Credit: The Andrew J. Russell Collection, the Oakland Museum of California
At the Golden Spike ceremony (shown left) at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, linking the railroad routes of the eastern U.S. with California, Chinese railroad workers present at the site were deliberately excluded from the photograph. Hired by the Central Pacific railroad, these Chinese workers operated under the most dangerous conditions, handling explosives used to blast through the Sierra Nevada mountains, resulting in higher fatalities than other workers.
In 1865, the Union Pacific Railroad began laying track, progressing about one mile per day westward. Chinese workers, employed by the Central Pacific in California, provided the labor to push through the mountains. When the two lines were joined in 1869, the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Point, Utah, completing the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1870, the Union Pacific in Wyoming hired Chinese laborers for $32.50 a month rather than pay $52.00 a month to whites. This kind of treatment caused white laborers in the West to feel that Chinese immigrants were competing unfairly for jobs, which not surprisingly led to years of violent conflict and labor unrest.