The National Archives at Seattle

The Great War and the New Era

In April 1917 the United States entered World War I against Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Federal Government immediately began to mobilize American society to meet the demands of "total war." The Boeing Airplane Company was established in 1916 in Seattle and by 1918 was building airplanes for the U. S. Navy in support of the war effort. Men who had experience in the logging industry found themselves fighting the war not in the trenches in Europe but in the forests of the Pacific Northwest cutting Sitka spruce destined to be made into airplanes for the U. S. Navy and the newly created Army Air Corps. Women found themselves working in jobs previously closed to them and their contribution to the war effort helped win women the right to vote.

The end of World War I brought a slight depression to the Pacific Northwest with a decline in airplane manufacturing and shipbuilding, but by the early 1920’s many people were experiencing a new prosperity. The trend toward more leisure time combined with more urban living led to the development of outdoor recreational opportunities, as the nation’s forest began to be seen as more than just a stockpile of raw goods. But prosperity did not extend to all groups. Many farmers and minorities groups did not share in the good times. In the Pacific Northwest, Native American tribes tried to hold on to their traditional ways while adapting to technological developments on their reservations.

Interestingly, for a nation that was now predominately urban, during the 1920s government photographers seemed to have concentrated many of their efforts on recording rural life, a trend reflected in the holdings of NARA’s Pacific Alaska Region.

Irrigation Reports, 1909-1942; Portland Area Office Irrigation Branch; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (RG 75)

The impact of irrigation on Indian farmers on the region’s reservations was clear as harvests, such as this one of sugar beets on the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho, continued to grow. Despite the new agricultural technologies that were introduced in the early 20th century, many Native American farmers continued to use the old techniques. (ca. 1919)

Records of the Salt Lake Extension and Credit Office; Portland Area Office; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (RG 75) (National Archives Identifier 298562)

Even as the third decade of the century began, it was common to find traditional methods still in use on the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho. Here firewood is stacked in preparation for the winter months. Brought down from the mountains or up from the river bottoms, it is stood on end to keep it dry and out of the snow. (1931)

Correspondence Files; Inspector of Naval Aircraft, Seattle, WA; Records of the Bureau of Aeronautics (RG 72)

At the end of World War I, the Boeing Airplane Company had contracted with the U.S. Navy to build the HS-2L Flying Boat. Built out of spruce logged from forests in the Pacific Northwest, the plane was constructed in part by shaping the wood around planking forms. Note the women working in the Boeing plant in 1919.

Olympic National Forest History Files; Records of the Forest Service (RG 95)

Assigned to log spruce for use in constructing the Army’s first airplanes, members of the U.S. Army Air Corps Spruce Division served during WWI while stationed in Washington State. Although headquartered in Vancouver, Washington, most men were based in remote camps throughout the forests on the Olympic peninsula. This isolation proved to be to their advantage at the end of the war when the 1918 Flu Epidemic struck. Here they are seen splitting a spruce log using wooden wedges, as metal was scarce during the war. (ca. 1918)

Decimal Correspondence File, 1926-1950; Taholah Indian Agency; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (RG 75)

Answering the ancient call of the sea and her bounty, this father and son prepare to paddle twenty-five miles off the coast of Washington to hunt seal. Using a canoe having the high bow characteristic of the Quillayute tribe and hewn from a single cedar log, they got to the hunting grounds in five hours and returned successful. (ca. 1935)

Local use of Forest Service land for grazing was encouraged, and special use permits were regularly granted to ranchers such as H.B. Steiner, shown here with six month old kid bucks on his ranch on the Sixes River, Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon. (September 1920)


For those used to the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs now found in national forests, it is clear that this image comes from a different era. In this 1922 photo, a ranger on the Crater National Forest and a squirrel clearly have a much closer encounter than those encouraged by the end of the century.

As the Forest Service wanted to encourage the use of the forests by the public, images of some of the hidden treasures found in the forest became regular advertising tools. The falls on the South Umpqua River in the Umpqua National Forest take center stage in this image. (August 1922)

By the 1920s, photography had become a commonplace part of annual reports submitted by Federal agencies. In addition to this use, the Forest Service began to make use of photographs to entice people to use the national forests as more than just a seemingly never ending supply of raw lumber.

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