Forgotten Workers

The National Museum of American History display recognizes the throngs who helped enable America's westward expansion.


Tucked in a back corner of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., is a tiny case for curators to showcase "new perspectives" on topics that had previously gone overlooked. Through spring 2020, that space features a smattering of photographs and artifacts titled "Forgotten Workers: Chinese Migrants and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad."

The display recognizes the throngs who left their country and helped enable America's westward expansion. While everyone worked under grueling conditions, placards note that Chinese laborers were paid less than their Irish and Mormon counterparts. White workers also got dormitory-style housing while the Chinese were relegated to tents.

And yet they came anyway, as many as 15,000 of them, to risk their lives laying tracks across the mountains of a foreign land. The exhibit reminds us how much human beings are willing to endure for a chance at greater economic opportunity.

NEXT: Right To Be Forgotten

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  1. We learned about this when I took American history in the 6th grade. In what sense were these people forgotten?

    1. Take a survey.

      1. Ok. 100% of reaponses said

        “Fuck off Hihn”

        1. And yet you didn’t. You contrarian you!

    2. You’d think that with history education now being all about how white English-speaking people oppressed and abused everyone else who lived in or came to North America, this would have been covered.

      1. I think this is an attempt to create another aggrieved minority narrative where none previously existed. True, while the Chinese were not treated fairly by white society in general, by all accounts they didn’t mind working for the CP: they got paid on time, in gold, in contrast to UP workers who were paid in greenbacks or sometimes not at all.

  2. I really, really, really wish …..
    Steph appeared more frequently. 🙁

    1. Oh Jesus, Hihn is coveting your skin…

      1. Don’t tell him about Slade’s position on abortion, he’s liable to have another bold-texted shitfit.

  3. You don’t even know

    where the wealth of this town is.

    Chinkyville, that’s where it is.

    Right down there in Chinatown.

    I’ll be with you in a minute.

    Up in Canada now, they’re blasting tunnel

    under $ a foot, all done with a pigtail.

    They’ve got some new explosives there.

    Fantastic stuff.

    They give it to Johnny Chinaman…

    send him in,

    down comes tons of rock…

    and one dead Chinaman.

    You, sir. Do you know what the fine is

    for killing a Chinaman?

    $ maximum.

    The inspector is working for the company.

    Four times out of five it’s an accident.

    You could do this here with your own zinc.

    All you’ve got to do is give the bugger

    a box of this stuff…

    put him down the hole,

    up to the rock face…

    and there’s your zinc.

    Sixty-five cents a ton.

  4. Forgotten? Lol. Anyone who knew anything about the Transcontinental Railroad knew the Central Pacific employed thousands of Chinese workers. If the average American didn’t know that then it’s an indictment of the public school system, not a sign of the White Supremacy inherent in the system.

    And even though the Chinese were paid less, at least they got paid: Mormon workers and contractors were stiffed out of some 2 million dollars in wages and payments by the Union Pacific, which ended up settling the debt by giving Brigham Young surplus railroad building materials instead of cash.

    The Mormons then used those supplies to build the Utah Central Railroad — all without a penny of federal subsidies, unlike other railroads. There’s a libertarian story, if Reason ever wanted to report on it.

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