labor in areas of northern California and Nevada, in particular to the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR). In 1866, it began to recruit Chinese laborers for the CPRR and was one of the largest contractors. They would hire a Chinese contractor to handle the payments to the workers and arrangements for room and board.
Another prominent non-Chinese labor contractor was Cornelius Koopmanschap, a Dutch immigrant who began recruiting over 30,000 Chinese laborers in 1861 for railroad construction. By 1870 he expanded his business to bring Chinese labor to the South to work on farms and plantations in Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana but his efforts to bring Chinese as replacements for African Americans on cotton plantations failed by 1875. Just before the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, he brought several thousand Chinese to work on the Southern and Northern Pacific Railroad construction.
Chinese also served as labor contractors, and having the advantage of fluency in the Chinese language, were effective as recruiters. Ah Quong in Reno, Nevada was an important recruiter who worked with white labor contractors to bring workers for the CPRR.
In the Pacific Northwest, Chin Chun Hock was a very successful labor contractor for railroads and lumber camps, establishing the Wah Chong Company in Seattle. A junior partner, Chin Gee Hee, continued the business until 1888 when he set up his own company, Quong Tuck Company.
|Chin Gee Hee, a Seattle labor contractor, in his office (1904).|
Chin returned in 1904 or 1905 to China, where he was the entrepreneur behind South China's first railway known as the Sun Ning Railway Company. He raised $2.75 million, mainly from Chinese emigrants to other countries.