Logging’s roots in America stretch back to the early 1600s. Ever since the arrival of settlers in Jamestown in 1607, lumber has been essential to the North American economy. Today, the logging trade is an enormous global business, and it continues to be driven by ambitious workers willing to take on one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.
At first, lumber played a key role in shipbuilding; later, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, demand increased exponentially. By the early 1830s, Bangor, Maine, was the world’s biggest shipping port for lumber. Around the start of the 20th century, with the timber supply in the Midwest dwindling, the Pacific Northwest emerged as a logging center, and it remains an important source of timber to this day.
Methods and techniques for cutting and moving lumber have evolved over time. In the early days, loggers cut timber near water, which helped them transport the wood they harvested. As they moved further inland, loggers relied on horses and oxen to haul lumber, dragging logs through the woods over skid roads and rough tracks. They also developed log flumes, which transported lumber in water-filled troughs, and the log driving method, in which they guided logs down streams and tied them together into rafts. Another technique involved constructing a makeshift railroad from the very lumber it was designed to transport. No matter what their mode of transportation, the logs were sent to sorting yards once they reached a main waterway. They then moved on to mills, where they were transformed into products, or exported as far away as Australia and China.
Working in all-male crews, loggers wielded axes and handsaws; later, they would use chainsaws and harvesting machines such as the feller-buncher. They developed their own unique vocabulary, made up of terms like “faller” (a worker who felled trees) and “bucker” (a worker who cut them into pieces). Throughout the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th, loggers lived a rugged existence on remote camps near their worksites, battling long hours, hard labor and rough accommodations. Lice and disease were persistent problems, and it wasn’t uncommon for loggers to wear the same clothes for months on end. Over time, labor unions would demand better conditions, and the camps evolved into communities where families lived and thrived.