Portland Oregon’s Growth of Foreign Commerce

The Herald discusses the subject and shows in the same manner how dependence upon San Francisco worked ill to all Oregonians. It said:

“We have frequently urged upon our citizens the importance of establishing a foreign commerce and an independent trade for Oregon. Every intelligent man, on first becoming acquainted with the vast natural resources and commercial facilities of Oregon, is struck with astonishment at the apparent want of enterprise exhibited by the business men of this section in the matter of foreign commerce. A few days ago we noticed a sale of flour from the Salem mills at the highest market price; it was quoted in the printed reports as `California flour.’ A gentleman of this city has just shown us a letter from his agent in New York, advising him of a sale of flour from the mill situated at Jefferson, in Marion county, Oregon, at the highest market rates. That is put down in the commercial report as `California flour.’ Neither the name of Portland nor Oregon is noticed in commercial intelligence. Steamers and sailing vessels loaded for Portland appear in the shipping report as `cleared for the Columbia.’ The imports of foreign goods to San Francisco upon which duties were paid at that port, amounted to $17,987,535.00, for the year 1867. The imports from the eastern States during the same year were not less than as much more; which would make an aggregate of imports of $35,975,070. Not less than one-third of that entire amount was re-shipped to the Columbia, passing through Portland for a market—say, eleven million one hundred and ninety-nine thousand one hundred and seventy-two dollars. The San Francisco commission upon this amount was at least ten per cent.—$1,199,-927. The freight from San Francisco to Portland upon these goods was not less than $400,000. Allowing the same amount for commission and return freights, and it will he found that our trade with San Francisco in commission and freights costs $3,198,344. Goods can be shipped directly from New York and Boston, or from any foreign port to- Portland for one dollar a ton more than for San Francisco. By direct trade with the east and foreign ports, we have a saving of $700,000 in freights, and $2,398,344 in commissions and charges incident to breaking bulk, re-selling and re-shipping, at San Francisco. During the past two years Portland has paid tribute to San Francisco to an amount more than equal to the value of all assessable property. San Francisco has now a population of a hundred and twenty-five thousand. Port-land, with a foreign and independent commerce, with the same spirit of enterprise, which has characterized the former city, would now number not less than fifty thousand. This proposition is now mathematically demonstrable. The mines naturally tributary to Portland are greater in extent and product than those to San Francisco; the agricultural products of Oregon are more certain, and as available as those of California. Our lumber, iron and coal—the three great staples of commerce —together with our manufacturing facilities, are infinitely superior to those of California; we are nearer to the rich commerce of the Indies, and in the direct line of the shortest practicable, belt of commerce around the world, when the contemplated railroad systems are completed. With all these superior natural advantages, why do we consent to be a mere dependency? Paying tribute to the amount of one-third of our earnings to a city which constantly strives to humble and degrade us ?”

The estimates of the amount Portland was then paying to San Francisco, as given by the Herald, were probably excessive, but the reasoning presented was sound and weighty, and had a good effect among its constituents, as the like presentations of the Oregonian and other journals upon their readers.

About this time there were others also striving valiantly for release from these restrictions. Among these was Mr. Robert Kinney, who, although not a citizen of Portland, had interests here; and, as the proprietor of large grist mills, was seeking a market for the products of his manufacture. His son, Marshall J. Kinney, at that time his agent in California; found it extremely difficult to charter a ship for crossing the bar independently of the California companies. He was met with all manner of preposterous objections, and he found the prevailing opinions in regard to the Columbia river prejudiced by self-interest, and even dense ignorance. Nevertheless, he succeeded in chartering a bark-the Cutwater-and the cargo shipped on her was among the first, if not the very first, to sail away independently of California.

As the people of Portland became thus moved, measures were introduced in the State Legislature, which convened in the latter part of 1868, to provide relief. Col. W. W. Chapman, still at the front in all matters relating to the prosperity of Portland, undertook the passage of a bill for a tug off the Columbia bar. His first step was to remove the prejudices of the agricultural members, who were naturally quite loth to vote money out of the State treasury for the benefit of Portland; but the Colonel was able to show them that, as their groceries, farm machinery, clothing and other necessaries were taxed heavily by coming through San Francisco, anything to open up direct communication with New York would result in their advantage. In order to prove that there must be some assistance given to shipping, he showed that although there was a depth of twenty-four feet on the Columbia bar at dead low water-which, at the time, was the case-the dangers resulted from lack of uncertainty of winds; and every disaster has been due to such failure. He showed that shippers and ship owners would refuse to dispatch vessels to this port while this embarrassment remained. He recommended that the State give a subsidy for the maintenance of a proper steam tug at the mouth of the river. To show that such subsidy was necessary, he cited the experience of Captain Paul Corno, who had some years before attempted to maintain a. tug, but found that the business was not large enough to justify his endeavor. Chapman’s recommendations were adopted, a subsidy of thirty thousand dollars was provided-to be furnished under proper restriction and in certain yearly installments-and the rates of pilotage were reduced twenty-five per cent. The tug boat was allowed, when not needed at the bar, to tow vessels to Portland.

Steps were also taken by the merchants of Portland, and by the city as a corporation, to maintain a dredger on the lower Willamette river, and a channel three thousand two hundred feet in length was cut to a depth of fifteen feet at low water, across Swan Island bar, at an expenditure of some twenty-five thousand dollars.

