The Far Northwest as an Economic Frontier



Many settlers felt that the Puget Sound country, when cleared of the immense trees that blanketed it, would become rich agricultural land.

There are frontiers that are not the physical ones of dense forest and the presence of other peoples with claims to the land. One of these was the economic frontier: the place on the edge, where risks were high, but the opportunities promised rich rewards.

For the entrepreneur, the Pacific Northwest frontier offered immense timber holdings, fisheries, coal mines; shipping lines and railroads were needed to take the products to larger markets. The money to develop these resources came from San Francisco and Boston and New York, making the region in effect a colonial outpost.

In turn, this made the Pacific Northwest -- indeed, much of the West -- a land that historian Carlos Schwantes has called "the wageworkers' frontier": a place where a significant portion of the populace relied, not on the products of their own farm or the revenues from crops they tended, but rather on paid wages. The industries that supported the wage-earners were often seasonal, cyclical, or dependent on resources that became depleted over time. The workers were thus often migratory, and often flocked to towns and cities during the off-season or to search for new jobs.


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