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Lumber Trade of Chicago.

Illinois of the largest of the interior States, but on its fifty-five thousand square miles of surface, probably there grows not a single pine large enough from which to fashion boards. The same may be said of southern Wisconsin and portions of Iowa and Wisconsin. In all these States indeed there is also a great scarcity of trees of any kind. Their forests are not sufficient for their fuel, and at the first glance we might be tempted to justify the old travelers who believed that this country of prairie was (doomed to remain to the end an uninhabited wilderness on account of its bareness — the lack of material out of which to provide shelter and fuel sufficient for the wants of civilized man. And to this day the most obvious want of this region, so rich in mineral and agricultural wealth, is the want of wood. Four millions of people, however, inhabit the States above named; the prairies are dotted with houses and barns, and checquered with fences, and every day adds to their numbers, and consequently their wants in this regard. These fences and most of these buildings are of wood — for the most part of pine wood, not one foot of which was grown within the States themselves. In these facts we have the explanation why the lumber trade within them is so expensive. The reasons why Chicago is the seat of this trade the sequel will make clear.

When nature prepared the beautiful prairie region, now called Illinois, to be the garden spot of the continent she was mindful to provide for all the wants of its future inhabitants. So, having prepared the surface of the earth for fields, gardens, pastures and meadows, and stowed away beneath the soil abundant mines and quaries, she thoughtfully planted a great wood lot in Michigan, and scooped out a deep canal between. This water communication enables us to bring into the harbor of Chicago at a trifling expense the lumber which the forests on the lake and its tributaries provide so abundantly. And the numerous lines of railroads which radiate from the city furnish the means of sending it to almost any joint in the land.

The greater part by far of the lumber used in the interior, and, indeed, elsewhere in this country, is pine. It is preferred because it is the only material which is easily worked; is durable, and at the same time preserves a good surface. Some deciduous trees, as whitewood and bass wood, make lumber which is used to so ne extent for building purposes; but these trees grow for the most par where the country is well settled, and the lumber from them is mostly consumed at home. Some of the hard woods as oak, maple, black walnut, beech and butternut, can be finished beautifully, and are much used for furniture, and, for the inside finish of elegant buildings. The good taste of our citizens has been manifest especially of late in the choice which they have made of the materials, and a trade of these woods has sprang up which must extend with the progress of good

The shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and the banks of many of the streams which empty into these lakes are covered with vast forests of pine. That portion of the state of Michigan between lakes Huron and


Michigan, and called the "lower peninsula," is mostly covered with forests of pine, north of the line of the Detroit and Milwaukee railroad. A great part of northern Wisconsin is covered in the same way. In Canada, along the Georgian bay, is another wilderness of pins woods, occupying thousands of square miles. Probably in Michigan, Wisconsin, and that portion of Canada bordering on Lake Huron, there are nearly or quite 40,000 square miles of pine woods; that is, an extent of surface nearly equal to three-fourths of the area of the Stale of Illinois.

The lumber country is comparatively uninhabited. The soil is usually unproductive, and does not tempt permanent settlers. The mills are at the head of navigation on the streams, and, to avoid hauling the heavy logs long distances, those trees only are felled which are near the streams, to which they are hauled and on which they are rafted down to the mills.

Thus, up to this time, notwithstanding the immense consumption of lumber for the past 20 years, nearly all of which has been obtained in these districts, only the edges of the forests, as it were, have been invaded. Along the St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, Grand, Muskegon, Manistee and Grand Traverse rivers and their tributaries, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, and on the numerous streams which find an outlet by way of the Saginaw river into Saginaw bay, great inroads have been made on the forest, and in some sections the supply is apparently exhausted. This is especially the case in those places most easily accessible, and which have been long worked. And for this reason it is annually becoming more difficult and expensive to obtain material for the mills, as it has to be hauled and rafted greater distances. And this difficulty and expense must increase, and with them the costs, of lumber, until artificial means of transportation have been provided which will enable lumbermen to extend their operations to those localities at a distance from the streams.

When railroads shall have been built through the interior of the lower peninsula of Michigan of northern Wisconsin, connecting these now inaccessible districts with the lake harbors, we may expect from these localities which have hitherto been inaccessible, and therefore untouched, a large increase in the supply of lumber, which may serve to beep down prices and furnish us with building material for the rest of this century, and, perhaps, a part of the next.

But where is our lumber to come from when all these forests are exhausted? This is a question of grave importance, and one not easily answered. We are yearly consuming the, product of scores of square miles of the forest, and on the ground so laid bare no new growth is appearing. We are not only harvesting a crop which it has required centuries to mature, but we have planted nothing to supply its place. In our eagerness to supply our own wants, we seem likely to consume the inheritance of posterity, as well as our portion of those goods which nature has appropriated to the use of all her children.

