History of Portland Manufacturing

The development of Portland as a manufacturing point has been much later than in the lines of commerce. Indeed, it can scarcely be said to have yet begun upon the real business of manufacturing, unless in two or three particulars. Its industry has been chiefly confined to such departments as met an immediate local demand, and had no aim to reach out to something distant and world wide. It has not yet entered the minds of our capitalists that we have facilities here to compete with the mills of Pennsylvania, Illinois, or Michigan, for the trade of the western end of North America, or that by many advantages we may successfully operate for control of demands from the Pacific Islands, South America, and the Orient. Not until the present time and perhaps not even yet, would manufacturing on such a scale be so remunerative as in other lines of business. But now as the great profits of the early days are over it will be necessary to settle down to a larger, more extended and comprehensive sort of activity; and this will naturally gravitate toward manufacturing. Railroad traffic, navigation, commerce, agriculture, all our interests will become restricted unless rounded out by the labor of the manufacturer, and the surplus wealth of the State, both natural and acquired will flow from us to the region from which we import our wares.

With this industry as yet in its infancy, it is of course impossible to find for it much history. A glance at the unrivaled advantages we possess both from central position in a region of great natural wealth and from contiguity to the falls of the Willamette and the Cascades of the Columbia, has already been taken. Lownsdale’s journey has been spoken of. Mention has also been made of saw mills established in the city at an early day. The steam mill of Coffin and Abrams at the foot of Jefferson street was the fruit of this, being a capacious structure, and having a cutting capacity of over 20,000 feet per day. This was built in 1853.

Abrams was an indefatigable worker in lumbering, and with Hogue operated a mill for many years. J. C. Carson and J. P. Walker inaugurated enterprise in the sash and door business. Smith and Co., Weidler and Governor Pennoyer extended the business to its present extensive proportions. As an off-shoot of the lumbering business we have manufacturers of furniture, pioneers of which were Messrs. Hurgren and Shindler, a firm still continued under the name of Hurgren and Co. I.. F. Powers entered the field somewhat later and now has one of the largest plants and works on the coast.

Foundries were early established and gave principle attention to manufacture of boilers, steam engines, mill irons, steamboat fixtures, mining machinery and to a large degree iron fronts and ornamental works for buildings. In 1866 the iron works were established at Oswego, and have been operating intermittently since that date, having now become fully equipped with the best of furnaces, a railroad, and a large number of kilns for charcoal.

As a great business was that of flouring mills which began as early as 1864; having gradually gained pre-eminence over the business in the same line at Oregon City and Salem.

With the discovery and development of the quartz mines and ore beds of Idaho and Southern Oregon consequent upon the railroad development of the past decade, efforts were made for the establishment of reduction works at our city. These were first built on the line of the O. and C. R. R., in East Portland; the site, however, was abandoned, after a few months, and works have been constructed at Linnton, below the city.

Fruit canneries, and dry-houses, tanneries, excelsior works, paper mill (at La Camas, operated by a Portland company), barrel works, pottery, rope factory, soap works, watch factory, willow ware, box factories, pickle works, meat preservatories, and a multitude of works for simple city needs, and ice and baker’s goods, have grown with the growth of the country and of the place itself.

The following extracts from the columns of the Oregonian for Jan. 1, 1890, indicate something of the prosperity and magnitude of the manufacturing of Portland:

“January 1, 1890, opens up with over 600 firms engaged in converting the raw material into manufactured goods. They employ a bona fide working capital of over $14,000,000 and they furnish employment for 7,859 workmen at just and living wages. Five million is the sum expended for home raw material. The gross amount realized from the co-operation of this capital and labor is $20,183,-044, leaving a net profit of $6,000,000 on a total investment of $13,000,000, which after deducting taxes and other legitimate expenditures will leave in the clear a net gain of 33 1/3 per cent, for the year, a higher rate of gain than is realized by any manufactures of the Eastern and older cities. This is true because of the vast quantity of raw material purchased at home at reasonable prices, the comparative cheapness of land, and to the fact that competition has not here reached the cut-throat point of sacrificing all profit in the mad desire to do business at all hazards. One hundred and fift=five–distin& lines of manufacture are engaged in here to a greater or less extent, and each is prospering beyond expectation.

