Immigrants were drawn to the land of opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. It was the Irish and Chinese that had a vast influence on the transcontinental railroad. Their hard work and perfection resulted in the early completion of the railroad. These workers faced many hardships and difficulties along the way such as discrimination, hazardous weather conditions and unleveled land but it did not hinder the fierce competition between the two groups. It was their methods and work ethics that made the transcontinental railroad such a success.
Although the Transcontinental Railroad was visualized, planned out, and financed by well-known wealthy white men, it was in turn built by Irish and Chinese immigrants. The construction of Transcontinental Railroad greatly impacted America, and it was the beginning of a great advancement for the country. The construction of the Union Pacific began in 1866 in Omaha, and was mostly built by Irish laborers. They were from the Eastern Seaboard, and they were veterans of the Union and Confederate Army throughout the Civil War.
The Irish did not experience the same type of racial discrimination as the Chinese did, but their pay was still relatively low for working hard in a dangerous environment. The Irish earned $35 dollars a month compared to the Chinese who earned $27 dollars a month2,3. During this time, the Irish labor force was under attack and killed by Native American war groups who believed that the railroad being built threatened the way of life of their culture and violated treaties which were granted by government treaties2. Irish immigrants used a technique that they learned from New England factories that helped make their strenuous hard labor easier.
They used an assembly line method as they laid down the tracks. This was a very well organized and effective way to accomplish this; this way each person would be delegated a certain part of the task and they were to do so continually as the group made progress5. This way each worker could concentrate on a single task and be able to execute it efficiently and quickly. Irish laborers also developed their own way when driving nails. Never using any machines each man would take turns driving the nail into the ground and by doing it this way prevented workers from getting over tired and made for a speedy process .
Throughout the duration of their jobs, both groups lived alongside the hills. Being exposed to dangerous weather conditions made their jobs and lives much more difficult to cope with. Winters were unbearable with temperatures reaching below freezing, and they experienced 30 foot snow drifts . On the other hand, the melting snow caused flash floods that killed hundreds of people, destroyed the camps and wiped out all the supplies and tools. Workers still had to be careful of avalanches, rock fails, and mud slides.
A large part of the job was to “tunnel” and the use of dynamite and nitro were needed and that loosened rocks and snow and other debris that would tumble down on the lower camps. During the summers, storms destroyed the plains which prevented them from working for days at a time. Unlike the winter months being extremely cold, the temperature in the summer, especially in the desert and the plains exceeded over 100 degrees2. By 1866, there was a race between the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad to see who could lay the most miles of railroad track before the two lines joined together.
The Central Pacific railroad laid tracks eastward from Sacramento and the Union Pacific railroad started laying tracks westward from Omaha. Each of the railroad companies had a great motivation to lay the tracks as quickly as possible because the federal government subsidized approximately $16,000 for each mile of railroad track that was laid down also including land grants alongside of the tracks4. Chinese peasants began arriving on the shores of California in 1850.
They were pushed out of their home by poverty and overpopulation, and were pulled by the rumors of the “Mountain of Gold” and the hopes that they could make better lives for themselves. When they arrived they took jobs as miners, but eventually they accepted jobs as laborers, domestic workers, and fishermen. Nearly 25,000 Chinese had immigrated to California with prospect of profiting from the Gold Rush . Chinese immigrants were the main workers on the Central Pacific. The construction began in 1863, and the railroad was making little progress, until the company decided to hire Chinese laborers in.
The Central Pacific hired more than 12,000 Chinese workers, which made up more than 80% of the workforce6. Even though Chinese were paid less then Irish workers, they had a very strong work ethic and willingness to complete the dangerous tasks of blasting areas which in turn cost some Chinese workers their lives. They suffered the same conditions as the Irish did but it did not prevent them from working. They dug tunnels to nearby tents and formed an under snow community, and continue to work in the snow. The Chinese workers used their skills by making a human moving belt so it will be easier for them to move large rails1.
They worked better under these conditions because they were well nourished due to healthier eating habits than the Irish. Each group of people had a cook who was in charge of buying and preparing meals. The cooks bought dried foods along with nutritious fruits and vegetables. In their camps they kept live pigs and chickens for special meals they ate on the weekends and they drank lukewarm tea instead of water. On the contrary, the Irish workers constantly drank whiskey and their diet consisted of broiled beef and potatoes. The Chinese had valuable assets that would contribute to the building of the first transcontinental railroad Potter.
They could adapt to many different jobs, communities and they were punctual, well behaved and willing to whatever task was given to them. To overcome language barriers, the Chinese would gather in groups of ten to fifteen men and they would appoint a headman to translate work orders and they would work in those teams. At times the Chinese workers were referred to as “Celestials” which was a reflection of their spiritual beliefs6. The summer of 1867 was the beginning of The Chinese Workers’ Strike. These workers worked long strenuous hours in tight cramped spaces, and they fought for higher wages and ten hour work days.
They wanted a pay increase from $35 to $40 a month and shorter shifts when they worked down in the tunnels. When the workers brought their requests to executive E. B. Crocker they were denied. Crocker said that he would shut down production all together before they would give in to the demands of the workers. After the workers heard this they began to strike and they increased their wages to $45 dollars a month3. They had nonviolent protests and remained in their camps. To retaliate against the strike Crocker cut off all there supplies such as food and necessities to the mountain.
The workers remained with little ration of food and supplies for a week . When Crocker returned to the camps, he made clear that the hours and wages are not negotiable. Workers who choose to accept this and return back to work they would only pay a fine. If workers didn’t compel with this then they would lose that month’s pay. Forced by being malnourished most of the men returned back to work, but those who didn’t were infuriated at the others who went back. E. B. Crocker stated “If there had been that number of white laborers…it would be impossible to control them. White Irish laborers were a rowdy group of men and they would fight and whatever it takes to get what they want. Whenever he thought the Chinese workers might get out of hand, he would threaten them with a fully armed crew4. The Irish and Chinese had a great impact on the transcontinental railroad. They were able to finish it flawlessly and four years earlier than expected. They were able to complete such a massive project despite the many major obstacles they had to face. Without these immigrant workers this project probably would have never been finished or started.