Monday, August 29, 2011

George Fullerton's "Chinamen"

This is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

George Amerige and his brother Edward planted the first stake in the town of Fullerton in 1887 and began the process of developing it into a profitable municipality. The first “significant structure” they built was the St. George Hotel, named after George Amerige. Apparently, he thought pretty highly of himself.

When establishing a town, infrastructure is important. George and Edward needed help digging irrigation ditches. Thankfully, they knew a railroad man named George Fullerton who could hook them up with cheap labor—Chinamen!

Bob Ziebell writes in Fullerton: A Pictorial History, “George Amerige says he installed the town’s first water system ‘employing Chinamen to do the excavation work on the ditches.’” As a way of saying “thanks” to George Fullerton for bringing the railroad (and Chinamen), George and Edward Amerige and the Santa Fe Railroad Company decided to name the town Fullerton, after a guy who had made a pretty successful career for himself on the backs of “Chinamen.”


Because they were basically second-class citizens, Chinese immigrants proved an invaluable (and cheap!) labor force for railroad companies in 19th century America, including Fullerton.


  1. We still do this, only we don't have to ship them across the ocean anymore, or they are Mexican. Who benefits? Everyone. Spread the wealth around!

  2. Are you suggesting that it is a good thing to treat minorities as second-class citizens and pay them less than white people?

  3. I am suggesting that it was better for the Chinese men than staying in China. They benefited from the deal. We shouldn't judge them their conditions on these railroads compared to our lives today because they didn't have access to what we have. They came from much worse conditions and railroad work made that transition possible. How would you have brought them out from the squalor in China? What would be your solution that would have saved so many "Chinamen" from abject poverty and starvation in their homeland? Labor markets saved Chinese lives and now their descendants fix our teeth.

  4. I suppose, if I was a railroad man, I would have treated the Chinese workers the same as white workers. The reality is that they were treated more as a commodity than as humans. When America didn't need them, they passed Exclusion Acts and prevented them from owning land. America used to be a pretty racist place. Their conditions before coming to America do not matter. Once they are here, they should be treated as equals in the "land of the free."