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1917: The Lumber Strike, World War I, and the Mills of Salmon Bay

The 1917 Lumber Strike

In July 1917 the IWW and the AFL both participated in a timber worker strike that stretched from Montana to western Washington. The strike shut down 90% of timber operations in western Washington and crippled the industry’s ability to meet new demand for lumber as the United States engaged in World War I. The government needed spruce for its first fleet of military airplanes, and fir and other wood were needed for ships, encampments, and other equipment and infrastructure.

To address the shortfall, the U.S. Army established a Spruce Production Division. Its leader, Colonel Brice P. Disque, formed a patriotic organization of workers and employers, the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen (the 4L), to encourage them to set aside labor issues in favor of the war effort. To boost output of spruce lumber, thousands of Spruce Production Division enlistees were assigned to logging camps and mills.

In 1918, the Spruce Production Division reported that 85% of timber workers in its Northwest districts were 4L members.

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Above: The Stimson Mill was featured on the front page of the Seattle Sunday Times on April 22, 1917, shown contributing to the patriotic war production effort. The caption desribes “hundreds of contented workmen, grimed with the sweat of honest toil...a regment of the army corps that spells Seattle prosperity in war time and in peace.” 

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Above: The Army’s Spruce Production Division assigned enlisted soldiers to work in Northwest logging camps and mills. Pictured is "Spruce Camp No. 2" located in King County on McClellan Pass Highway, photographed in 1919. Item 95-005-0787, Series 400, County Engineer Photograph and Moving Image Files, King County Archives.

 

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Above: Poster advertising the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, 1918. “Spruce for the Air, Fir for the Sea,” Item 38087, Brice P. Disque Collection. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

University of Washington President Henry Suzzallo served on the Washington State Council of Defense and helped with negotiations between labor and lumbermen, who resisted making concessions, especially to the Wobblies. Under federal pressure, in March 1918, the lumbermen agreed to the 8-hour day and improved conditions in lumber camps, ending the strike. They gained federal support in opposing the IWW, who were characterized as anti- American.

After the War, most mills reverted to the ten hour day.

Shingletown

The 1901 dredging of the waterway to Puget Sound for the Ship Canal improved mill operations for over a decade. When Salmon Bay mill owners later objected to the planned placement of the locks, they claimed that the flooding would force them to close. But although some mill structures had to be moved above the new waterline, Shingletown did not disappear immediately after the rising of Salmon Bay.

At least 12 mills remained in 1919, including the Stimson, Canal, Campbell, and Bolcom mills. The gradual closure of the mills is primarily attributed to economic depression and other market forces (including the introduction of composite roofing). By 1940, five mills were operating on Salmon Bay. The Cedar Lumber Manufacturing Company was the last to close in 1973.

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Above: Lake Washington Ship Canal at Salmon Bay, with view of mill and log boom in foreground, March 21, 1917. Item 1260, Series 2613-07, Engineering Department Photographic Negatives, Seattle Municipal Archives.

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“The steamer ‘Boultan,’ Seattle’s first contribution to the United States wooden fleet,” constructed at Meacham & Babcock shipyard established on Salmon Bay in June 1917. From ”A Wooden Yard with a Purpose,” Pacific Marine Review, July, 1918, page 127.

Salmon Bay Development

Salmon Bay’s deeper, freshwater harbor created by the Ship Canal project brought in new shipbuilding, ship repair, fishing, and other industries. Today, Salmon Bay, the Hiram Chittenden Locks, and the Lake Washington Ship Canal continue to support a mix of commercial and recreational uses.


For more information about the history of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, see Making the Cut, which includes exhibits, projects, and events relating to the 100th anniversary of the canal's opening.

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