Chrysotile, Arizona was home to one of Arizona’s most prolific asbestos mines in the early 1900s. At the time there were over a hundred and fifty of these mines found throughout Central Arizona, largely concentrated in the Salt River region. Collectively they produced some 75,000 tons of asbestos from 1913 to 1966 before the industry began to collapse due to health concerns associated with exposure to the mineral.
The Johns-Manville Company out of New York owned the mine and employed Frank Knuckey of Globe, as mine superintendent. Knuckey soon hire a prominent Chinese business man, Gin Ah Quong, to run the boarding house and general mercantile at the mine.
In an exit interview in 1932, by Immigration authorities, Ah Quong was asked to describe his business dealings at Chrysotile which spanned just under seventeen years at the time. In the interview he outlines how he came to the mine at the invitation of Knuckey and was given the buildings he operated for the boarding and mercantile business, rent-free in exchange for “operating a first class general merchandise store at a reasonable profit. And furnishing the mine employee with good food at almost cost. “
In addition his agreement with the Johns Manville Company included cashing the company’s paychecks and making a daily trip into Globe to bring back produce and supplies for the mines’ 150 employees.
Ah Quong operated his business as Gin Ah Quong and Company and within two years added his son Gin Hing Cheung and grandson, Gin Wing Too as partners.
Perhaps most revealing about this interview was the detailed accounting of the goods and services sold and the revenue Ah Quong realized from his business at Chrysotile. During peak times of operation. he tells Immigration officers that his receipts ran from $3500 to $4000 each month selling groceries, shoes, clothing, gasoline and medicinal drugs.
This is equivalent to nearly $40,000 per month today.
Ah Quong, who first arrived in Arizona in 1894 as a laborer had leveraged his standing in small pop up tent restaurants serving to the miners and railroad men into the lucrative contract with the Johns Manville Company. The 1932 exit interview took place when he was 71 and returning to China a wealthy merchant and one with standing in the local business community.
The other first hand account of life at Chrysotile comes to us through a book written by Frank Knuckey’s son, Gene who grew up at the mine and describes the daily life of the mine in his book, Chrysotile, Arizona 1914 – 1945.
Knuckey describes a robust mine operation and remote community life which was largely self sufficient.
It includes his personal collection of old photographs and can be purchased through Bullion Plaza Museum .