Between the 1840s and the 1890s, logs meant money. Wisconsin had a large supply of trees. Lumber mills made money by cutting down trees. Logging was one of the largest industries in Wisconsin. There were more than 450 lumber camps across Wisconsin. If we study this log-marking hammer and think about the people that used it, we see how businesses connected to people’s lives in the past.
Log-marking hammers are special hammers. The handle is wood and the head is cast iron. These hammers are heavy: the head weighs as much as ten pounds. What makes this hammer special is the marking you find at the end of the iron head. The log-marking hammer at the Wisconsin Historical Museum has a bolded “S.” The “S” stood for the Daniel Shaw Lumber Mill in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
The lumber mills separated logs by lumber companies. To know who cut which tree, lumber mill workers looked for a stamped design at the end of the log. Every lumber company had a design marked into the end of the logs. Log-marking hammers made these marks. These marks made sure lumber companies made money from their work.
Lumberjacks were the men that cut down the trees for the lumber companies. They worked in the winter months in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. All winter lumberjacks cut trees and moved them to the banks of frozen rivers. To mark the trees they cut, a lumberjack marked the wood by swinging the log-marking hammer to leave a mark. This was a very important task. Stamping the log was the only way to know which lumber company cut it down. This was how a lumber company paid their lumberjacks.
Lumberjacks put the logs in the rivers in the spring. Logs floated downstream until they reached a lumber mill. Lumber mill workers paid the lumber companies for each log that had their mark. Cities like Eau Claire, Oshkosh, Black River Falls, and Wausau all needed the spring log drives to keep their lumber mills going. Lumberjacks worked to support their families.
Listen to two musicians play an adapted version of a lumberjack tune on Minnesota Public Radio. Or listen to this tune from the lumberjack camps of Minnesota!
Written by Ali Pleasant, October 2018.