Photo of the Day

1899. Lumberjacks pose with a Douglas fir tree in Washington. IMAGE: CORBIS

Vintage Photos of Lumberjacks and the Giant Trees They Felled

Loggers posing with the trees they cut down by hand

Before the advent of modern chainsaws and logging machinery, the hard work of the lumber industry was done by men known as lumberjacks.

Working out of remote camps, lumberjacks developed a process and division of labour to transform a mighty tree into kindling by hand.

“Fallers” did the actual job of felling a tree with axes and saws. Once felled and delimbed, a tree was either cut into logs by a “bucker,” or skidded or hauled to a railroad or river for transportation. Sometimes chutes with flowing water called log flumes were built to transport logs down mountainous terrain.

The brawny culture and curious practices of lumberjacking captured the popular imagination: log flumes inspired amusement park rides, and log rolling — balancing atop a floating, rolling log — became a competitive sport.

With the invention of motor vehicles, chainsaws and other machinery, the old culture faded. Modern workers in the lumber industry are known simply as loggers.

1902. Lumberjacks pose with a fir tree in Washington. IMAGE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

1901. Lumberjacks pose with a 12-foot-wide fir tree. IMAGE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

1918. Three lumberjacks pose by a large Douglas fir ready for felling in Oregon. IMAGE: CORBIS

1905. A lumberjack and two women pose in front of a tree near Seattle, Washington. IMAGE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

1917. Loggers hold a cross-cut saw across a giant Sequoia tree’s trunk in California. IMAGE: A. R. MOORE/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE/CORBIS

1902. Lumberjacks undercut a giant sequoia tree in California. IMAGE: CORBIS

1917. Loggers and a 10-mule team prepare to fell a giant Sequoia tree in California. IMAGE: A. R. MOORE/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE/CORBIS

c. 1892. Loggers stand in the trunk of a tree they chopped down at Camp Badger in Tulare County, California. The tree was logged for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. IMAGE: CORBIS

1904. Lumberjacks pose on the stump of a tree which was displayed at St. Louis World’s Fair. IMAGE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

March 15, 1904. A logging crew stands among cut old growth longleaf pine in Vernon Parish, Louisiana. IMAGE: CORBIS

April 28, 1937. Loggers walk the surface of a log jam on Minnesota’s Littlefork River seeking a tall, strong log with which to build a loading boom. IMAGE: CORBIS

August 1907. Men stand on piles of cut trees in rural New York. IMAGE: U.S. GOV’T AGRICULTURE FOREST SERVICE/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE/CORBIS

c. 1910. Lumberjacks float lumber down the Columbia River in Oregon. IMAGE: UNDERWOOD & UNDERWOOD/CORBIS

1917. Over 100 people stand with a logged giant sequoia tree in California. IMAGE: A. R. MOORE/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE/CORBIS

The Pacific Northwest and California are home to some of the largest trees in existence. A giant sequoia, for example, grows up to 311 feet; a coastal redwood, up to 370. Diameters range from between 16-20 feet, but can grow as much as 30 feet. Just trailing is the Sitka spruce, which averages between 120-180 feet in height. These behemoths existed for thousands of years, and were known within the local American Indian communities, before the lumber trade arrived in the 1800s.

And the lumberjacks realized, way before selfies, that these trees make for amazing photo ops.

The logging industry grew throughout the 19th century. By 1910, it was the largest employer in Washington State. At the forefront were the loggers, the men whose job it was to fell these enormous trees by hand. Their work was dangerous and labor-intensive: in the early 20th century, an estimated one in every 150 loggers died.

Typically, the loggers would stand on a springboard, which was slotted into notches in the tree above the base. Using crosscut saws and axes, the loggers would then work on chopping a wedge into the tree. It was important to judge the direction of the cut for where the tree would fall. For a redwood, it was preferable for the tree to fall either towards water or up a hill, to prevent splitting the timber.

Lumberjacks in Washington State.

Tree logging wasn’t just for trade. In 1917, the Army established the Spruce Production Division to supply lumber from spruce trees for WW1 aircraft, and by 1918, there were just over 28,000 men working within the division. From this also grew a union, the alliteratively-named Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen.

Within all this is the tragedy that, despite the difficulties of the work, the logging industry succeeded in destroying a vast number of ancient trees. By 1900, an estimated one-third of old forest redwoods had been destroyed; by the 1960s, that figure stood at 90 percent.

Some of this work was documented in photographs. Here, an extraordinary collection of images of loggers posing inside a cut tree, or gathered around a trunk as big as a house.

Standing by a Sequioa log in California, c. 1910. Photo: Library of Congress 

Members of the Spruce Production Division sitting in a giant Spruce tree in Oregon. Photo: Library of Congress 

A logger stands on a felled spruce tree, c. 1918. Photo: Library of Congress 

A group of men standing on a Spruce tree stump. Photo: Library of Congress 

Loggers with a Redwood 20 feet in diameter. Photo: Gerald W. Williams Collection/OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center

Loggers with felled trees. Photo: Gerald W. Williams Collection/OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center

In the redwoods of Humboldt county. Photo: Gerald W. Williams Collection/OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center

A logger with a redwood. Photo: Gerald W. Williams Collection/OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center

 A felled Sequioa tree in California, c. 1900. Photo: Gerald W. Williams Collection/OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center

US Army Spruce Division solders sitting on a stump, c. 1918.Photo: Gerald W. Williams Collection/OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center

Two loggers with a felled tree. Photo: Gerald W. Williams Collection/OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center

Loggers on a Cedar stump near Deming, Washington, 1905. (Photo: NARA/95-G-195968)

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Loggers among the redwoods in California.


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