Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Idaho Falls Gets Hydropower, William Jennings Bryan Stumps Idaho [otd 10/22]

Early spillway photo from Idaho Falls Power – History.

On October 22, 1900, Idaho Falls Mayor Joseph A. Clark initiated "official" municipal operation of a 125-horsepower hydroelectric plant. A diversion canal from the Snake River supplemented water from Crow Creek to run the plant: The generator basically ran off an irrigation ditch.

About five years earlier, a number of Idaho Falls businesses and residents had begun to express interest in obtaining electrical  power for the city. After all, Pocatello “went electric” early in 1894 [blog, Feb 22]. Why shouldn’t Idaho Falls? Despite the interest, however, voters twice defeated bond elections to finance a plant. Finally, in 1900, a bond measure passed and construction began.

The generator went into full nighttime operation at the beginning of October. The Idaho Falls Times reported (October 4, 1900), "Over 300 incandescent lights are now in use in the stores and dwellings, and about 200 more are already ordered."

Initially, the only steady load came from the street lights, so the plant operated just during the evening. (Operators started it up a half hour early in the winter and on cloudy days.) Within two years, increased usage by commercial and residential customers led to an expansion of the generating capacity. Although demand continued to rise, a dam-based power plant did not go into operation until 1912.

At its centennial, Idaho Fall’s hydroelectric generators supplied around 40 percent of the city’s electrical needs. Today, with increased demand and limited ability for the City’s system to increase its generator capacity, that fraction has fallen to about 24 percent. Even so, municipal power rates are about 4/5 of the state average.

On October 22, 1902, the Idaho Falls Register (the Post-Register after 1931) noted that nationally famous orator and politician William Jennings Bryan had delivered a speech in town. That morning in Pocatello, Bryan boarded a special train that took him to St. Anthony. He had then spoken at several stations during the return.

He still claimed to see “free silver” – code for the unlimited minting of silver coinage – as a “live issue,” and stumped for Democratic candidates in the Idaho state elections. (To no avail: That year the Republican ticket swept every non-legislative position.)
Candidate Bryan.
Library of Congress.

In earlier years, Idaho voters had been solid Bryan backers, especially in the 1896 Presidential election. His free silver position resonated with Populist Party voters as well as a strong Populist under-current among Democrats. Agrarian voters in particular hoped that putting more money in circulation, in the form of silver coinage, would relieve a severely depressed farm economy.

In Idaho, farmers combined with the large silver mining interests in the Coeur d’Alene region to offer huge support for Bryan. Even more so than nationally, the issue split the Idaho Republican Party: A large “Silver Republican” faction held its own Idaho convention and endorsed the Bryan national ticket. In the end, Bryan electors carried nearly 80% of the 1896 Presidential vote in Idaho.

However, the silver issue had waned in importance by the 1900 election. Bryan was again the Democratic nominee, and he again carried Idaho, but he won with a bare majority (50.8%). Nominated again in 1908, Bryan lost decisively in Idaho.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Hawley]
Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls (1991).
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford University Press, New York (1965).
Staff, Idaho Falls Power – History, Idaho Falls Power Company (2000).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cattlemen Chided for Missing Opportunities, Railroad Optimism on Camas Prairie [otd 10/21]

The October 21, 1879 issue of the Idaho Statesman (Boise, then the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman) editorialized about the opportunities being neglected by many Idaho stockmen: “During the present summer several large herds of cattle have been sold in this section of Idaho to Eastern dealers and driven to Cheyenne and other points on the railroad... There is nothing whatever to prevent our cattle raisers from marketing their own stock and pocketing all that can be made in the business … ”
Cattle on the move. National Park Service.
He went on, “Another mistake which stock raisers make in this country is in keeping cattle of marketable age over the winter...  If cattle raisers would adopt the plan of driving and shipping their own stock and disposing each season of all the cattle ready for market they would not only save all that the outside dealer makes by the buying and driving, but they would also save all that is liable to be lost by keeping too many cattle over winter.”

Still, while they might not be maximizing their opportunity (and income), this and other reports made a key point: During the 1870’s, Idaho Territory experienced substantial growth in its stock raising industry. A net importer of cattle in 1870, by 1880 the Territory was exporting 50 to 70 thousand head annually.

Those 1880 numbers were not huge, but they suggested a trend: In the new century, Idaho shipped cattle, and sheep especially, far in excess of what could be expected for its small population. Today, it is ranked in the top ten in livestock sales and dairy products, despite being 39th in population.

On October 21, 1887, the Idaho County Free Press (Grangeville) reported, “The O. R. & N. Co. has filed articles of incorporation for the building of two more railroads from Lewiston to Camas Prairie. One of them is to end here and the other is to go on to Salmon River and up to the mouth of Little Salmon. When all three projected roads are built there won't be room enough for us fellows with big feet to turn around without falling over the rails.”

The article refers to the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company, which locals hoped would soon lay tracks into Grangeville. Of course, Lewiston itself had no railroad connection at the time. However, citizens believed that would come soon. After all, OR&N survey teams were busy checking routes along the Clearwater River and its tributaries. Moreover, one team had penetrated deep into the Bitterroots, searching for a usable pass into Montana.
Train leaving Lewiston, 1898.
“Archive” photo posted by Lewiston High School.

Unfortunately, the report was wildly too optimistic. It’s not clear that the OR&N ever laid any track in Idaho, although it may have run trains there many years later. But “hope springs eternal,” and through the early 1890s, people in Lewiston and on the prairie waited expectantly for construction to begin. But the first passenger train did not arrive in Lewiston until September 1898, over a decade after the hopeful Free Press announcement. 

Another decade would pass before rail lines actually surmounted the Camas Prairie, the first train arriving in Grangeville in December 1908. Only then could the area make a substantial transition from stock raising – products that could “walk to market” – to farming.

Today, the Prairie is a major producer of grain and other farm products.

[To learn more about the history of stock raising in Idaho, check out my book, Before the Spud: Indians, Buckaroos, and Sheepherders in Pioneer Idaho.]
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Illust-North]
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Louisiana Purchase, and Oregon Country Compromise [otd 10/20]


An interesting coincidence happened On This Day.
President Jefferson.
National Archives.

On October 20, 1803, the Senate approved a treaty authorizing the acquisition of Louisiana from France. President Thomas Jefferson had originally sent negotiators to France to ensure American access to foreign markets via New Orleans. They were authorized, if necessary, to purchase New Orleans and a limited periphery around it. Instead, Napoleon’s minister offered all of Louisiana, and the Americans quickly agreed [blog, Oct 1].

For $15 million in direct payments and assumption of debts owed, the Louisiana Purchase practically doubled the area of the United States. Of course, no one knew exactly what we had bought.

The Mississippi River defined the eastern border, but the river’s exact source (in the future state of Minnesota) was unknown. Spain asserted that Louisiana really included only a strip of land along the west bank of the Mississippi north to the general vicinity of St. Louis. The U. S. rejected the “narrow strip” notion, but conceded that a specific boundary north of Texas needed to be negotiated further. (That issue would not be settled until 1819.)

But for the rest, Americans declared that the Territory followed all the Mississippi tributaries, including the Missouri River, as far as the Continental Divide. That carried the American border to the very edge of the region that came to be called “the Oregon Country” – the area west of the Divide comprising British Columbia and our Pacific Northwest.

Without the Purchase, a vast expanse would have separated the U. S. from the region and might have rendered our claims there largely inconsequential.

Fifteen years later, on October 20, 1818, the U. S. and Great Britain signed a treaty to, among other points, settle one more facet of the Canadian boundary question. This issue had been “hanging fire” ever since the December 1814 Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812.

Various protocols and agreements had established a general border as far west as Lake-of-the-Woods, in today’s Minnesota. (Even that line remained vague and disputed until 1842, when fresh negotiations finally settled the matter.) Further west, American claimed – under the Louisiana Purchase – those areas drained by the Missouri-Mississippi river system. That pushed the border north of today’s Lethbridge, in Alberta, Canada.
Oregon Country map from Wikipedia Commons,
specific creator not identified.

The 1818 treaty fixed the border as it is today: After a jog straight south near the west side of Lake-of-the-Woods, the line extended west along the 49th parallel as far as the crest of the Rocky Mountains. The negotiators were unwilling to go beyond that. Both countries had legitimate claims within the Oregon Country, based on prior exploration and trading ties with the native inhabitants. Russian activities further complicated matters.

The negotiators compromised: For the next ten years, the Oregon County would remain open to commercial exploitation and settlement by both Britishers and Americans. After that, diplomats would, perhaps, revisit the question. With this agreement, a regional trade war became inevitable.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Brit]
Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, Simon & Shuster, New York (1996).
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford University Press, New York (1965).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sheep Rancher, Investor, and Railroad Developer Robert Noble [otd 10/19]

Englishman Robert Noble was born on October 19, 1844 in Cumberland County, a sparsely-populated region on the border with Scotland. The family moved first to Canada when Robert was ten years old. They continued on to New York State three years later. During the Civil War, Robert volunteered as soon as the Army would accept him.  He served in the quartermaster corps until his discharge in the spring of 1865.