The largest portion of the lumber found in the Chicago market comes from the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Each of the mills on the streams which we have named manufactures millions of feet annually. The supply of pine on the St . Joseph River, Michigan, is very nearly exhausted, and now Muskegon boasts of the largest number of mills and the greatest production of lumber.

A very large amount of lumber is brought from Green Bay and the


vicinity of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. The extension by the North-eastern Railroad of a line to the lumber country, in the neighborhood of Winnebago Lake, has made this region accessible, and the receipts by this railroad are almost entirely the product of this district.

Of the lumber manufactured on the tributaries of Like Huron, but a portion reaches the Chicago market. Yet there is a large amount of Saginaw lumber sold here, and as the districts farther north, above Saginaw Bay and in the vicinity of Thunder Bay, are opened, an increase in the receipts from eastern Michigan may be looked for at Chicago.

Canadian lumber, famous for its excellent quality, formerly was sold to a considerable extent, but now the eastern demand is so great that most of the lumber manufactured in Canada finds its way to that market. The abrogation of the reciprocity treaty will probably injure the trade in this lumber east as well as west. There are extensive lumber districts on the headwaters of the Ottawa River and along the shores of the Georgian Bay which are yet undeveloped. These will doubtless become of importance hereafter.

The receipts of lumber by the Michigan Southern, Michigan Central, and Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroads consists chiefly of hard wood and whitewood, the latter of which being as easily worked as pine, though not as durable, can supply its place in inside work; and the former being used, as has been remarked, for elegantly finished interior work.

There is a lumber country from which no shipments are made to Chicago, the produce of which, nevertheless, has no little effect on the market. This is the Upper Mississippi country. Under ordinary circumstances, Iowa, Missouri and Western Illinois are chiefly supplied by this region — the Mississippi affording facilities for floating the logs at a trilling expense to points very near the place where the lumber is used. When the supply from this region fails, as is sometimes the case, these districts are supplied through Chicago, greatly increasing its trade and the price of lumber in its market.

The lumber country is, for the most part, desolate during one-half of the year. Here the crop is already grown, and labor is needed only to gather in the harvest, and the lumber harvest is not in the summer, but in the winter. This season is chosen, because in the pathless forests it is impossible to move the logs, except when the fall of snow makes it practicable to use sleds, and thus drag them to the streams.

Before winter sets in the lumbering parties are made up, quarters built and provisions for man and beast provided, and by the time the first snow has fallen the party is established in its solitary wilderness, there to remain until the opening of navigation to the spring. Throughout the winter the little community, cut off from all intercourse with the rest of world, is busily engaged in felling trees and dragging them to the streams — dependent wholly on itself for its wants, social and moral, as well as physical. It is a rough life, but a hearty one, and has something attractions which have been thought peculiar to a life on the sea. Indeed, large shares of the lumbermen are sailors, who, during the summer, are engaged in transporting the lumber which they helped to manufacture in the winter.

When the snow disappears, and the ice breaks up in the streams, then


the logs are floated down to the mills to be manufactured. This is not always easily done, and, in case of unusually high water, the logs are sometimes carried over the banks and back into the forests, where they cannot be recovered until the next winter, if they are not wholly lost. The depth of the snow in the winter, and the condition of the streams in the spring, are the chief natural elements which determine the crop of logs. When these are favorable, the product is limited only by the capital invested and the number of laborers employed.

The lumber which is sold in the Chicago market is sawed near the places where it is grown. The process is simple and familiar, though those who have seen only the ordinary country mills running, only a simple upwright saw, would be surprised to see the cargoes of lumber which are turned out every season by some of these steam mills, with their gang and circular saws. Some of these mills manufacture 10,000,000 feet unnually. They are not as numerous as might be supposed, there being at some places which are well known lumbering points only two or three, and in no place, so far as we know, more than fifteen.

To form some idea of the extent of the lumber trade in Chicago, let the reader walk up the South Branch, from the Fort Wayne depot to the vicinity of Bridgeport. Up the stream, as far as vessels can make their way, acres of ground on each bank are occupied by lumber yards. Cities and villages are here annually built up and torn down. Narrow streets stretch from the river banks through these yards, lined on each side by stately piles of lumber, shingles and laths, piles towering upwards sometimes as high as 30 feet, and the materials of these solid though unsubstantial edifices last winter were in the trees of the forest, standing in the midst of the wilderness, hundreds of miles from Chicago. And when we reflect that these acres of lumber are not the acquisitions of the whole season, but that the millions of feet which we see are but a fraction of the whole amount received, the balance of which has been consumed in the city or shipped to the interior, we may form some conception of the magnitude of the trade in this material, which requires a fleet to transport it, an army of men to handle it, and the services of hundred locomotives and thousands of cars to carry it.

