Early Chinese Immigration to the US

Primary Source Set

The advent of the railroad brought about many changes to the United States, including an early wave of Chinese immigration to America. Chinese laborers were the backbone of the Transcontinental Railroad’s creation, and worked diligently in other difficult industrial jobs for low wages. During this period, they faced intense racial discrimination both socially and politically. This culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which placed new obstacles in the way of Chinese and other Asian immigrants looking to come to America. In particular, the act placed limits and exclusions on laborers, not wealthy businessmen from China looking to immigrate. The following set of resources provides photos, documents, and oral histories that help tell the story of this early period of Chinese immigration to the United States.

Additional resources for research

  1. Building the First Transcontinental Railroad, Digital Public Library of America.

  2. Chinese Immigration and the Chinese in the United States, The National Archives and Records Administration.

  3. Chinese Immigration, The Library of Congress.

  4. Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Acts, US Department of State, Office of the Historian.

  5. Gold Rush and Anti-Chinese Hatred, Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Send feedback about this primary source set or our other educational resources to