Northern California’s major port city, San Francisco, has been a reception center and place of settlement for many immigrant groups since the mid-nineteenth century. Its rapid growth during the years before the U.S. Civil War was a direct result of California’s gold rush, but its status as one of the best natural harbors on the Pacific Coast ensured that it would continue to attract immigrants long after the gold rush ended.
California became a U.S. territory after the United States won the Mexican War of 1846-1848, and it became a state in 1850.
In 1877, five years before passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Harper’s Weekly published this cover, which gives the impression that an unending stream of Chinese are pouring into San Francisco.
In 1849, a few hundred Chinese men arrived in San Francisco hoping to work in the gold fields; another thousand arrived the following year. In 1860, official U.S. Census records showed that 2,719 Chinese were living in the city; that figure rose to 12,022 in 1870, 21,745 in 1880, 25,833 in 1890, and 13,954 in 1900. Through those years, thousands more Chinese passed through the city on their way to jobs in the gold fields, on railroads, and in other industries. Records of the city’s customs office show that 233,136 Chinese arrived in San Francisco between 1848 and 1876 alone; 93,273 of these immigrants later returned to China. The overwhelming majority of these early Chinese immigrants were men from the Pearl River Delta region of China that includes Canton,
Most of the Chinese who remained in San Francisco lived within the fifteen-square-block area that became known as
During the 1880’s,
During the 1850’s,
California’s American development began at the same time
San Francisco was completely rebuilt by the time of American’s entry into World War I in 1917, but by then significant changes had occurred. The city’s
During the second half of the twentieth century, San Francisco’s population remained relatively stable, and most people who immigrated to the city came for lifestyle reasons, to enjoy its picturesque setting, cultural attractions, and tolerance of all kinds of diversity. During the 1970’s, the city became a magnet for gay and lesbian people.
As with the United States as a whole, San Francisco began experiencing a large influx of Asian and Latin American immigration after the 1960’s. By the early twenty-first century, about 35 percent of its residents were foreign born. In 2007, residents of Asian descent constituted about 33 percent of the city’s estimated population of 800,000. and Hispanics constituted about 14 percent.
Brook, James, Chris Carlsson, and Nancy Joyce Peters, eds. Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1998. Collection of essays on San Francisco. Chen, Yong. Chinese San Francisco, 1850-1943: A Trans-Pacific Community. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000. Comprehensive history of Chinese immigration to San Francisco from the time of the gold rush to the year in which the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was finally repealed. Cinel, Dino. From Italy to San Francisco: The Immigrant Experience. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1982. Thorough history of Italian immigration to San Francisco. Dillon, Richard H. Hatchet Men: The Story of the Tong Wars in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Fairfield, Calif.: James Stevenson, 2005. History of organized crime in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Garvey, John, and Karen Hanning. Irish San Francisco. Mount Pleasant, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2008. History of Irish immigration to San Francisco.
Angel Island Immigration Station
California gold rush
I Remember Mama
“Yellow peril” campaign