Background – to 1880s

In the mid 1800s, the United States and China signed several treaties that opened the door to Chinese immigration. The United States needed cheap labor for the mining and railroad industries and the Chinese were willing to provide it.

By 1870 the population of Seattle was a little over 1,100. Thirty-two of those inhabitants were Chinese—cooks, cigar makers, laundrymen, sawmill workers and one tea merchant. The Chinese in Washington Territory were mostly employed digging mines, laying railroad tracks, and canning salmon.

There was an economic depression in the 1870s after the completion of the building of the Union Pacific Railroad and anti-Chinese riots occurred around the country. Although many U. S. laborers were recent immigrants themselves, they resented the Chinese being here and taking jobs away from “white” workers. This bitterness led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Chinese immigration to the United States was suspended for 10 years, laborers and Chinese employed in mining were excluded, and the Chinese were ineligible for naturalization.

Sources: Nicola, Chinese Exclusion, APGQ, Mar 2006, p25; Coolidge, Chinese Immigration, p148; 1870 US Census, WT, NARA M593, roll 1683; HistoryLink #1999.

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