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
3 men pose for a photo with their logging tools. 1 man has an amazing bushy mustache. All wear sturdy boots, jeans & long sleeve
Three Oregon loggers pose with tools of their trade in the late 1800s. (Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society) Enlarge Image
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. 

A team of about 10 oxen are lined up on a road. Behind them are large logs to haul. A few men stand with the oxen.
An oxen team pulls logs to a mill pond in 1890s Oregon. (Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society) Enlarge Image
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

Two horses hitched to a huge load of logs on a sleigh. 7 men stand on top of the pile of logs. 2 stand in the snow with a dog.

Horses pull a huge sled of logs in late 1800s Oregon. (Oregon State Archives) Enlarge Image

About 2 dozen men stand in a forest they are cutting down. A team of oxen is there to pull the logs out. Most men hold saws.

Men stand at a logging site along the Columbia River in the 1890s. (Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society) Enlarge Image

1800s Oregon Logging Artifacts

A logging jack made of wood and metal used to lift logs.

An 1880s logging jack used for lifting logs to be cut. (Artifact courtesy of Oregon Historical Society) Enlarge Image

A metal tool for marking timber. It has the initials J and B with the date 1787 marked on the handle.

A timber scribe for marking logs and lumber in the late 1800s. (Artifact courtesy of Oregon Historical Society)