Statistics of Portland Exports

Noticing some of the imports we find ten thousand bricks from England-evidently brought by way of ballast. Bags, also, were brought from England to the value of $79,086. The trade from China was very largely in rice, a considerable portion of which was for the Chinese consumers in our midst; 731,926 pounds.

From the Sandwich Islands there were imported 160,839 pounds of rice; of sugar, 3,353,552 pounds; of molasses, 1088 gallons. This is evidently before the monopoly of Spreckles in California.

During 1876 business rapidly revived and the general enthusiasm prevailing throughout the entire United States did much to inspire our merchants with new energy and confidence. More interest was taken in collecting reliable statistics and in showing the world what we were capable of. It was found that the exports of Oregon averaged three hundred and eighteen dollars to each man in the State. “With a population of forty thousand men, Oregon’s export of wheat equals one-seventh of the total export of the United States.”

Eastern Oregon and Washington had now begun to raise wheat in large quantities. Wool figures as a very valuable product-the export being for that year 3,125, 000 pounds, worth $600,000. The salmon catch was also rising and exports from this source were assuming large proportions. In 1875, 372,000 cases were put up, and in 1876 this was swelled to 480,000 cases. Seventy-two vessels cleared with cargoes mostly wheat, for European ports. The export of wheat to Europe was 1,824,371 centals, valued at $3,138,-294. The total export was 1,937,787 centals. The export of flour aggregated 215,714 barrels. The excess of wheat and flour exports for 1876, over 1875, reached a value of $794,857.

In the record of shipments to San Francisco, it is noticeable that apples are coming up to their former figure, being 41,523 boxes of the fresh fruit, and 6,363 packages of the dry; 22,671 sacks of potatoes and 176,939 bushels of oats were also shipped, but the bulk of our shipments thither for that year consisted of 290, 076 cases of canned salmon, showing that almost from the first our cannerymen looked for sale of their goods in California. If it had been possible to carry on the salmon business on a purely independent basis before the world, and make Portland, the city nearest the greatest production of this article, the emporium, it is believed that many disasters and difficulties which overtook this business might have been avoided.

The shipment of treasure, or the actual transportation of money for this year was $2,651,431.78.

As another sign of increase and advance toward commercial supremacy was the change noticeable at this dine, by which the country merchants and the jobbers and dealers in small towns began to look to Portland as the base of their supplies.

During 1877 loud calls were heard from the people of Portland for direct railroad communication with the East, and strenuous exertions were made for the building of a road from Portland via The Dalles to Salt Lake. Much of this eagerness for independent rail lines was developed by the fact that in California many emigrants starting overland for Oregon were turned back by the representations of agents of the California Emigration Boards, and the Oregonians found their growth in population’ much retarded thereby.

The total value of exports from the Columbia river in 1876 was estimated at $11,825,087; in 1877 at $16,086,897. Seventy-eight ships and barks were engaged in carrying to foreign ports 2,341,210 centals of wheat, worth $4,954,475. Upon five vessels there were shipped 59,389 barrels of flour, worth $355,690.

We venture to insert here one more table of exports to San Francisco, which the indulgent reader may omit in reading unless for purposes of reference and comparison:

Wheat, centals504,836Flax seed, sacks12,792
Flour, barrels113,732Hides37,090
Oats, centals146,050Beef (canned), cases15,612
Barley, centals5,608Butter, packages2,064
Middlings, sacks2,834Bacon, packages1,030
Bran, sacks19,418Lard, cases307
Shorts, sacks2,569Hams, packages263
Apples, boxes73,282Pork, barrels372
Dried fruit, packages3,206Hops, bales2,006
Potatoes, sacks37,081Cheese, packages729
Hay, bales863Salmon, cases246,892
Salmon, half barrels723Salmon, barrels173
Wool, bales15,759

The following table is also attended as giving the comparative shipments and values of wheat, including flour reduced to wheat, for the years 1874-75-76-77:


In 1878 there appears to be a falling off in export of wheat, which reached but 1, 449,608 centals, valued at $2,540,112; flour valued at $329, 000.

During the year 1878, however, there were exceedingly lively times between Portland and San Francisco on account of the competition between several steamship companies for the trade. In opposition to the Oregon Steamship Company, the old Pacific Mail steamers of large size, the Orizaba and the John L. Stephens were run. Also the Great Republic, the largest vessel ever afloat in our waters, carried things with a high hand, sometimes transporting as many as a thousand passengers at a single trip.

In 1879 the total number of steam craft of the Willamette District (Portland) was sixty, with a tonnage of 27,597. Of these the G. W. Elder and the Oregon, belonging to the Oregon Steamship Company, iron ships, built at Chester, were the finest and most conspicuous.

The wheat export required the services of seventy vessels, and nineteen vessels were also engaged, either wholly or in part, for flour. The wheat reached 1,932,080 centals, worth $3,611,240; flour, 209,098 barrels, valued at $1,143,530. The total value of wheat and flour shipped both to domestic and foreign ports was $5,345,400.

