The New International Encyclopædia/Lumber Industry

LUMBER INDUSTRY (probably connected with Swed. lomra, to resound, from dial. Swed. ljumm, Icel. hljōmr, sound, Goth. hliuma, hearing; so called as being ‘lumbering’ things). The production and manufacture of timber for building purposes (boards, planks, joists, shingles, etc.), telegraph-poles, timber for ship-building, railroad-ties, pulp-wood, paving-blocks, wood for furniture manufacture and cabinet-work, is one of the most extensive and important industries of the world. The United States, British America, Russia, Sweden, Germany, and France are the chief lumber-producing countries, though tropical States and colonies furnish many beautiful varieties of timber, such as mahogany, ebony, and rosewood, which are chiefly used in furniture-making.

With the increasing demands for lumber there has been a corresponding increase in the varieties of wood available for various industrial purposes. Substitutes have been found for many of the varieties of lumber which served as standards for so many years, and often such substitutes have proved superior to the woods displaced. With industrial progress, distant countries have been drawn upon to fill the supply, and in this way woods eminently suited for particular purposes have been obtained.

Lumber Trade of the United States. History.—In earlier days an important part of the lumber trade of the United States was the getting out of long timbers to be used as masts and spars. The tall evergreens of Maine and later of Oregon and Washington have been cut for this purpose. Since the introduction, in 1860, of the process of making paper from wood-pulp, the procuring of this material has attained great importance. For years wood was, and in many rural sections still is, the principal fuel. But the use of wood for building purposes creates the chief demand, especially for the white pine.

The lumber industry consists of three branches, which are defined in the sections on the lumber industry of the Twelfth United States Census as follows: “(1) The logging industry, including the felling of timber, cutting it into lengths, and transporting it by rail or river to the mill. This industry is carried on in part by individuals who own or operate sawmills. The raw material of this industry consists of standing timber, the finished product consists of logs delivered at the mill. (2) The sawmill industry, in which the raw material consists of saw-logs, and the product of rough lumber, including beams, joists, scantlings, boards, shingles, laths, etc. (3) The planing-mill industry, in which the raw material consists of rough lumber and the finished product of planed, with such minor manufactures as are carried on in connection with these mills. Some of the planing-mills are operated in connection with sawmills, as a part of their operations, while others are under separate ownership and management.” During the last half of the nineteenth century great improvements were introduced in all three branches of this industry.

The modern lumber camp is as completely organized as the modern factory. The laborers are divided into swampers, road-makers, choppers, sawyers, loaders, and teamsters. In the Northeastern and Lake States the business is conducted chiefly in the winter, but in other parts of the country it is carried on the year around. River-driving is still practiced wherever possible, but as the timber-supply beside the watercourses has been exhausted, other means of transportation have been resorted to. The logs are carried out of the woods by teams, on temporary log roads. In the Adirondack forests enormous loads are drawn on sleighs by a single pair of horses, the roads being previously flooded and frozen, so that their surface is a glare of ice. In the South and West temporary railroads are often built into the forests to transport the logs. In the far West machinery is used to a far greater extent than in the East for handling logs, on account of the greater size of the timber. Donkey-engines are used in the woods for handling the logs and debris, and similar engines or wire cables for dragging the logs over skid or other roads to the railway. Cranes are employed for loading the logs onto the trains.

In sawmill machinery many changes were introduced during the last century. The primitive frame or pit-saw was superseded by the circular saw, which was invented in England in 1777, but did not come into use in America till many years later.

The first insertible teeth for this saw were invented by W. Kendall, an American, in 1826. Gang-saws, which had been known in Europe since the sixteenth century, kept pace with the rotary saws in their introduction into American forests. The band-saw, the perfection of sawmill machinery, though invented in England in 1808, and patented soon afterwards in America, did not come into operation till 1872, when it was first used for cutting hard woods in the Maumee Valley of Ohio. Other improvements in saw-mill machinery are the direct steam-feed, the steam-nigger, or log-turning device, endless chains for bringing the logs into the mill, and mechanical carriers for lumber and for refuse. In addition to these there are the shingle, lath, and slab saws, which last by using up inferior materials reduces the amount of refuse. There are also planing, molding, matching, and flooring machines. Lumber, instead of being seasoned by the slow process of natural drying, is often put into special drying-kilns, where the process is expedited by artificial heat. See Wood-Working Machinery.

