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The Chinese in Beaver Falls

Milestones Vol 25. No. 2

As their industries increased, the Harmony Society had to hire outside people. In 1872, Englishmen from cutleries in Sheffield, England were working in the Economy owned cutlery. Things were going very well, so this was the feasible time for a strike for higher wages. Acting as the Society's agent, John Reeves brought Chinamen from California and New Orleans to break the strike. The Chinese seemed a threat, not only to the workers, but also to the saloon keepers who knew Chinese do not drink.

The arrival of the Chinese posed a problem in Beaver Falls, and a town meeting was held and a delegation went to the Society with grievances. The solution was, all cutlery workers were paid each month with the privilege of leaving if dissatisfied, and if they would leave the Chinamen alone and permit them to remain, the strikers would be reinstated with pay and all profits from the cutlery would be used for the community for seven years. The workers settled.

This was quite a curiosity in town to see the Chinamen at work and visitors came from Ohio and Pittsburgh just to look. In one day, about $600.00 worth of goods were sold from the factory sample room, and this was a lot of money at that time.

The first cutlery works that manufactured pocket knives was Binns and Mason in 1866 at Rochester, PA. It was merged with the cutlery works and named the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company owned by the Harmony Society and Henry T Reeves became the President and John Reeves named Secretary and Treasurer. The building occupied a tract of land under a roof of more than one hundred thousand square feet of flooring space and between one and two acres of ground. At times three hundred men were employed.

It is thought that it was the suggestion of the Methodist Protestant Minister, Rev. Dyer, to bring the Chinese here because Rev. Dyer was actively interested in Chinese mission work and was familiar with the adaptability of them, and, in turn, teach them Christianity and give them religious instructions.

John Reeves set out for California and it certainly was not a pleasure trip in those days. It took him fifteen days to reach San Francisco. Mr. Reeves made several contacts but the Chinese were reluctant to leave California on such a far away venture. He then learned that there were several Chinese working in Louisiana on a new railroad line and the work was coming to an end. There he was successful in talking them into coming further East to take up new employment. He was soon homeward bound with seventy of them and another thirty followed the next Sunday evening July 1, 1872. They were to be met by Henry Reeves and the Rev. Dyer, but as word spread, and hardly anyone in Beaver Falls had ever seen a Chinaman, a large group of people, including the striking workmen, gathered and vowed vengeance. The whole police force of the town was one Constable James C. Crane, and so with the arrival of the train, the party fell back and uttered not a word. However, it was necessary for John Reeves and Judge Henry Hice, counsel for the Harmony Society to remain at the factory for several weeks to maintain order.

Later on, more Chinese arrived, and at one time, there was approximately 225 working at the Cutlery. These men were all housed at the "Mansion House" located at lower 7th Avenue. There was a cook house, dining room and sleeping quarters. A block of wood was used for a pillow.

The contract to furnish the Chinese labor was made with one Ah Chuck, a San Francisco merchant. The men were paid one dollar a day in gold and the company was to keep them supplied with rice and provide living quarters. No time was lost because of drunkeness, but some time was lost to the use of opium, but not as much as the use of liquor among the white men.

Any trouble at all was caused by the white folks annoying the Chinese and pushing them off their wood walkways into the mud street. Ah Chuck was only here at intervals, but he did leave an interpreter who was responsible to the company for the conduct of the men and also to his government for the safe return of their bones to their native country if they should die while they were here.

Lee Ten Pay, a nephew of Ah Chuck, was the first interpreter and he spoke English with ease. Later on, Chow Hung came and brought with him his wife, the only Chinese woman in Beaver Falls. She stayed in her apartment and was rarely seen in public, but the women of the town did call upon her and found her very friendly.

They adhered closely to their own habits and manners of living. Many of them started to take an interest in the local entertainment and events that were held at the Presbyterian Church. It wasn't long until the church established missions for them in the various churches but the Presbyterians were the first to open its doors to attend an afternoon Sunday School.

At the Centennial in Philadelphia in 1876, the largest knife and fork in the world was displayed. It was manufactured by the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company. The entire knife was nine feet seven inches long and width of the blade ten inches. The handles of the knife and fork were of solid ivory, each using an entire elephant's tusk. These handles were beautifully carved with flowers and vines.

In 1877, the last of the Chinese left Beaver Falls. About half of them had left from time to time, but the remainder left in a body. Their fare back to San Francisco was paid by the Cutlery Company as a part of their agreement. This was the end of the first experiment with alien labor in Beaver County. Since then, many groups have come to Beaver Falls, but none have excited as much interest and curiosity as the first Chinese that Sunday Evening in July 1872.

From The Beaver Countian


Extra Information:




April 5,1882: Account of partial closing of the Beaver Falls Cutlery, due to over-production and flooding of market with foreign imports. It was wholesale discharge of 100 hands, mostly single.