The following table exhibits the rise and growth of the wool export:

18732,000,000 pounds
18742,250,000 pounds
18752,500,000 pounds
18763,150,000 pounds
18775,000,000 pounds
18786,500,000 pounds
18797,000,000 pounds

The following figures furnish the statistics of the salmon canning business on the Columbia river. There were canned the following number of cases, in 1875, 231,500; 1876, 428,730; 1877, 392,000; 1878, 278,488; 1879, 325,000.

For 1880 the shipment of wheat was 1,762,515 bushels, valued at $1,845,537; flour, 180,663 barrels, valued at $891,872. The value of shipments to San Francisco aggregated $4,500,000. The wool shipment was 7,325,000 pounds; salmon, 472,000 cases.

For 1881 the value of wheat was $1,845,537, or, 1,766,515 bushels. For 1881 the shipments of lumber from Portland were considerable, although until this time the Portland mills were for the most part occupied in cutting for local trade, and to supply surrounding and interior points. The three principal mills at Portland . cutting for this year were the Portland Lumbering and Manufacturing Co., 6,200,000 feet; Smith’s mill, 5,000,000; Wiedler’s, about 50, 000, 000.

During this year greater interest than heretofore had been taken by Portland capitalists in exploring and opening coal and other mines that were naturally tributary to her; and a number of energetic men in this city formed an organization to encourage the growth of fruit in the contiguous sections and open a market to the east and up and down the coast. The salmon catch on the Columbia reached 550,000 cases.

The years of 1880-1 were marked by the great business activity resulting from the construction of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company’s lines, the section from The Dalles to Walla Walla, to the Blue Mountains and to Texas Ferry, then building. The Northern Pacific railroad was running trains from Kalama to Tacoma and constructing the section of their road northeast of Ainsworth fifty-seven miles. The value of imports for this year are given as $486,208.

The following statement will show the state of business during 1882: “Prosperity of business has been unparalleled. The commerce of the city has been constantly increasing during the past year. The tonnage of ocean steamers arriving at this port shows an increase of more than double the records of. any previous year, many first-class steamships from foreign countries having made exception-ally prosperous voyages to and from Portland. Our regular ships plying hence to San Francisco have been constantly improving in character and increasing in number until the Portland line has become the busiest, most reliable and most profitable marine traffic from the city of San Francisco. The number of passengers carried on this line amounts to 5000 or more every month, and freights average 40,000 tons. The ‘deep sea crafts’ which visit our river prove the ignorance or malice of those who would represent entrance and navigation of the Columbia and the Willamette as perilous or impossible. There are now lying at our docks vessels which will load to twenty-two feet drafts before slipping their hawsers, and make the open sea without danger or delay.”

The Willamette river was much improved, and agitation for the improvement of the Columbia bar was begun. The following excerpt shows the general spirit prevailing at the time: “Every unprejudiced observer of this vigor and of Portland’s relation to the surrounding country says `Portland ought to do the business of Oregon, Washington and Northern Idaho.’ The completion of an unbroken line having five hundred miles of railroad eastward, with Portland as its great terminal point, marks an era in our history which will only be eclipsed by the present year.”

The year 1883 fully realized all the hopes that were raised by the construction of the O. R. & N. Company’s lines. Portland took long strides towards the pre-eminence naturally assured her by right of position. ” It used to be said that three-fourths of our interior trade passed Portland, and was supplied by San Francisco. The past year has changed this condition of things so materially that possibly the conditions are reversed.”

During the year the ocean commerce of Portland seems to have somewhat diminished, but this is most natural, considering the vast amount of tonnage which the railroads have displaced by more rapid transportation. The city has during the year maintained its own powerful dredgers for the purpose of increasing the depth of channel in the Willamette, and less trouble than heretofore has been experienced in bringing ships to Portland. The latter months of 1883 found a greater number of ships in her harbor than one ever saw here at once, forty such vessels being at dock at one time in November.”

It was in 1883 that the O. R. & N. Company’s lines were finished and the main line of the Northern Pacific was pushed to a junction with its eastern section.

In 1884, however, a great business collapse resulted from the unusual expansion of the preceding months, and the year was rather disastrous. The Oregon and Transcontinental stocks dropped to a minimum. Villard failed, and many Portland stockholders were greatly crippled. Fictitious values had to be brought down to a substantial basis. Cessation of railroad construction, discontinuance of disbursements, and the fact that the railroad now coming into operation began to absorb the flowing money in the country, all tended to create a stringency. Prices of wheat fell low, and productions therefore realized but poorly; and during the holidays in Portland the whole city was blockaded by an Unprecedented storm of snow and ice, so that the somewhat unusual preparations of Portland merchants failed to realize their object. The time of this storm was, however, reckoned as about the lowest ebb of business, and with the advance of winter and the opening of the following season began a general rise. The main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad having been completed, brought in immigration from the East. The O. R. & N. Company pushed their line to a junction with the Union Pacific, and formed a net-work of lines in the valley of the Columbia. The Oregon and California road was continued to Ashland, and the Oregon Pacific was finished from Corvallis to Yaquina Bay. The section of the Northern Pacific from Portland to a point on the Columbia river opposite Kalama was also built.


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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