“The lumber trade and planing mills of Portland during the year 1889 has been enormous, not only in the amount of output for local use, but in that required for export trade as well, and notwithstanding our timber facilities, much more has been imported of grades and qualities now in demand, but not of woods grown in Oregon or vicinity. In January, 1889, there were ten firms engaged in the trade and three-fourths of a million dollars in the lumbering interests and employing 51.7 hands. January 1, 1890, finds twelve firms engaged in the business, with a total output for the year of $2, 000, 000, furnishing employment to 760 hands, with wages running from $2.50 to $3.00 per day. Every mill is running to its fullest capacity, and a few of the larger companies are, and have been for months past, turning away profitable contras for lack of men and and facilities for handling more trade.

“During the past year the furniture trade began to assume the proportions that it should reach here, by reason of natural advantages enjoyed by this branch of business, in a country where the material is abundant and the water power all that could possibly be desired. Still we do not supply with domestic manufacture enough to meet the demand for home consumption. The importation of goods of Eastern make exceeds the home manufacture, notwithstanding the fact that the home product is very large. Four firms are actually engaged in manufacturing furniture, investing $490,000 in the business. The output was $600,000, as against $410,500 for the previous year. Five hundred men were employed in 1889 as against 400 of the previous year.

“The woolen mills owned by Portland men and operated by Portland capital have been a complete success and brought handsome returns to the men who were financially plucky enough to put their coin into the enterprise. The Oregon made goods have this year competed with Eastern goods both in quality and price. The exceedingly mild winter of 1889, and the moderate weather of the present season has kept down the output to a lower point than the natural prosperity of the season should have induced but with these disadvantages, and with no increase of capital stock the output rose from $540,000 to $756,000 for the past year, giving employment to additional workmen.

“As to paper, ten newspapers in Portland and the Times, Press and Post-Intelligencer, of Seattle, and the Review, of Spokane Falls, are supplied with the paper on which they are printed from Portland. This immense tonnage of paper is the product of a factory owned by Portland men and run by Portland capital. The sum of $150,000 is invested in this business. Improvements have been added during the year amounting to $17,000. In 1888, eighty hands were given employment in this industry; in 1889, ninety men. In 1888 the value of the output was $180, 000; in 1889, $240,000; an increase of 33 1/3 per cent. in the volume of business for the past year. The product of these mills finds its way all over Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and recently very heavy shipments have been made to San Francisco.

“Portland being the center of a great wheat and cereal growing section, it is but natural that the converting of the golden grain into flour and feed should assume an important status. We not only make enough flour each day for our own consumption but thousands of barrels go to other coast ports, to England, to South America and other foreign countries. The capital stock invested in this industry was in 1888, $344,000 and in 1889, $350,000. By turning the capital invested several times a year, the output during 1889 reached the enormous sum of $2,806,000 as against $2,520,000 for 1888, at the same time giving employment to sixty men at wages ranging from two to three dollars a day.

“The smelting works located at Linnton, seven miles below Portland, is not merely a local institution, calculated only to benefit the city, but is of importance to the whole State and the Northwest as well. The capital stock of the smelting company is $1,000,000, of which $500,000 is fully paid in. The cost of the plant is $150,000. The smelter will have a capacity of 150 tons daily. The building is 60×220 feet. When operations begin fully a large force of men will be given steady and regular employment.

“Oswego, ten miles above Portland, is the location of one of the most important enterprises of the State. The iron product of the works here supplies most of the raw material for all of our foundry work and large quantities are shipped to every part of the Northwest. The value of the product approaches $50,000 annually.

“In foundries and machine shops the sum of $1,200,000 was invested in January, 1889. The year has witnessed its growth to $2,000,000. The output has increased from $1,500,000 to $1,-750,000, while the number of men provided with employment has increased from 900 to 1,000. The men in this branch of business look for a constant increase and development for some years to come for several reasons. Boat building requires constantly more and more iron and steel, railroad construction is going forward in this part of the world without cessation, and buildings, especially those designed for business purposes, require quantities of iron in their construction. Prices remain firm and the work is steadily increasing, yielding fair and reasonable profit on the investment.

“A prominent machinist, in speaking of the foundry work done in Portland, said that this industry, though enjoying great prosperity, was capable of still indefinite expansion. He said that the larger shops confine themselves, in a great measure, to repair work, that branch of the business being exceedingly profitable. There was no reason why Portland should import a single dollar’s worth of machinery ; that every particle used in the industries here could be made at home, yet that during the year nearly a million dollar’s worth of machinery was purchased in the East for use in Portland.

“At the corner of Third, H and G streets an immense foundry and also a machine shop are rapidly approaching completion. Two buildings are in course of construction, one 50×200 feet and the other 50×100, the cost of which exceeds the sum of $25,000.

“The new foundry is being constructed upon the most approved plans and will be supplied with the latest machinery for heavy marine work.

