Meng, Joined by U.S. Postal Service and Museum of Chinese in America, Hold Ceremony to Unveil New Postage Stamps that Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of America’s Transcontinental Railroad
May 29, 2019
Event also pays tribute to the thousands of Chinese immigrant laborers who helped build the railroad
NEW YORK, NY – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), joined by officials from the U.S. Postal Service and the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), today held a ceremony to unveil new postage stamps that commemorate the 150th anniversary of America’s Transcontinental Railroad. The event also paid tribute to the many contributions that Chinese immigrant laborers made in building the railroad.
From 1865-1869, approximately 12,000 Chinese laborers worked under extremely dangerous and challenging conditions to help construct the railroad, which connected the United States from coast-to-coast. The workers, who endured discrimination, harsh treatment and unequal pay, are credited with playing an integral role in the growth of America and being an important part of U.S. history. They comprised more than 80 percent of the workforce of the Central Pacific Railroad Company, were tasked with the most difficult and hazardous jobs, and were paid lower wages than other workers. Nearly 1,200 of them died from the harsh winters and backbreaking working conditions. These laborers also formed one of the first organized labor movements – and the largest in that era – in the United States calling for better living wages and working conditions.
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the railroad’s completion. The completion was marked by the “Golden Spike Ceremony” held on May 10, 1869, when rail lines built by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad companies were joined at Promontory Summit in Utah.
“The story of the Chinese railroad workers is a story that must be told, and today we are doing exactly that,” said Congresswoman Meng. “Honoring their blood, sweat and labor, and providing them with the recognition they deserve is an outstanding way to mark this milestone anniversary of the railroad. I hope that with the issuing of these stamps, more Americans will become aware of the sacrifices these laborers made for our nation, and that their contributions to the growth and prosperity of the United States will never be forgotten. It is crucial that we further weave their story into the greater American tapestry. I thank the Postal Service and the Museum of Chinese in America for joining me in paying tribute to their legacy.”
“These stamps will pay homage to the thousands of Chinese immigrants who transformed our nation’s transportation system, economy and culture by building our Transcontinental Railroad,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-Brooklyn/Queens/Manhattan). “We should all honor and remember their profound sacrifices and it my hope that these stamps spread awareness about their contributions. I thank my colleague, Rep. Meng, for her leadership in this area.”
“The 150th anniversary this month of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, was a monumental engineering feat that linked our nations’ coasts, and reduced travel time across the continent from several months to about a week,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn). “But until more recently the entire story of this transformative event hasn’t been told. Today and with this stamp, we are finally telling the whole story of the Chinese and Irish railroad workers whose labor and sacrifice created an economic boon for a young nation just recovering from the Civil War. I wish to in particular thank and congratulate my colleague Congresswoman Meng, who has worked to make sure that we recognize and honor the contributions and sacrifices of the Chinese railroad workers who made this monumental achievement possible in 1869.”
“It is sobering to reflect upon the labors that built the Transcontinental Railroad,” said Ann Ko of the U.S. Postal Service’s New York District. “Those labors helped to bind the families, the frontiers and the economies of two coasts. That work developed a stronger, surer future for a young America.”
“My great granduncle Lai Moun (AKA John W. Lee) toiled on the Transcontinental Railroad,” said railroad worker descendant Larry Lee. “He was one of the thousands of Chinese who were nameless and faceless to the outside world. Now, 150 years later, the Chinese railroad workers are finally being remembered as heroes who united and built America.”
A total of three Transcontinental Railroad Forever Stamps were unveiled during the ceremony. The set consists of three distinct designs that evoke the spirit of the era. Two separate stamps feature the Jupiter and the No. 119 locomotives that powered the trains carrying the officers and guests of the two train companies to the Golden Spike Ceremony. The third stamp portrays the famous golden spike that was a prominent part of the ceremony.
These Forever stamps will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce price. The stamps can be purchased by the public at Postal Service retail outlets.
The Transcontinental Railroad has long been considered one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the 19th century. It reduced cross-country travel times from six months to a single week.
In Congress, Meng has long worked to increase awareness of the Chinese railroad workers and is the sponsor of a resolution that seeks the House of Representatives’ recognition of their contributions and sacrifices. Meng’s measure would also honor those laborers who lost their lives while working in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it would acknowledge all the risks they faced while enduring discrimination and unequal pay and treatment.
Earlier this month, Meng helped to open a new display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History that pays tribute to the Chinese railroad workers, and she was part of the ceremony that inducted the laborers into the U.S. Labor Hall of Honor in 2014.