Games Learning Resources Visit the Museum
America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Chinese workers building the Loma Prieta Lumber Co.'s railroad in California
Currently on display
Not a part of the official Smithsonian Collection

The hills and valleys of Central California were filled with short narrow gauge rail tracks that fed into the large railroad companies' networks. Many of those railroads were built by Chinese workers, who were first employed as railroad builders by Central Pacific in the 1860s. The Chinese workers in this photograph are constructing a narrow-gauge line for a lumber company. Skilled rail workers labored 10 hours a day, six days a week, and were paid a dollar a day.

Physical Description
Date Made:
about 1885
The 1880s and 1890s were a time of increased transcontinental railroad building, as the Southern Pacific built a line that took travelers from San Francisco, through Los Angeles, and onto to El Paso and New Orleans in 1883. The Northern Pacific rolled through Bismark, North Dakota, Montana, and Spokane, before ending up in Portland Oregon in the same year. These rail lines were joined by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad which arrived in Southern California, in 1885 and finally, further North, the Great Northern line ran from Minneapolis to Seattle. Still short narrow gauge lines were an important part of local economies and helped connect towns to the transcontinental rails.

National Museum of American History About This Site | Sponsors | Buy the Book | E-mail Signup | Credits