“In brick-making the product for 1889 reached $230,000, and from the employment of 106 men in 1888, it rose to 225 in 1889, without any indication whatever pointing to a decrease of output for 1890.

“The display of carriages, wagons, buggies and carts at the fair held in Portland was one of the most attractive features. The interest was occasioned principally by the fact that many of the samples on exhibition were made here. The roads of Oregon are peculiarly and distinctively poor and there appears to be something in the soil peculiarly destructive to wagons, etc. For good and serviceable wear it is vastly important that goods of this class should be made here to supply all those characteristics made necessary by the peculiarities of our surroundings. The sum of $50, 000 was invested in this business in 1888. This doubled for 1889. The output increased from $175,000 to $300,000, while the number of employees increased from 75 to 125. Improvements have been made in some of the factory buildings and one new brick factory has been built.

“Ship and boat builders have had a busy and prosperous season. The industry has been carried on without cessation on both sides of the river during the entire year. A large number of fleet vessels have been constructed during 1889; and thousands of dollars expended in Portland’s ship yards for repairs and improvements. Each year’s experience adds to the testimony in favor of Oregon fir for ship building, as well as innumerable other purposes. The boats turned out of our local ship yards, not only ply upon the waters of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, but are noted for speed and endurance on Puget sound and also upon the Pacific ocean.

“A large proportion of the crackers and fancy small cakes consumed in this city and vicinity are products of home industry. In 1888 the output was $170,000, that is of the one factory then in operation, and in 1889 this had increased to $200,000. Forty men gain their livelihood through this industry. The concern uses up from forty to fifty barrels of flour per day. Factories of the same kind established in other near by cities, have started a lively competition, otherwise the output for 1889 would easily have reached the sum of $250,000. The machinery used in the factory is the latest improved.

“Early this year of 1890 another immense cracker factory will begin active operations here. Over $30,000 has been expended in new and latest improved machinery. The new plant will have a capacity of fifty barrels a day and will require the services of twenty-five men to begin with and as many more as increased trade may necessitate.

“Five years ago the idea of turning Oregon clay into sewer and chimney pipe was first carried into execution, and $50,000 were put into the business. The industry grew, and the capital was increased to $100, 000. During 1888 and 1889 the business has increased to such an extent and imports have developed so that the company operating the business will enlarge the plant during 1890, having already bought ground for the purpose. It is claimed that a perfect fire-proof brick can be made here at a comparatively small cost, and the company will turn its attention largely to this department of the industry during the year just ushered in. Half a hundred men find regular and steady employment here at good living wages.

“Brooms and willow ware of all descriptions are so necessary in every household that we at once appreciate the effect and importance of having them made at home. Probably the largest establishment for this purpose on the Pacific Coast is to be found in Portland In this industry fifty men are given employment. The capital invested in this business is about $100,000, and the output in 1888 was valued at $100,000, and in 1889 at $125,000.

“For a city of its size Portland has more large and successful printing establishments than any other city in the United States. The printing trade has known no dullness during the past year. The season’s fulfillment has overreached most sanguine expectations, and business still holds out with remarkable vitality. The opening day .of 1890 finds 38 firms engaged in business, which invest the sum of $550,000, as against $500,000 for 1888, employing 410 men, as against 310 for 1888, with an output of $960,000, as against $686,500.

“The commendable activity and enterprise of the West is exhibited in no matter so clearly and emphatically as in seizing upon the advantages offered by the development of the powers of electricity. In this respect we are far in advance of Eastern cities of similar size, and Portland stands pre-eminent in availing herself of all the advantages that electricity brings. The whole of Portland and vicinity is illuminated at night by electricity, and well lighted at that. The excellence with which the city is lighted at night is more effective in the prevention of crime than even the watchful and efficient police force. In electric lighting, the main feature observant during the past year has been in the large increase of lights placed in private business houses. The increase in this line has been remarkable, and the service on the whole has been satisfactory.

“By far the most important use to which electricity has been put during the past year has been in using it as the motive power on several street railway lines.

“Careful investigation shows that each of the following industries have increased during the year 1889, both in the number of employes and in the total value of our out-put: Car shops, ice works, upholstering, coffee and spices, plumbing, bakeries, oils, shoes, furs, book-binding, wood-carving, matches, trunks, drugs, show-cases, watchmaking, rubber stamps, signs, knitting socks, gloves, type metals bottling, marble work, brass, cigars, iron cornices, stoves, stairs, art glass, cabinet work, shoe-uppers, patent insides, paper boxes, wire springs, tanning, iron fences, fringe, umbrellas, electrotyping, wood fences, fanning mill, etc.”


Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top