This week's progress report on the MATC Portrait of Milwaukee project is the painting of Charlie Toy, 1862-1954. I chose to include Charlie Toy in the portrait project because of his influence as a leader in the Chinese community in Milwaukee at a time when there were relatively few Asians living in the area. He made a great success of his businesses in Wisconsin, bringing Chinese cuisine, architecture and culture to a place that was at the time mostly populated by people from European cultures. His high profile success paved the way for the minority Asian population to strive to succeed as well.
In spite of anti-Asian laws of the early 20th century denying Asian peoples entry into the US, restricting them from marrying Caucasions or owning land, several Chinese families flourished in Milwaukee. Charlie Toy was considered by many to be a patriarch of Milwaukee’s Chinese community in the early 20th century. Toy immigrated to the United States in 1880 at age 18, and worked in various jobs in San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Appleton and Kaukauna before moving to Oshkosh in 1890 where he established several businesses. A success, Toy decided to take on the larger market of Milwaukee. While not the only Chinese restaurant in town, Charlie Toy’s Shanghai Chinese Restaurant was certainly the most famous. Opened in 1904 at 736 North Second Street, the six-story Chinese styled building housed Toy’s restaurant, Hascall Billiard Parlor, a few small commercial businesses and the Toy (Crystal) Theater capable of holding 460 guests. Toy earned himself the nickname the “Chinese Rockefeller,” although newspapers reported was never too proud to lend a hand in the kitchen peeling water chestnuts or to take on other chores with his employees.
For more information on Mr Toy: