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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Chinese Laundrymen

Chinese Laundrymen

GRHC - April 27th, 2010

Glance at the Past tells of the primary occupation of Grand Rapids' early Chinese population.



Three men working in the laundry business around 1875 were the first Chinese residents of Grand Rapids. The Chinese population of Michigan in 1880 consisted of twenty-six men; twenty-four were operating laundries, two of the 26 were in Grand Rapids.

Even though they were so few, as early as 1876 the Grand Rapids Times made note that several “washee men” celebrated Chinese New Year. Almost every year fascination with this unusual New Year inspired the newspapers to note this event, who attended, and what they did to celebrate.

This tiny community of Chinese men lived in almost complete isolation from their neighbors except when conducting business. On Sundays they would gather together, usually at one of the laundries, where all of the mail received from China would be read aloud. They would play mahjong or cards. Much rice was eaten and much tea consumed and they smoked their water pipes

The laundry business was the most common trade of the Chinese. First, it could be started with literally no capital, and second it didn’t take work away from Americans. Even so, in 1899 the local Carvers Union passed a resolution urging all union members to discontinue their patronage of the Chinese laundrymen. One union member, a painter, said that the Chinese were the only ones in town who would undertake the job of washing his overalls and he would continue to patronize the Chinamen. His was the only dissenting vote on the resolution. The article also noted that it was unlikely that the painter would be disciplined in the matter.


Full Details

TitleChinese Laundrymen
KeywordsGlance at the Past, census, history, Chinese, China, New Year, laundry, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, Podcast
Pubdate StringApril 27th, 2010

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