Statistics of Lumber Industry in the United States. The steady growth in the various branches of this industry is shown by the following statistics of the Twelfth (1900) United States Census. The tendency toward concentration and consolidation, so marked in all branches of manufacture, is evident in this industry, for the increase in number of establishments has not kept pace with the increase in capital invested and annual product.

1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900

Number of establishments  18,769  20,659  25,832  25,708  22,617  33,035 
Capital invested  $41,444,364   $74,530,090   $143,493,232   $181,186,122   $557,881,054   $611,611,524 
Value of product (annual)  60,413,187  96,715,856  210,159,327  233,268,729  437,957,382  666,832,984 

During 1899 the timber cut of the United States was estimated by the Bureau of Statistics at Washington as 100,000,000 tons (reckoning a ton as equal to 400 feet board measure). Of this amount, 75,000,000 tons is coniferous timber and the remainder oak and other hard woods. The total forest area is given as 700,500,000 acres, being about 37 per cent. of the total area of the country, and giving a wooded area of nine acres per capita of population. The accompanying tables (I. to III.), taken from The Lumber Trade of the United States (see Bibliography at end of article), show the foreign lumber trade of the country.

Table I.—Exports of Timber, Lumber, and Manufactured Wood[1]

KINDS 1898 1899 1900

Timber and unmanufactured wood $7,757,291  $8,242,527  $11,569,166 
Boards, deals, planks, joist, and scantling 12,467,989  15,403,016  18,282,191 
Shingles, shooks, staves, headings, and all other  8,189,753  8,128,698  9,514,221 

Total  $28,415,033   $31,774,241   $39,365,578 
  1. Not including doors, sash, blinds, furniture, barrels, etc., valued at $11,230,798 in 1900.

Table II.—Exports of Wood and Manufactures of Wood, by Classes

KINDS 1891 1892 1893 1894 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899 1900

Sawed timber M feet 
Hewn timber cubic feet 
Logs and other dollars 
Boards, deals, planks  M feet 
Joist and scantling
Shooks, box dollars 
Shooks, other
Staves number 
All other lumber dollars 
214,612  235,550  214,198  237,830  297,693  332,934  391,291  338,575  406,448  473,542 
 6,900,073   6,736,446   7,836,921   4,082,709   6,039,539   5,616,476   6,406,824  5,489,714  4,796,658  4,416,741 
2,274,102  1,923,604  2,270,072  2,636,608  1,813,894  2,796,043  3,945,106  3,189,820  3,262,589  5,020,471 
613,406  692,596  629,355  574,920  588,781  694,799  876,689  790,659  970,170  1,046,758 
11,324  16,131  13,475  12,412  27,454  31,415  36,253  35,610  34,294  41,043 
42,463  31,198  22,938  28,277  40,122  56,047  58,508  60,524  73,791  86,118 
199,674  195,618  238,605  275,140  359,451  514,976  529,492  486,860  434,290  687,047 
450,492  585,919  702,403  620,311  665,404  638,339  597,606  557,895  588,961  773,019 
............  ............  ............  ............  ............  ............  ............   64,142,759   44,382,689   49,011,533 
886,133  1,051,397  1,443,537  1,602,293  1,642,370  2,149,891  3,162,470  3,256,880  3,081,295  3,091,336 

Conservation of the Timber Supply. Until recent years, the greatest wastefulness characterized lumbering operations in America. Two causes produced this: The abundance of lumber and the desire to clear the land rapidly for agricultural purposes. As a result, forest areas have been rapidly exhausted, and the great centres of the lumber trade have moved steadily westward. Probably the greatest lumber market of the world, at the close of the nineteenth century, was Chicago, which receives its supplies from the forests of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. But these forests are beginning to show signs of exhaustion, especially in the supply of white pine, and the attention of American scientists, economists, and legislators has been directed to the necessity of regulating the cutting of timber. The ruthless clearing of the great wooded tracts not only menaces the nation's timber supply, but vitally affects its water resources. It is probable that the twentieth century will see the science of forestry and the art of systematically producing wood crops established in America.

