History 383 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

The Consequences of Progress


For the past weeks, we have discussed the political and economic factors of the first five decades of California history that made it a modern state. In so doing, we focused first on the way the Gold Rush pushed California into modernity, and we followed that discussion with and understanding of the political growth of the new state, the role of the Transcontinental railroad in California's politics and the economy, and the "Americanization" of the California Indians with an emphasis on their fate in Northern California. Today, we are going to examine some of the consequences of this era of progress in California.

Discussion Goals - The Consequences of Progress

  1. To examine the role logging played in California's early industrial development Photo of redwood logging in Humboldtand how its development was similar to the gold mining industry.
  2. To understand the patterns of economic development that evolved in California over the last part of the 19th Century.
  3. To link California's environmental alterations directly to these early patterns of economic development.
  4. To discuss how Californians reacted to the emergence of huge, monopolistic corporations in the 1870s.

Goal #1: To examine the role logging played in California's early industrial development and how its development was similar to the gold mining industry

Reading Review questions for both The Big Trees and the Isenberg chapter.

Photo of redwood logging


Goal #2: To understand the patterns of economic development that evolved in California over the last part of the 19th Century

Photo of redwood logging in Humboldt County

Abundant natural resources drove California's early economy - resources which many California's believed were inexhaustible: gold, timber, and water. From the very first days of the new U.S. territory, the exploitation of these natural resources were front and center in California's economy. Thus, rapid economic development of Califiornia's resources began in 1848 and in so doing, evolved with a specific pattern: the Gold Rush economy began with the work from individual labor, which quickly moved into what Isenberg describes as resource intensive industry, followed by the newest economic Gold Rush - agriculture.

As early as the 1860s, California's economic and political power was concentrated in the hands of those who controlled the resources - be it gold, timber, or agriculture - or the railroads that eventually helped transport such resources. And during the first decades of California's history, there was no regulation for the extraction or use of its natural resources. The consequences of rapid and unregulated extraction of natural resources led to extreme and rapid environmental alternations.


Goal #3: To link California's environmental alterations directly to these early patterns of economic development

Some scientists have argued that the economic "free-for-all" that occurred during this era was committed by ecological invaders who destroyed the environment in ways that continue to effect Californians. In particular, they cite the following:

As many Californians approached the 20th Century, concerns arose about the dramatic changes in their landscapes. Consequently, some Californians began to take individual steps to protect the environment, followed by federal and state efforts. These early efforts were largely those of conservation rather than preservation.

As we can see in the chronology below, during the last few decades of the 19th century, both conservation and preservation efforts began by individuals as well as the federal and state government. However, it would not be until the 20th century and the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt that either movement gained a great deal of support from both Americans and Californians.

1852 - The Mammoth Tree Grove was the first grove of Painting of Mammoth Tree in 1852ancient Sequoias to be "discovered" in the Sierra Nevadas by Euroamericans. The Mammoth Tree measured 302 feet in height and 96 feet in circumference at the time it was chopped down in 1853. In this painting done in 1854 by Isaac W. Baker, two men are measuring the enormous 25 ft in diameter stump on which a dance floor was later constructed large enough for 40 people. The sign on the butt end of her trunk warns: "All persons are forbid taking any wood from this tree."

1859 - Horace Greeley. The New York Tribune publisher and editor, visited Yosemite, after which he called on the state of California to protect the big trees, "the most beautiful trees on earth." The mountains "surpass any other mountains I saw in the wealth and grace of their trees."

1857 - The owner of a stand of Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada advertised his property as a tourist destination - a place where people could go to escape industrial sociey and enjoy the peaceful nature of the natural environment.

1864 - Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant that protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Yosemite was the first territory ever set aside by Congress for public use and preservation.

1886 - The California State Board of Forestry urged timber companies to avoid logging in the Sierra Nevada, decried "wasteful and destructive methods of cutting timer," and urged the creation of a "forest reservation" in the mountains where "the cutting of timber and fuel should be regulated in such a reasonable way as will reserve the reproductive capacity of the forests."

1889 - John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, launched a successful campaign to persuade Congress to set aside Yosemite as a national park. They ran into opposition from three groups: local entrepreneurs like the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company which brought tourists from the railroad station to the park; cattlemen, sheepherders and loggers who had been using the area for decades; and some California politicians.

1890 - On October 1, the U.S. Congress set aside more than 1,500 square miles of reserved forest lands, soon to be known as Yosemite National Park.

1891 - The Forest Reserve Act set aside public lands as forest reserves - the first act of its kind in the U.S. and which will eventually lead to a system of National Forests.

1892 - The Sierra Club was founded by writer and naturalist John Muir as an advocacy group that worked for the protection and preservation of wild lands.


Goal #4: To discuss how Californians reacted to the emergence of huge, monopolistic corporations in the 1870s

In the 1877 U.S. Supreme Court case, Munn v. Illinois, the court upheld the principle that states could regulate corporate activity. But despite this federal decision, California remained largely under corporate control - especially through the monopoly the Southern Pacific had on transportation rates. Gradually, farmers demanded fair freight rates and soon, small oil producers would demand fair rates. Further, Californians grew weary of the fact that the Southern Pacific consistently evaded taxes and overtly influenced California politics.

So some Californians sought to diminish its monopolistic control through reform.

Cartoon about corporate personhoodHowever, the resulting U.S. Supreme Court decision, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886), forever changed the course of corporate history - not just in California, but in the nation as a whole.

Thus, because of a headnote that never was included in the court's actual opinion, after 1886, corporations enjoyed the same 14th Amendment rights that individuals did.


Conclusions - The Consequences of Progress

  1. California's economic development in the latter part of the 19th Century was based on a resource intensive industrial model. California had abundant natural resources but little capital; thus, it was forced to use new technologies to attract investors.
  2. The federal government supported the privatization of forest land. Without assistance from the federal government, California's timber industry could not have thrived.
  3. The major consequences of such privatization of the timber and mining industries were dramatic environmental alterations that included dramatic population growth, intense profit motives that depended upon rapid and environmentally unsound resource extraction, innovative technologies that changed the environment, and manipulation of water resources.
  4. These consequences, in turn, led to both conservation and preservation efforts in the late 19th Century.
  5. Southern California gradually benefitted from economic development. It was not until the 1870s that industry began to develop in Southern California, especially via citrus growing and oil drilling and refining.
  6. Late 19th century efforts to reform the control of the railroads in California were not successful.
  7. In the case of California's late-19th Century economic progress, such progress was not always progressive.