Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State

By Bruce A. Rubenstein; Lawrence E. Ziewacz | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Wood and Rails

DURING THE YEARS 1860–1900, MICHIGAN'S commercial development was dominated by the sawing, harvesting, milling, and marketing of timber. Tens of thousands of men were employed in this enterprise, while hundreds more, mostly recent emigrants from New England, used their financial acumen to amass fortunes as “lumber barons.” These wealthy men then utilized their money to influence the state's politicians and judges. Because lumbering was so critical to Michigan, its politicians did everything in their power to protect it. When a bill to aide the victims of the great Chicago fire was introduced in the House of Representatives in March 1872, Representative Omar D. Conger, of Port Huron, threatened to defeat it by having it recommitted to his lumber-oriented Committee on Commerce unless a provision allowing Canadian lumber to enter the United States duty free was deleted. The congressman claimed that, as written, the bill would “be injurious to the lumbermen of Michigan and the laboring people of Michigan,” and that if Chicago were to be reconstructed, it would be with timber purchased from Michigan and Wisconsin; if not, Conger assured his colleagues that Chicago would “remain in ashes throughout eternity.” The offensive section was then removed and the relief bill passed. Seemingly limitless strength rested with lumbermen because of their wealth.


Finding the Timber

Even though southern Michigan was covered with lush stands of sugar maple, beech, ash, oak, and hickory, the region was virtually ignored by lumbermen because hardwood trees had a limited market value. Demand was for the creamy white cork pine and Norway pine found in abundance

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