Table III.—Imports and Exports of Wood and
Manufactures of Wood Compared

 YEAR  Imports Exports

1891  $19,888,186   $26,270,040 
1892 19,846,438  25,790,571 
1893 23,152,599  26,666,439 
1894 18,154,U73  27,712,169 
1895 17,814,119  27,115,907 
1896 20,567,967  31,947,108 
1897 20,543,810  39,624,800 
1898 13,861,923  37,513,252 
1899 14,502,355  41,189,526 
1900  20,591,908  50,598,416 

Already many State governments have taken steps to prevent forest fires and have preserved areas from the ravages of lumbermen by converting them into State parks. In the four years, 1897-1900, the State of New York acquired over 1,000,000 acres of forest lands. Pennsylvania has made a start toward the acquisition of forest preserves and the proper treatment of such tracts. Indiana has a State Forestry Commission under a law making it the duty of that body “to collect, digest, and classify information respecting forests, timber lands, forest preservation, and timber culture;” while another law encourages timber culture by allowing the owner of any tract to reserve one-eighth of its area for forest preservation, and to be exempted from taxation of such forest land at more than $1 an acre. Several American universities have faculties of forestry, one of these having been endowed by the State of New York with 30,000 acres of forests, for the practical instruction of students.

Forest Policy of the United States. The movement for the establishment of national forest reserves which was begun during the administration of President Harrison (1888) was extended till there were in 1901 38 reserved tracts containing over 40,000,000 acres, or 72,000 square miles, scattered through the Rocky Mountain region. The act of June 4, 1897, provided for a system of timber-cutting from reservations, thereby providing a source of income for the expenses of forest administration, and, at the same time, for the local demands for lumber in the vicinity of reservations. On July 1, 1898, the reserves were placed in control of a system of graded officers. In 1900 this force consisted of 9 superintendents, 39 supervisors, and 350 forest rangers, the latter number varying with the seasons and the danger from fire. The patrolling of these reservations by forest rangers has greatly reduced the number of forest fires, checked the depredations of timber trespassers, and caused the enforcement of the regulations regarding sheep-grazing and timber-cutting and sales. On July 1, 1901, the department of forestry, which had previously been only a division, was made a separate bureau, known as the Bureau of Forestry of the Agricultural Department, with three divisions of its own. See Forestry.

Lumber Trade in Canada. In Canada, as in the United States, large amounts of lumber are made into pulp for the manufacture of paper. It is estimated that Canada has 800,000,000 acres of land classed as forests; but, according to the statement of the Chief Inspector of Timber and Forestry, only one-third of this area can be considered timber land of merchantable value. Large areas of the most valuable forest land have been swept by fires. The accompanying tables (IV. and V.) show the value of the exports of timber from the Dominion of Canada. They were taken from Dr. Schlich's article on “The Outlook of the World's Timber Supply” (see Bibliography). Tables V. and VI. are from the same source.

Table IV.—Value of the Exports of Timber from the Dominion of Canada

PERIOD Annual exports in £ Total In per cent.