Few are aware of the extent of the country supplied with lumber from the Chicago market. Not only are the remotest parts of Illinois dependent, at least in part, on it for their supply, but no inconsiderable quantities are sent to the interior of Iowa, and even to Omaha in Nabraska, and Leavenworth in Kansas, and bills have been filled for Cinncinati and Louisville.

It is true that the lumber region on the upper Mississippi has usually, and does still supply the districts near and future west. But this limber region appears insufficient to supply the great and growing demand of this country which is so rapidly increasing in population and wealth. The low water in the lumber regions of the upper Mississippi sometimes make it impossible to raft the logs, which had been cut, to the mills, and, consequently, the supply from this section is almost wholly cut off, and the demand on the Chicago market greatly increased.

Last spring (1865) the high water enabled the Mississippi lumberman to bring into the market the greater part of the product of two years' cutting. Moreover, last year there was a very heavy government demand


for lumber for the building of barracks, hospitals, storehouses, etc., which has not only entirely ceased, but the greater part of these government buildings have been sold, and thus a large amount of lumber has been thrown upon the market. Again, early in the season, when the close of the war had made every one distrustful of the uture, there was very little building attempted. Yet, notwithstanding all these circumstances which would tend to limit the demand, we find that during the season of 1869 the lumber trade of Chicago increased, and the city still claims to be the greatest lumber market in the world.

The enormous consumption of lumber indicates very accurately the general prosperity and spirit of enterprise which has prevailed during the year. The unusual production of the upper Mississippi has been absorbed to a great extent by the southern demand. Millions of feet have been rafted as low down as New Orleans, and throughout the South, and as far north as the Missouri river, the ravages of war have created a demand which the production of years will not be able to satisfy. Consequently lumber merchants are anticipating and providing for a continuance and even an increase of the demand which has seemed, for the season just passed, extraordinary.

The stocks on hand at the different yards are unusually large, and the preparations for lumbering are extensive and promise to be successful. For a few years past it has been very difficult to obtain laborers. No such difficulty is now encountered. The disbanding of the army has made producers of hundreds of thousands of consumers and destroyers.

Until the year 1856, Albany was the greatest lumber market in the world. At that time Chicago distanced her, and has since kept the lead. Albany, which is supplied from northern New York and Canada, has the second place, and Pittsburg, which is the market for the pine regions of the Alleghany, the third. The exhaustion of the pine forests of northern New York has had much to do with the decrease of the trade of Albany, and the production of the country which has supplied the Pittsburg, market has so decreased that the cities on the Ohio river are now supplied in part from Chicago.

We give a table of the receipts of lumber, shingles and lath since 1847. The receipts for 1865 are reckoned from the first of January to mid-December. Very little more will be received, the receipts by lake having closed until the opening of navigation in the spring.

Year Lumber Feet. Shingles No. Lath Pieces
1847 32,118,225 12,148,500 5,655,700
1848 60,009,250 20,000,000 10,025,109
1849 73,259,553 39,057,750 19,281,733
1850 100,364,779 55,423,760 19,809,700
1851 125,056,437 60,838,250 27,583,478
1852 147,816,232 77,080,5011 19,759,670
1853 202,101,098 93,483,781 39,133,116
1854 228,336,783 82,061,250 32,431,550
1855 397,567,669 158,770,800 46,487,550
1856 441,961,900 135,876,000 79,235,120
1857 459,939,000 131,832,000 80,130,000
1858 278,943,000 127,525,000 44,558,000
1859 302,845,207 165,927,000 49,102,000
1860 262,496,626 127,894,000 36,601,000


  Lumber, Feet. Shingles, No. Lath, Pieces.
1861 249,808,705 79,356,000 32,637 000
1862 305,674,045 131,255,000 23,880,000
l863 213,301,818 172,364,878 41,768,000
1864 501,692,406 190,169,759 65,953,900
1865 606,645,300 304,212,000 60,340,000
Total 5,089,038,083 2,560,093,21 2988,297,743

The receipts for the past season have been by the following routes:

  Lumber. Shingles. Lath.
By lake 597,675,000 218,147,000 58,851,000
By N. W. Railway 1,670,000 86,069,000 479,000
By other railways 7,297,300   10,000
Total 606,642,300 304,216,000 60,340,000

Six hundred million feet of lumber received in one year! Who can form a conception of such an amount? Perhaps some calculation will put it into a more intelligible form.

Six hundred million feet of lumber would plank a surface of 21˝ square miles, nearly equal to the whole extent of the city of Chicago. It would make a sidewalk four and a half feet wide entirely around the earth!

