Maritime Rsearch Center and Library

Lunchtime “MESS” Lecture Series

Chinese Cannery Workers in Salmon Canning Industry. 
Jim & Philip Chiao.
(Thursday, March 25th at 11AM PST)

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Event Details: 

150 years ago, the first group of Chinese cannery workers entered the salmon industry in 1870 at George Hume’s cannery in Eagle Cliff on the Washington side of the Columbia River. By 1880, over 4000 Chinese workers were employed in 35 canneries in Columbia River, representing over 80 percent of the cannery workforce. By the late 19th century, thousands of Chinese migrant workers came to work in canneries along the Pacific Coast from California to Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. The Chinese contract system and cannery workers played an important role in the industrialization of the Northwest.

The talk will include the early history of the salmon canning industry from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, how Chinese migrant workers got involved, what were the types of work they did inside the cannery, how Chinese workers came to dominate this segment of the labor market, and its final demise. At its peak, during the canning season each year, thousands of Chinese migrant workers were dispatched from SF, Portland, and Seattle to work in Alaska canneries.

About the Speakers:

Jim & Philip Chiao are twin brothers. They came to the US for studies in the late 1960s and worked at the salmon canneries in Alaska during their college days in the early 1970s. Since retirement, they studied the history of Chinese & Chinese Americans in the salmon canning industry. Over the past year and half, they have developed a website and given several talks at Chinese museums in Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco.