The Lumber Industry

A picture of several men and women standing on a pile of hemlock bark holding bark spuds

The Lumber Industry in Northern Wisconsin

Prior to the Civil War, most of northern Wisconsin was inhabited by the Menominee and Ojibwe Indians and transient fur traders of European origin. Demand for wood in Chicago and Milwaukee after the Civil War brought lumbermen to the north woods. Initially, most harvesting focused on the “pineries,” since softwoods like pine could be floated down rivers, the major means of transportation at the time. 

The Wausau Group: The Businessmen Who Revived Wausau’s Economy

Located on the Wisconsin River, Wausau developed as a logging town in the 1830s. George Stevens chose the site because of the waterfall that spanned the river, which provided power for sawmills used to turn the felled trees into lumber. 

Tools of the Trade


The bark spud is an iron tool used to remove bark from cut timber. Most bark spuds have a steel head with a hard wooden handle. The head is rounded or dish-shaped and has one cutting edge.The sharp wedge on the end of the bark spud slides between bark and wood on a log and helps to peel the bark off in long strips. 

OBJECT HISTORY: Log-Marking Hammer

Between the 1840s and the 1890s, logs were highly valued.  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 who used it, we see how crucial such simple-looking tools were to entire industries and to people’s lives.

In this video, Wesley Bushor demonstrates how to use a bark spud to peal bark from the tree.

Teachers, check out this lesson plan on the logging hammer.

The Mulley Saw at the Wade House

Learn about the historic Wade House or visit it in Greenbush, Wisconsin.

OBJECT HISTORY: The Muley Sawmill

Before the invention of electrical power, many sawmills relied on water to keep their saw blades in motion. However, more efficient mills were created in the early 1900s that used electricity. This meant that many water-powered mills went out of use and were eventually torn down, but not all of them. The Wade House, near Greenbush, Wisconsin still has a working muley sawmill.

Loggers and their Traditions


One of the most popular ways for lumberjacks to entertain themselves was to play music on a fiddle, a stringed instrument more commonly called a violin. By the 1800s, fiddles were mass-produced in Germany, and many of those made were exported to North America where they were sold by mail order or in music stores. Many German immigrants coming to Wisconsin also brought fiddles with them from Germany.

OBJECT HISTORY: Slovak Catholic Altar

During the 19th and early 20th century, immigrants from all across Europe began coming to Wisconsin seeking economic opportunity from industries like logging. Slovakian immigrant, Paul Bartek of Ino, Wisconsin made this alter for his home around 1910.