Oregon Logging in the 1800s
“Uncle Sam is not often called a fool in business matters, yet he has sold millions of acres of timber land at two dollars and a half an acre on which a single tree was worth more than a hundred dollars.” —John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901
In 1827, the Hudson’s Bay Company built the first sawmill in the Oregon Territory at Fort Vancouver. Five decades later, new railroads turned the state into a massive timber kingdom. At the beginning of the 1900s, Oregon mills produced lumber for hungry markets in California and Asia. By 1938, 60 years after the first rail lines reached the state, Oregon became the leading U.S. wood producer.
Timber interests had a strong and sometimes illegal hand in state politics which is illustrated by the Oregon Land Fraud Scandal. Early 1900s timber speculators and corrupt public officials illegally transferred thousands of acres of public forest land to private companies. This led to thousands of indictments including nearly all of Oregon’s U.S. congressional delegation.
Oregon’s logging industry and the towns that supplied it were at the forefront of technological change. Advances in science and industry saw direct increases in felled and recovered timber. The region’s first lumberjacks felled old-growth trees with little more than single-bit axes. These gave way to the double-head axe, then to the crosscut saw known as “the misery whip,” and finally to the gas-powered chainsaw of the 1900s.
More 1800s Oregon Logging Photos
Horses pull a huge sled of logs in late 1800s Oregon. (Oregon State Archives) Enlarge Image
Men stand at a logging site along the Columbia River in the 1890s. (Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society) Enlarge Image
1800s Oregon Logging Artifacts
An 1880s logging jack used for lifting logs to be cut. (Artifact courtesy of Oregon Historical Society) Enlarge Image
A timber scribe for marking logs and lumber in the late 1800s. (Artifact courtesy of Oregon Historical Society)