The receipts for the past three years, if composed entirely of boards a foot wide, would, if placed end to end, extend 284,400 miles; far enough to make a bridge to the moon, with 40,000 miles to spare! The whole amount received since 1855 would make a building 100 feet wide, 25 feet high, and long enough to reach from Chicago to San Francisco; a building which would shelter the entire population of Europe. It would make a bridge two miles wide across the lake from Chicago to St. Joseph.

The aggregate amount of lumber, shingles and lath, forwarded from Chicago since 1860 have been as follows:

Year Lumber. Shingles. Lath.
1861 189,379,445 94,421,186 31,282,725
1862 189,277,079 55,761,630 16,966,600
1863 221,799,830 102,684,447 30,293,247
1864 269,496,579 188,497,256 36,242,010
1865 345,390,089 239,788,057 60,744,520

The following table shows the prices of different qualities of lumber on the 1st of July of each year since 1858:

Year. Clear. Common. Cargoes.
1859 $18 00@30 00 $ 9 00@10 00 $ 7 00@ 9 00
1860 24 00@27 00 8 00@8 50 6 25@7 25
1861 22 00@27 00 7 50@ 8 00 5 50@ 7 00
1862 24 00@26 00 9 50@10 00 @
1863 35 00@38 00 15 00@16 00 11 00@14 50
1864 50 00@55 00 22 00@ 19 00@23 00
1865 45 00@50 00 14 00@15 00 10 00@13 50

The variation in prices for the years 1864 and 1865 is shown by the following table, in which the highest and lowest prices of each month are given:


  Clear. Common. Cargoes.
  1864. 1865. 1864. 1865. 1864. 1865.
January $42 00@45 00 $60 00@ $17 00@18 00 $24 00@25 00    
February 42 00@45 00 60 00@ 17 00@18 00 24 00@25 00    
March 42 00@45 00 60 00@ 17 50@18 00 24 00@25 00    
April 45 00@50 00 55 00@60 00 17 50@18 00 21 00@22 00 $16 00@18 50 $14 00@17 00
May 50 00@ 48 00@60 00 18 00@19 00 14 00@21 00 16 00@20 00 12 00@17 00
June 50 00@55 00 45 00@50 00 19 00@20 00 14 00@16 00 16 00@22 00 9 00@20 00
July 50 00@55 00 45 00@50 00 22 00@ 14 00@15 00 17 00@23 00 11 00@14 00
August 50 00@55 04 45 00@60 00 20 00@24 00 14 00@17 00 17 00@22 00 11 00@16 50
September 50 00@55 00 55 00@63 00 22 00@24 00 16 00@20 00 18 00@22 00 14 00@21 00
October 50 00@55 00 58 00@63 00 22 00@24 00 19 00@20 00 15 00@19 00 16 00@20 00
November 50 00@55 00 59 00@62 00 20 00@24 00 20 00@ 15 00@20 00 15 00@19 00
December 50 00@55 00 59 00@61 00 20 00@25 00 20 00@ 20 00@21 00 15 00@17 00

It will be seen by this table that the prices, which in 1864 increased steadily through the year, in 1865 fell gradually until August, when they were about one-fourth lower than at the beginning of the year. Since that time they have risen steadily, and in December the quotations vary but little from the figures ruling in January.

A comparison with the prices of lumber in other cities may prove interesting. The rates given in the following table are quoted from the latest (December) lists:

  Clear. Common. Shingles.
NewYork $80 00@100 00    
Pittsburg 65 00@ $2500@ $8 50@
Cincinnati 80 00@ 30 00 8 50@8 00
Milwaukee 40 00@45 00 18 00 5 25@5 50
New Orleans 75 00@100 00 30 00@10 00 4 50@5 00

We have given the figures only for lumber, shingles and lath. The trade in timber, staves, railroad ties, telegraph poles, fence-posts and similar materials, which is generally carried on by the lumber merchants, forms an important branch of the commerce of the city.

The amount of capital invested in the lumber traffic is immense. The cost of the receipts of 1865 at cargo prices, cannot have been less than 110,000,000. If we were able to reckon up the accounts invested in logging, manufacturing, transporting by lake and by railroad, and handling we would be astonished at the magnitude of the sum, and the number of persons employed and supported by the lumber trade and manufacture is correspondingly large. The importance and magnitude of this commerce has for many years engaged the attention and ability of many of the best business men; and, until the broad prairies are covered with forests, or some cheap and abundant substitute for wood is discovered and made available, it must continue to rank prominently among the leading branches of commerce in the Lake metropolis.



1. A large portion of this article appeared in the Chicago Times a few weeks since.