Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Oh, those 1920s prices!

By Richard I. Gibson

In 2013, the Chinese New Year comes a bit later than in recent years, beginning on February 10. In Butte the Parade will be on Saturday February 16, starting at 3:00 p.m. at the Court House. Join the Mai Wah for the world’s shortest, loudest, and coldest (we’ll see about that) parade, which Reader’s Digest declared one of the six “most interesting processions in America.”

In honor of Chinese New Year, I’ll have a couple posts about Butte’s Chinatown.

The menu here (click the pics to enlarge), from the Mai Wah Collection and used by permission, probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s on the basis of prices and the four-digit phone number. In its earliest years the top-floor Mai Wah Noodle Parlor was managed by Chinese not connected with the Chinn Family that operated the Wah Chong Tai Mercantile on the first floor. That was important for the merchants, to enable them to remain immune to the impacts of the Exclusionary Acts, which targeted laborers, laundry workers, and restaurant workers.

By the time this menu was printed by McGee Printing on Granite Street, all the businesses in the Mai Wah-Wah Chong Tai buildings were probably under the purview of the Chinns. Chin On ran the Wah Chong Tai until about 1932, when his fellow Taishanese countryman Chin Yee Fong took over. Chin Yee Fong had arrived in the U.S. in 1905, age about 16. He was the son of Chin On’s partner in the Wah Chong Tai, and he worked as the assistant bookkeeper while attending Garfield School and for many years thereafter.

When Chin Yee Fong became the manager, he was using the Americanized name Albert Chinn, and he became a prominent and important businessman in Butte. His large family—nine surviving children of ten, all but one born in Butte—was eventually scattered across the U.S. His son Howard, at one time the Mai Wah Noodle Parlor Manager, had a long career as a restaurateur in Minneapolis. Son William stayed in Butte and lived at the Mai Wah for a time, then rented it to Paul Eno whose fix-it shop was there for many years. William Chinn was an electronics technician in Butte; he died in 1980.

You’ll find much, much more about the Chinn family in the Mai Wah’s upcoming exhibit on their lives and times. I’m preparing the exhibit, with support from the Montana Historical Society’s Dave Walter Research Fellowship (to me) and the Montana Cultural Trust (to the Mai Wah). It should be in place this summer.


  1. Ooh, LyChee fruits, I LOVE them.

    And "Milk Toast"--you just don't see that on menus anymore.