9/27/16

Chinese Transcontinental Railroad Workers: Faceless but not Nameless



This photograph made on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah that memorialized the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad with the driving of the "Golden Spike" failed to include even a handful of the thousands of Chinese laborers without whose incredible work the line would taken longer to be completed.

Although historical documents rendered them "faceless" and left out of the commemorative celebration, at least their names are a part of the permanent record of the 1870 U. S. Census.  Below are a sample of these Chinese who were residing in Box Elder County, Utah where the Central Pacific Railroad from the west joined the Union Pacific Railroad coming from the midwest.

Note that most of their names were of the "Ah Wong" variety.  Even though none of them were actually named "Ah," early Census takers mistakenly heard Chinese say, Ah, before they gave their names.




It is valuable to examine the Chinese presence in the region a decade later with the 1880 Census.  It might tell us if many Chinese were in Box Elder County after the railroad was completed.  There were some Chinese there in 1880 working for the railroad. Whether they were from the original workers or represent new laborers is not clear.  However,  other Chinese came to the region who did not work on the railroad as the sample page from the 1880 Census shows. By 1880, Box Elder County had Chinese in many other lines of work: laundry, restaurant, grocer, tailor, prostitute, doctor, engineer.  
And, none of these Chinese are named "Ah."




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