 Great Britain 
To the
 United States 
 To other 
 To Great 
To the
 United States 
 To other 

1870-79  2,627,000 1,481,000 428,000  4,536,000  58 33 9
1880-89 2,212,000 1,876,000 389,000 4,477,000 49 42 9
1890-99 2,493,000 2,427,000 327,000 5,247,000 48 46 6

Table V.—Area of Forests in the Dominion of Canada

in acres
 of woodlands 
to total area
Area per
 capita in 

Prince Edward Island  510,000  40
Nova Scotia 4,137,000  31
New Brunswick 9,450,000  63 29 
Ontario 65,356,000  46 31 
Quebec 74,573,000  51 50 
Manitoba 16,401,000  40 107 
British Columbia 182,755,000  75 1,885 
Territories  446,049,000  29 4,506 

Lumber Trade in Europe. The accompanying table shows (1) the area of forests in Europe, and (2) the net annual imports or exports of lumber from European countries. From these two tables it is evident that not quite one-third of the area of Europe is forest land, and that the average area per capita is about two acres; that the chief importers of lumber are Great Britain and Germany, and the chief exporters Russia and Sweden. In Great Britain the annual importation of timber has increased at the rate of 189,900 tons for the last thirty-five years, and at the rate of 332,000 tons for the closing decade of the century. The price per ton for coniferous timber increased from £1 17s. 7d. per ton in 1895 to £2 3s. 2d. in 1899. Of the timber imported 87 per cent. was coniferous, 3 per cent. oak, 3.6 per cent. mahogany, and other furniture woods, 3.6 per cent. house and door frames, 2.8 per cent. miscellaneous.

In Germany, in addition to the 4,600,000 tons of timber imported, there is an annual production of 38,000,000 tons of lumber from the German forests, of which 15,000,000 tons are used for timber and 23,000,000 tons for fire-wood. It is estimated that about 4,000,000 people in Germany are engaged in work connected with forest industries. In France the annual production of the native forests is about 18,000,000 tons, of which 14,000,000 tons, mostly coppice woods, are used for fuel.

Table VI.—Area of European Forests and Net Imports or Exports of Lumber in European Countries[1]

of total
area in
 forest land 
of forest
 belonging to 
Acres of
 forest land 
per capita
Value in dollars

Imports Exports

Sweden 48,000,000  44 27 8.9 ...............  4,460,000   ...............   38,619,000  
Norway 17,000,000  21 12 8.4 ...............  1,040,000   ...............  9,107,000  
Russia  516,000,000  40 61 5.9 ...............  5,900,000   ...............  4,334,000  
Bosnia & Herzegovina  6,790,000  53 70 4.9
Bulgaria 10,650,000  45 ... 3.2 50,000  ...............  244,000 
Spain 20,960,000  17 84 1.3 220,000  ...............  5,723,000 
Hungary 22,420,000  28 16 1.3
Austria proper 23,990,000  32   7 1.0 ...............  3,670,000[2] ...............   52,596,000[2]
Servia 2,390,000  20 ... 1.0 15,000  ...............  731 
Rumania 5,030,000  17 47 1.0 ...............  60,000   ...............  877,000  
Greece 2,030,000  16 80 0.9 35,000  ...............  633,000 
Luxemburg 190,000  30 ... 0.9
Switzerland 2,100,000  20   4 0.7 170,000  ...............  2,873,000 
Germany 34,490,000  26 33 0.7 4,600,000  ...............  72,174,000 
France 23,530,000  18 12 0.6 1,230,000  ...............  14,854,000 
Italy 10,110,000  14   4 0.3 420,000  ...............  6,088,000 
Denmark 600,000    6 24 0.2 470,000  ...............  6,088,000 
Great Britain 3,030,000    4   3 0.1 9,290,000  ...............  108,066,000 
Belgium 1,250,000  17   5 0.1 1,020,000  ...............  19,967,000 
Portugal 770,000    3   8 0.1 60,000  ...............  974,000 
Holland 570,000    7 ... 0.1 180,000  ...............  3,506,000 
Turkey 6,180,000    8

Total 758,080,000  31 ... 2     17,760,000  15,130,000    245,667,000 
Net imports ...............  ...... ... ...... ...............  ...............  101,126,000 
  1. Average data collected from the annual returns for 1896-1900, whenever available.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Including Hungary, Bosnia, and Herzegovina.

