During the mid-nineteenth century, a labor shortage in the western United States led to creation of a contract labor system to help the mining and railroad industries attract cheap immigrant labor to the United States. Using labor contracts that paid below-market wages, American industries attracted thousands of Chinese immigrants, angering some Americans who feared immigrant competition and eventually prompting the enactment of federal legislation outlawing foreign contract labor.
Chinese railroad workers watching a Central Pacific train roll by during the 1870’s.
American companies were not the only agencies recruiting contract labor. During the 1870’s a group of Chinese American industrialists known as the
Other Asian countries that sent large numbers of contract laborers to the United States included Japan and the Philippines. Many Japanese laborers were recruited to work on
In the United States, the influx of low-wage immigrant workers brought in by the contract labor system angered many American labor organizations, such as the
Ambrose, Stephen. Nothing Like It in the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Examination of the leaders and workers involved in the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Detailed look at the various federal and state laws passed in the latter half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century to limit Chinese immigration to the West Coast. Peck, Gunther. Reinventing Free Labor. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Examination of the contract labor system for all immigrants and the legal changes in labor law for immigrants. Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1998. Wide-ranging book that examines the immigration stories of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Southeast Asian immigrants to the United States. Zia, Helen. Asian American Dreams. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. Examination of stories about individual immigrant families in the United States dating back to the nineteenth century.
Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885
Asian Indian immigrants
Asiatic Exclusion League
California gold rush