The Wah Mee Corporation

All the three managers (and main investors) in the Wah Mee Corporation were American Chinese.  One was a long-time Chicago resident.  The second was a new resident who had lived in Nebraska, Utah, and California.  The third was a San Franciscan.  It is a surprising fact that private individuals in the Chinese-American community could put together enough capital to finance a major attraction at one of the biggest world fairs in history, in competition with large corporations and state and national governments.  Evidently there was wealth in the community even then.

Hong Sling

“Dr. Gee Woo Chan is President.  He came here with a commission of government officials in 1884 to view the New Orleans Exposition.He fell deeply in love with the country and its people.  At the expiration of his time with the Commissioners he refused to go back home and almost immediately began the practice of [Chinese herbal] medicine in the United States.  According to the literary matters before us he has been a success.  Unlike other Chinese who come here Dr. Chan invests his money in this country in real estate and higher standard of business enterprises, and almost everything he touched has been a verity [sic] gold mine.”

“Mr. Hong Sling is also quite a young man yet.  His principal occupation has been a railroad contractor on the Pacific Coast.  Like his compatriot, Dr. Chan, invests nearly all his money in business and real estate in this country, principally in Omaha, Nebraska.”
“Hong Sling tries very hard to speak the English language like the doctor but as yet has only partially succeeded.  Both gentlemen have had their cues cut off years ago and wear tailor made suits like true good citizens,and both are very anxious to become bonafide citizens of the United States, which they now love as their home instead of China.”
“Wong Kee is a Clark Street Chinese grocer.  He is reported to be the richest Chinaman in Chicago, but he does not want people to know that he has a dollar.  He is the treasurer of the Wah Mee Exposition Company, of which Gee Wo [sic] Chan is president.” (1)
From other sources we know that Hong Sling had moved to Chicago before the WCE and was on friendly terms with several European-American civic leaders.  As the wealthy owner of the Sam Lung Co., he would play a major role in Chicago’s Chinese community until the early 1930s.  According to Christoff he is supposed to have introduced chop suey to the Midwest. (2)
Dr. Gee Woo Chan is called Dr. C. Gee Wo and Wong Kee is called Wong Lot on the cover of the Guide Book to the Joss House and Temple of China, as shown above.  Such discrepancies illustrate one of the biggest problems in working with English-language historical sources on Chinese-  Americans.  One person may have several na mes, and each of those may be spelled in several different ways.

Gee Wo Chan

(1) Chinese American, Chicago, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1893
(2) Peggy Spitzer Christoff, Tracking the “Yellow Peril” (see below, Early Interracial Marriages)
Credit: the key research behind this and the following section was done by Soo Lon Moy, Chinatown Museum Foundation.  She was the one who discovered and recognized the importance of copies of two issues of Chinese American, an obscure hand-written Chicago newspaper that may only have had two issues, in the archives of the Chicago Historical Society.