Between the 1890s and 1900, the number of Chinese laundries generally peaked in cities and towns across the country as Chinese restaurants became to offer an alternative means of self-employment. Chinese laundries, which were primarily hand laundries at that time, faced increased competition from white-owned steam laundries. National newspaper coverage of the Chinese viceroy enjoying “Chop Suey” in New York in 1896 generated interest among non-Chinese to patronize Chinese restaurants. Depending on the locale, however, restaurant work did not overtake laundry work until the 1920s and 1930s.
The history of Chinese in Dallas, Texas, documented thoroughly by Stanley Solamillo, is a concrete illustration of a shift from laundries to restaurants although the restaurants never surpassed the laundries in number. In the 1880s, Chinese owned as many as 26 of the city’s 34 laundries, before declining over the 1890s. Using census records, newspaper articles, city directories, and probate files, Solamillo created a compilation of the Chinese immigrants in Dallas, Tx. from 1873-1940, listing their names, addresses, and occupation. The listing shows that laundries were almost the only occupation held by Chinese in Dallas until 1890 when the number of laundries began to decline, possibly due to white opposition to their domination of the laundry business. Advertising by white laundries claimed Chinese laundries were not only inferior, but posed health hazards. An ad by a white steam laundry in 1890 borrowed a popular image of the times showing a Chinese laundryman being kicked back to China.
By 1900, Chinese were working as cooks and waiters in several Chinese restaurants and grocery stores in addition to laundries. However, the Chinese presence in Dallas was greatly reduced by 1913, as there were only three restaurants, three laundries, and no grocery stores. Some Chinese died, others may have returned to China, and possibly some moved to nearby states such as Mississippi or Arkansas, but there is no documentation on this matter. By 1920, the census reported only 11 Chinese living there. From then until 1940, only one other Chinese appears to have come to Dallas, immigrating in 1939.