The Bancroft Survey Project began in February 2008. Funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundations, the survey project is intended to be a simultaneously broad and in-depth survey of all manuscript holdings of the Bancroft Library, which has been collecting for over a century. Four archivists were hired to scour the collections for a three year term, during which they will review the vast myriad of manuscript materials and use a survey instrument designed to gather data on collection scope, subject categories, and physical condition. The survey archivists are Marjorie Bryer, Amy Croft, Dana Miller, and Elia Van Lith, and they are also the authors of this blog.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Redwood Reforestation in Lumber's Halcyon Days

Possibly my favorite part of this job, surveying The Bancroft's myriad manuscript collections, is how one is continually immersed in different people's stories, different realities, and so many of California's many different incarnations. In the late part of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, one important part of California's economy and story was lumber, especially redwood, and many of Bancroft's collections from the period relate directly to the lumber industry, among them, records from some of California's largest lumber companies, including Union Lumber, Pacific Lumber, and the Redwood Manufacturers Company (RMC). While surveying this last collection (BANC MSS C-G 202) I came across a binder of redwood advertising materials from the 1930s that took me right back to lumber's heyday when the industry's biggest problem was probably not being able to cut the trees down fast enough.

The binder was assembled by the California Redwood Association especially for RMC and generally touts the superiority of redwood over all other lumber, using such tag lines as, "California Redwood: The World's most durable Lumber," as can be seen in the image to the left. The text just below the image reads, "Count of annual rings shows down log … to have been exposed to wind and weather, ON THE GROUND SINCE THE YEAR 571 B. C.! Redwood log is still sound and solid."Other images in the binder show redwood shingles taken off of houses in damp coastal cities which despite being between 50 and 75 years old, are still in nearly new condition, while still other images show buildings made of redwood which had survived fire. Over and over, the sales materials tout redwood's durability. Which, of course, is hardly surprising, any industry wants to sell as much of its product as possible. But I was surprised by a piece titled "Supply Reforestation" that started off with the headline, "The Coast Redwood is California's Perpetual Crop ~ and Her Oldest," and concluded with the following optimistic quote:

"With the economical utilization of the timber supply that, growing for centuries, is still sufficient to last for 100 years, and the present reforestation operations, which assure a crop of second growth Redwood within sixty years, there is no chance whatsoever that Redwoods will become extinct as was predicted some years ago [sic]. Consequently, California can look forward to being perpetually in the Redwood lumber business, users of Redwood may count upon a continuous supply of this quality material and at the same time tourists will always have, in addition to parks of virgin trees, great timbered areas in which the grandeur of Nature has been enhanced by the hand of man."

In between, the item details what are most likely some of the lumber industry's earliest reforestation efforts in California and includes several photographs, including the following (enlarge the photographs to read the captions).

Unfortunately for both the lumber industry and perhaps most importantly California's stands of redwoods, consumption did not stay at circa 1930 levels and redwood takes a long, long time, longer than 60 years, to fully mature and begin to replace the forest that has been lost.

--E. Van Lith

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