As a result of all these endeavors, a new and steady commerce began to spring up. The Packet line from New York continued regular trips, although, as the transcontinental railways were constructed, the need of them has very largely ceased. The commerce with foreign ports, and particularly with the United Kingdom, has, however, grown steadily from that day to this.

The following table of the exports to San Francisco for 1869 shows the progress of our commerce. It is very incomplete, being much like the others in this regard, as given heretofore:

Treasure$2, 358, 000 00Salmon, barrels1,937
Bullion419,657 00Salmon, packages19,729
Butter,packages1,313Flour, quarter sacks543
Hides5,650Wheat, sacks49,422
Wool, bales3,191Oats, sacks58,403
Barley, sacks240Bacon, gunnies4,723
Pork, barrels1,712Lard, half barrels2,960
Cheese, packages12Apples, boxes31,520
Hams, packages435Dried apples, packages4,912
Pig iron, tons825

Of the items above mentioned, it will be noticed that treasure is rapidly decreasing, while flour, wheat and salmon are increasing. Iron appears for the first time in any noticeable quantity, and gives proof of the industry established at Oswego. Salmon, as shipped in

cases or packages, witnesses the beginning of the great industry about springing up in canning this noble fish. Although salmon were not shipped from Portland exclusively, nor perhaps to a very large extent, and although the business of canning was not operated with Portland capital, nevertheless the income from this resource had a decided effect in stimulating business at this point.

The aggregate of sales in the city is estimated at $3,400,000 for this year, and the internal revenue collections were $204,532.

In 1870 the commerce to the United Kingdom begins to rise. In that year, in the months from July 1st, 1869, to November, 1870, the exports thither amounted to a value of about $61,000.

The following table exhibits the export to San Francisco :

Apples, boxes25,600Salmon, bbls3,792
Flour, quarter sacks144,071Salmon, half bbls4,746
Lumber, feet6,818,547Salmon, cases22,130
Oats, sacks63,235

It appears that in the year 1870 no statistics were kept at Portland of exports, and of the above meagre table the Oregonian speaks as follows: “It is but just to this State to say, however, that the above figures do not for either year (1869-70) express the full amount of our shipment to San Francisco, but only such amounts of the various articles as were shipped into the San Francisco market for sale. It is well known that during each year we sent considerable quantities of wheat, flour, salmon, etc., to San Francisco for shipment to Eastern or foreign ports; these were not included in the above table. The very small increase of wheat exports of 1870 above 1869 is accounted for by the fact that in 1869 we shipped but little to foreign countries direct, while in 1870 we exported to foreign countries as much as, or more than, appears in this table. The latest shipment to all destinations would show that our grain and breadstuffs export have increased greatly more in proportion than any other products. It will be seen that exports of salmon have also increased.”

The exports to foreign countries – including China, British Columbia, Sandwich Islands, England, Ireland, Uruguay and Peru aggregated a value of three hundred and seventy-one thousand three hundred and fifty-five dollars-mostly lumber, flour and fish.

The statistics of 1870 appear incomplete and unsatisfactory-showing negligence on the part of the Portland shippers of that time. The foreign commerce during that period does not seem to have advanced quite so rapidly as was hoped, and the Portland merchants appear to have been somewhat slow to make use of the great advantages open to them by the new order of things. Nevertheless, this was but natural, as the capital was not then in the city to inaugurate a great enterprise, and must be brought in from abroad. The Customs District of Willamette was created and a Custom House established at Portland this year.

This was, moreover, a period of railroad building and excitement, and, consequently, foreign commerce by water was not so rapidly pushed. Still further, the producers of the country, the farmers, lumbermen and stock-raisers, must adapt their industries more directly to commerce, and not consider it a simple addendum to conveniently provide to take care of what they happened to have left over of their domestic industries.

In 1871 foreign exports rise to a value of $692,297. Clearing to foreign ports are found five foreign ships, aggregating three thousand, seven hundred tons, and six foreign barks, two thousand, six hundred tons. Of American steamer clearances to foreign ports, there were twenty-nine, and six barks and one schooner, aggregating sixteen thousand tons. Imports from foreign countries reached $517,633.

The coastwise arrivals, from San Francisco and other American cities, aggregated eighty-six thousand four hundred and sixteen tons.

In 1872 we find commerce rising to something like its contemplated proportions. For its purposes, eighteen American steamers and eight barks were employed, with a tonnage of eleven thousand, nine hundred and forty-six; and of foreign vessels, twelve barks and two schooners, aggregating nine thousand, one hundred and forty tons.

Imports from England reached a value of $350,980; from British Columbia, $31,294; from Sandwich Islands, $171,332; from Hongkong, $115,338; from other .points, $59,831, making a total of $728,825. The large imports from the Sandwich Islands show the value of their trade to Portland, if their products of sugar might be somehow taken away, at least in part, from the San Francisco monopoly.

The exports for this year were as follows: To England, a value of $3,041,744; British Columbia, $107,508; Ireland, $187,549; Sandwich Islands, $8,824; Hongkong, $33,925, making a total of $642,620.

The wheat shipped to the United Kingdom from August 1st to December 13th reached 209,337 centals, worth $311,166, as against 99,463 centals, worth $257,276 in 1871. There were five vessels engaged in this trade, while in 1872 there were ten. The value of the grain thus exported did not keep pace with that of the year before, on account of the low price realized. The export to California of flour was 192,500 sacks.

As for coast-wise traffic, there were eighty-two steamers, twenty barks, three brigs, four ships and various schooners, aggregating a hundred and nine thousand, nine hundred and forty-seven tons.


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

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