The Amazing History of Logging in the United States

Logging has been a part of American history and deeply rooted in the growth of the United States since the early 1600s. We all remember hearing about America's most loved and heroic lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. Bunyan represents the hard work and labor of all involved in the logging industry and will continue to be an American folklore for many years to come.

The lumber industry has been and will continue to be a staple for life and in the past was essentially a vitality for surviving such as building homes, staying warm, and making money through livelihoods such as woodworkers, builders, and more.

[Big wheels hauling logs, circa. 1900]

Logging arose when settlers first started arriving in Jamestown in 1607 and since then has formed a booming economic structure. Logging became incredibly important when the need for ship building became more frequent. In fact, in the 1790s, New England was exporting 36 million feet of pine boards and at least 300 ship masts per year.

The logging industry was so busy and in demand that the New England area regularly shipped lumber and products elsewhere and with the start of the Industrial Revolution the demand for lumber in general spiked. During the 1830s, Bangor, Maine, became the world's biggest lumber shipping port in the United States.

With the outrageous demand for wood and wood products, Americans were constantly looking for new sources of timber in order to continue fueling the logging and timber industry. During the early 19th century, Americans started to head west in search of new logging land and more importantly, a new life.

[Historical logging scene at Huron-Manistee National Forests, Michigan, 1900]

With the help of FDR and the Homestead Act of 1862, families settled on 160 acre plots. The land was usually heavily wooded and great for logging and clearing out, which is essentially what the men of these families were looking for.

In 1910 Idaho was distributing 745 million board feet nationally and in the 20th century, the Northwest and Pacific Northwest became the logging center hub of the United States.The Industry quickly moved and expanded throughout Washington and Oregon and the timber harvest rate changed exponentially from 5% to 50% a year between 1945 and 1970.

Throughout this time, the Northwest was an extremely significant place of work for logging and very important to those involved in the area of work. A statistic produced in 1970 proved that 41% of the nation's timber industry came from Washington and Oregon alone, which made it completely understandable why these locations were the prime locations for logging.

["The Loggers," Michigan, USA, between 1880 and 1899]

Life for loggers was certainly not the easiest and some described it as simply rugged. These men worked in harsh and dangerous conditions with little to no access to water, warm meals, and clean clothes. Not to mention that they were away from their families and living in damp, dirty camps close to their work sites.

It wasn't uncommon for these men to catch diseases and other things such as lice due to their work conditions. But one thing is for sure, they were extremely hard workers, paving a way for future men to earn money and take care of their families as well.

These conditions got better over time when the labor union stood their ground and demanded better conditions for the hardworking loggers. This resulted in the formation of nicer logging camps where women and children could join their husbands and fathers and live together. Schools and communities were built and a new way of life was created for a multitude of men and their families.

[Two loggers with springboards pounding wedges into tree, between 1900 and 1909]

The way loggers cut timber has evolved throughout time as well and although methods have changed the work is still equally as difficult. In the beginning, timber was cut near the water because it was an easier way to transport it to where it needed to go in the long run.

When loggers were forced to move away from the water and inland due to lack of trees near the water they used horses and oxen to haul their cut wood through the forest. Next came log flumes, which were essentially water filled troughs that helped guide logs down the stream and were tied together like a raft.

[Red Cedar logs from Willi Willi Forest, date unknown]

Tools such as chainsaws and handsaws were used and eventually harvesting machines became the main way of logging trees; this machine is called a feller buncher and can quickly cut and gather trees. The logs were then transported to mills and cut into lumber and other products and then exported to a variety of places including locations as far away as China and Australia.

Over the years, logging has become incredibly controversial due to the concern of environmental sustainability and deforestation but it's important to realize that there are as many pros as there are cons when it comes to logging. However, the United States is still the most established and leading producer of lumber and it is a global business that is extremely important to the economy around us. The timber harvested each year provides raw materials our nation needs to create the goods and services consumers all over want and need.

In Text Photo Sources:

1. "Hauling" by Unknown -

2. "Photograph of Logging Scene - NARA - 2129320" by Unknown or not provided - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

3. "The Loggers, Michigan, USA 4a03926a original" by Unknown - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID det.4a03926.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

4. "Two loggers with springboards pounding wedges into tree (3329879056)" by OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons - Two loggers with springboards pounding wedges into tree. Via Wikimedia Commons -

5. "Hauling logs (2585873603)" by Photographic Collection from Australia - Hauling logsUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -