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  • SFMNPA Labor History Talk: The Price of Salmon

SFMNPA Labor History Talk: The Price of Salmon

  • June 02, 2024
  • 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
  • Maritime Museum, 900 Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94109

The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association (SFMNPA) is excited to have the Chiao brothers, James and Philip, along with Kristin Wong, in a lively discussion of the 37 newspaper articles originally written by a San Francisco investigative journalist, Max Stern, in the roaring 1920’s — now available in a book format, titled The Price of Salmon. It is a fascinating noir about San Francisco’s colorful past, which explores the complex role of Chinese labor in the salmon canning industry during that era.

Stern’s exposé of the Alaska salmon canning industry was the most sensational newspaper assignment of the time. More real than fiction, Stern’s adventure aboard a “Hell Ship” to Alaska was filled with suspense and drama. It was a deep dive into the underworld of the Alaska salmon canning trade, populated by greedy owners, corrupt contractors, and a Chinese Gang of many tongues, races and nationalities. These desperate men in the Chinese Gang were pressed into service and had to face “Man’s inhumanity to man.” It is a remarkable piece of journalism, literature, and history of the American West. The book comes with an in-depth introduction by Katherine J. Ringsmuth, Alaska State Historian.

Past CHCP Speaker Series presentersJames Chiao (a CHCP Advisory Board member) and his twin brother Philip Chiao spent two years compiling the articles checking faded facsimiles against fragile original newsprints, making corrections and converting them to digital format. They conducted extensive research that appears as informational footnotes, maps, appendices, photographs, glossaries and Stern’s biography in the book. The book represents one of few first-person accounts of the life story of migrant cannery workers in the west coast salmon canning industry in the 1920’s.

Philip and James Chiao, along with Kristin Wong, are contributors to the “Chinese Workers in Salmon Canneries,” a website that documents the history of Chinese Americans who worked in the salmon cannery industry. 


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