In the late 19th Century trade between the relatively new United States and the comparatively old Qing Dynasty in China fast became one of the most lucrative trading routes in the world, and resulted in the first three American millionaires. The main type of products imported from China to the United States was both tea and cloth; however from 1822 to 1860 tea imports increased dramatically from 36% to 65% (Early American Trade with China). Indeed, the demand for tea and the lucrative trade it represented was in part due to the inability of the United States to compete in tea leaf production.
During the late 19th Century, the main mode of transportation between China and the United States was via Sea, most often in a ship called the clipper; ‘tea clippers’ were some of the largest types of these ships which held a capacity of around 580 tons and were principally built for quick and efficient voyages between China and the United States (Clark). The typical and most used trading route was between the China to a number of U.S ports; the largest ones being in Boston, New York and Philadelphia (Hoare).
While tea remained the primary import product from China to the United States in the late 19th Century, Opium slowly became a staple import from the east to the west. In the early 19th Century in the United States opium was not a prohibited drug, and the demand from China grew exponentially (Greene). This eventually led to the opium wars that began between China and the United Kingdom, allowing later the United States to continue in conflict with China (Greene). Without a doubt, the tea trade in New York contributed to the United States wealth during its early year, in the same manner that international trade is still a cornerstone of the economy.
- Early American Trade with China. Teaching Resources. http://teachingresources.atlas. illinois.edu/
- Hoare, J. E. “When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail.” Asian Affairs 44.3 (2013): 505-506.
- Clark, Arthur Hamilton. The clipper ship era: an epitome of famous American and British clipper ships, their owners, builders, commanders, and crews, 1843-1869. GP Putnam’s Sons, 1912.
- Greene, Morgan. The United States, Opium, and the China Trade. Fordham University. http://www.fordham.edu/