There is no doubt that the Chinese came to California to get rich in the gold fields.  Some were successful.  Many were not.  In an effort to make a living, some enterprising Chinese began to launder the clothes of miners and city dwellers who did not want to perform that task themselves.  Soon, John John, as all Chinese men were called took over the vast majority of laundry service.  The term “Chinese Laundry” was born from this activity way back in mid 19th Century.

A story that needs to be told is about an enterprising Chinese man who offered to launder all clothing brought to him for free.  Yes, for free!  How could he survive working for free? 

The miners piled their dirty clothes high upon his counter.  Later they picked up their clean laundry and paid nary a penny for the service.  Everyone thought the man was stupid, maybe a bit touched.

One of the miners, who brought laundry to John John, happened to cross paths with the Asian entrepreneur several years later.  To the miner’s surprise John John was dressed in expensive brocades imported from China and living the good life.  A life much better than his own!

The minor asked his friend how he had done so well.  Did you find gold in the wilderness? Did you happen upon a retail operation that was a success?

His story astonished the miner.  It seems that John John surmised that gold dust and very small nuggets were caught in the seams and cuffs of pants worn by miners digging in the dirt they collected in river beds.  John John washed the gold out of the fabric, which collected at the bottom of the pot he used to wash the clothes.  It was a matter of scooping the gold dust from huge pot, at the end of the day.

The result of his efforts, so the story goes, made him a very wealthy man.

No one can say for sure whether this story is fact or fiction.  None the less, it delights the listener every time it is told.

In my novel, Equal and Alike I discuss the entrepreneurial skills of the Chinese in San Francisco in mid 19th Century.  Join me in the adventure.  Equal and Alike is available for purchase from,, Barnes and Nobel and other purveyors of fine books.  Or go to my website