Turning from the importing to the exporting countries of Europe, we find that in Norway about 1,400,000 tons of lumber are annually manufactured into paper-pulp. During the last ten years the amount exported has slightly fallen off, and all authorities are agreed that the Norwegian forests have been overworked. Only about 12 per cent. of the forest area is under Government control. In Norway and in Sweden the forests are situated in such a high latitude that growth is slow. In Sweden, however, one-fourth of the 48,000,000 acres of forest land is owned by the State and is under efficient State management. The cutting of trees less than 8 inches in diameter 5 feet from the ground is forbidden everywhere. The manufacture of paper-pulp and cellulose is rapidly increasing and annually consumes about 1,000,000 tons of coniferous timber. In Austria-Hungary about 20 per cent. of the forests are State owned. Much of the private forest land is overworked, and the Director-General of the State Forests has publicly stated that the standing crop of timber is some 30 per cent. below the quantity necessary to maintain a permanent annual cut as large as that at present taken out of the forests. As to the Russian forests, great difference of opinion prevails among experts. Monsieur Melard, French Inspector of Forests, in his pamphlet on The Insufficiency of the Production of Timber in the World, published June, 1900, states that Russia's surplus supply is being rapidly exhausted and that by the middle of the century she will have no more than is required for home consumption. On the other hand, the Director-General of the Russian State Forests affirms that the utilization of the Russian State forests is considerably below the annual growth, and Russia will, for a long time to come, be able to keep up its production. This refers only to the State forests, or 314,000,000 acres out of a total of 516,000,000. The private forests have been badly overworked in recent years. Moreover, much of the area put down as forest land is composed of swampy or other tracts where merchantable timber does not grow.

Considering, last of all, the lumber trade and timber-supply of Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America, we find that their annual imports exceed their exports ten times. (See accompanying table.) China and Egypt have little wood. The remaining importing countries have extensive unworked forests, especially Australia. Japan has her forests under systematic management and imports comparatively little. India exports teak and some furniture wood, and can do little more, since she has but 140,000,000 acres of forest land to supply a home population of about 300,000,000 people. The other regions export chiefly mahogany and other furniture woods.

It appears that the supply of hard and other tropical woods is abundant to meet the demands of the lumber trade for years to come, and that when the present sources of supply are exhausted, others may be opened in the unexplored regions of Central and South America and Africa. On the other hand, there seems to be danger that the supply of coniferous woods which constitute the bulk of the lumber trade may be speedily exhausted, not only in the United States, but also in the markets of the world. The main sources of an increased supply are Canada, Sweden, and Russia.

Net Imports and Exports

COUNTRIES  Net imports   Net exports 

Tons Tons
South America 330,000 
Egypt 200,000 
Australia 160,000 
Cape of Good Hope 150,000 
Natal 50,000 
China 50,000 
Mauritius 20,000 
Ceylon 10,000 
Japan 5,000 
West Indies, Mexico, New Guinea, Honduras  ........... 13,000
West Coast, Africa ........... 28,000
India ........... 55,000

Total 975,000  96,000
Net imports 879,000 

Bibliography. For statistics and general information on the lumber industry, consult: Schlich, paper on “The Outlook of the World's Timber Supply,” published in the Journal of the Society of Arts, March 1, 1901 (London). See also the chapter on the “Lumber Trade,” by Bernard E. Fernow, Chief of Division of Forestry, United States Department of Agriculture, in One Hundred Years of American Commerce (New York, 1895); the pamphlet by M. Melard, Inspector of Forests at Paris, on The Insufficiency of the Production of Timber in the World (Paris, 1900). Also “The Lumber Trade of the United States,” in the Monthly Summary of Commerce and Finance for November, 1900, issued by the Bureau of Statistics at Washington; Articles on “Lumber,” Twelfth United States Census (Washington, 1902). See Forest; Forestry; Wood-Working Machinery.