On this date in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt took note of a serious labor shortage across the West in general and the state in particular. Canada had made a systematic effort to attract new settlers to the western provinces, and the construction of 3,600 miles of Canadian railroads also required enormous numbers of laborers. The Devils Lake Inter-Ocean reported that the administration was taking steps to address the exodus of nearly 100,000 people to Canada the previous year. The newspaper acknowledged that the northern neighbor had outstripped the United States in competition for labor by offering high wages and free land.
The labor shortage was not a concern for the West alone. An article in the New York Times noted that concerns were growing as to how the labor shortage would affect the economy of the country as a whole. The railroads were advertising throughout the East for laborers, offering special inducements including transportation and higher wages. Labor was so scarce that mines in Utah paid Japanese immigrants an astonishing $170 per month. Western railroads were forced to purchase coal from Australia because of a shortage of miners. The increased expense was sure to drive up prices for freight, which would in turn drive up the cost of goods. Passenger travel would also become more expensive.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is considered the first legislation by the United States to restrict immigration. The Immigration Act of 1907 further restricted immigration by banning “All idiots, imbeciles, feebleminded persons, epileptics, insane persons, and persons who have been insane within five years previous; persons who have had two or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; paupers; persons likely to become a public charge; professional beggars; persons afflicted with tuberculosis or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease; persons not comprehended within any of the foregoing excluded classes who are found to be and are certified by the examining surgeon as being mentally or physically defective, such mental or physical defect being of a nature which may affect the ability of such alien to earn a living.”
Despite the restrictions, the Devils Lake newspaper was confident that in appointing an immigration commission, Roosevelt was taking steps to alleviate the labor shortage through immigration.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “President Takes Notice.” Devils Lake ND. 5 July 1907. Page 1.
New York Times. “Labor Shortage in the West.” New York City, New York. 19 August 1907. Page 8.
History Central. “Immigration Act 1907.” http://www.historycentral.com/documents/immigrationact.html Accessed 24 May 2018.