Thomas Nast, cartoon - "The Comet of Chinese Labor" (1870)

a photograph

Thomas Nast, cartoon - "The Comet of Chinese Labor" (1870)

In 1870 workers at the &"Model Shoe Factory" of Calvin T.

Sampson in North Adams, Massachusetts, struck, protesting low

wages and the introduction of labor-eliminating machines. The

strike was considered an ominous threat to factory owners since

the workers had organized into a labor union known as The Secret

Order of the Knights of St. Crispin (1867) which by 1870 had

become the largest labor organization in the United States.

Unable to hire scabs in nearbye towns, Owner Sampson decided to

bring in a new weapon against the Crispin's: 75 Chinese laborers

imported from San Francisco and made accessible to the East Coast

based Sampson via the new wonder of the transcontinental


Thomas Nast's cartoon portrays the arriving Chinese (June

13, 1870) as a comet blazing across the sky as various interested

parties point and gaze below, many of them workers hostile to the

new arrivals. A few days after their arrival, writes Ronald

Takaki, "the Boston Commonwealth exclaimed: 'They are with us!

the "Celestials"--with almond eyes, pigtails, rare industry,

quick adaptation, high morality, and all . . . "; Sampson's

Chinese labor force handily outproduced for lower wages the

efforts of the white workers of The Knights of St. Crispin. His

pioneering effort at union busting was soon emulated by fellow

entrepreneurs in the East: 1870 is thus the date for the

beginnings of eventually large Chinese communities in the Eastern

cities of the United States.

Source: Ronald Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th

Century America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979, pp.