“The year 1871 was not particularly important in the development of Shanghai as a physical place, but was noteworthy when it comes to historiography…the Oxford English Dictionary singles it out as the year during which “to shanghai” began to appear in newspapers.”
Global Shanghai, 1850-2010: A History in Fragments
Currently enthralled with all manner of 19th Century appurtenances, San Francisco is home to a second golden age of handlebar mustaches and historic cocktails served in period-specific bars. Luckily for 21st century patrons, the fascination is all surface: absent are the trapdoors and opium-laced cocktails that made the city’s storied drinking holes famous for shanghaiing. Precious little romance was involved in the process, as quite a number of men died while being taken, and unseasoned civilians were just as likely to fall to a drugged drink or truncheon. Once aboard, a man dared not tell how he came to be there–his hope lay in being able to jump ship or find his fortune at the end of the line in Shanghai.
Also called “crimping,” the system was essential to early San Francisco’s maritime trade for the simple reason that more money could be made from the land than from the sea. A sailor shipping out of San Francisco could earn many times more than at any other port of call, yet very few chose seagoing toil when a potential fortune was to be found on land. The shortfall was made up the hard way.
The practice was hardly unusual or mysterious–the British impressed enough American sailors into their navy so as to cause ill feelings between the two countries. But in its inimitable way, San Francisco found a way to put its own mark on this ignominious history.