Noble worked on a farm in Illinois until 1870, when he headed West and ended in Idaho. For about a year, Robert tended a Snake River ferry. He then worked for four years at a ranch belonging to Thomas J. Davis [blog, Jan 2] in the Boise Valley. Not well educated, but blessed with considerable native intelligence, Noble used those years to built up a stake. He later said he began running sheep himself in 1874. Robert had his own place along Reynolds Creek a year later.
Noble Ranch, ca 1898. Owyhee Directory.
Just seven years later, a list printed in the Owyhee Avalanche newspaper (August 26, 1882) identified Noble as the leading sheep stockman in all of Owyhee county. His total of 7,500 sheep was more than double that of the number two man.

He steadily grew his flocks, and had around fifty thousand head by the latter part of 1890. The Owyhee Avalanche reported (November 29, 1890) a bizarre slashing attack on “Bob” Noble by a disgruntled herder. The article observed that he was “perhaps the wealthiest stock man in Idaho.” The following spring, the DeLamar Nugget reported ( May 19, 1891) that “Robert Noble, Owyhee County’s big wool man has just sold ten thousand mutton sheep ...”

By the end of the Nineties, Noble had around seventy thousand sheep. For a time, he also had a sideline of horse raising. To upgrade those holdings, he imported a top-grade English shire horse. In the summer of 1905, Noble sold his stock and “some 3000 acres” of ranch property. Noble did not quote prices to the reporter for the Idaho Statesman (June 24, 1905), but probably realized $300 or $400 thousand from the sales. (That’s $8-10 million in today’s dollars).

After the sale, Noble moved his family to Boise City. There, he invested heavily in the Idaho Trust & Savings Bank, reportedly one of the largest financial institutions in the Pacific Northwest. With purchases then and over the next few years, he acquired about seven thousands acres of land in the Boise Valley.
Robert Noble photo: H. T. French.

Noble also provided much of the funding for construction of an interurban electric railroad running from Boise out to Meridian and Nampa. Robert served as manager of the rail company until it was sold into a merged firm in 1911. The following year, Noble was elected President of the IT&S Bank. He held that position until his death in November 1914.

Four years after Robert’s death, the estate settled the title for a parcel of land near the complex intersection a half mile southeast of the capitol building. The executor, Robert’s son Ernest, then deeded the plot to the city for today’s Robert Noble Park.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [French],[Hawley], [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Newspaper Publisher Ben Read, Lurid Headlines Attract Readers [otd 10/18]

Ben Read. J. H. Hawley photo.
Idaho Falls newspaperman Benjamin Harrison Read was born October 18, 1888 in Palco, located about 25 miles north of Hayes, Kansas. His father, a storekeeper, moved the family to Iowa when Ben was a young man. After high school he attended Grinnell College, graduating in 1910. (Grinnell is about 45 miles east of Des Moines.) After graduation, Ben worked at the Ames Times newspaper.

Within two years, he attained a partnership in the newspaper, which became the Ames Evening Times. He soon assumed management of the paper, which he took from a weekly to a daily in about 1916. Like many newspapers of that day, the company also maintained a lucrative job printing operation.

In 1917, Ben sold the Ames newspaper and moved to Idaho. There, he and his brother Clifford bought a controlling interest in the Idaho Falls Daily Post. The earliest known operators of the Post were brothers Charles and Ernest Sumner in partnership with Henry Gabbe. In 1905, the partners shipped equipment in from Colorado and began publishing the first daily newspaper in Idaho Falls. (Library of Congress records indicate that an Idaho Falls paper of that name began in 1903, but nothing is known of its circulation or management.)

The Post had to compete with two existing weekly newspapers: the Idaho Register and Idaho Falls Times. The presence of a daily did force the Register to go semi-weekly, in 1908. However, it soon became apparent that three newspapers might be too many for the town to support. When the novelty wore off, the Daily Post struggled, going through a succession of owners before the Read’s bought it.

Daily Post offices. Idaho Falls Post Register archives.
Ben and Cliff rejuvenated the paper: They contracted for a dedicated newswire so they could feature the hottest events from around the world, and published full-color Sunday comics. They also packed their pages with sensational stories: notorious (preferably bloody) murders, white slavery, marquee sporting events … whatever would grab attention. On the side, they ran the usual printing operation.

Their competitors merged in 1920 to form the Times-Register, which also went to daily publication. Five years later, the brothers sold the Daily Post to J. Robb Brady, son of former Idaho Governor and U. S. Senator James H. Brady. Ben and Cliff moved to the Los Angeles, California, area. Ben remained in southern California until his death in 1972. Cliff returned to Idaho for a time to run another newspaper.

Robb Brady had originally moved to Idaho to settle the estate of Senator Brady, who died in office from a heart attack. Ironically, a year after purchasing the Post, J. Robb also had a heart attack and died. The manager he hired, E. F. McDermott, arranged a merger with the Times Register, changing the name to the Post-Register. McDermott operated the paper for the next half century. The Post Register is still being published today, six days a week (no issue on Monday).
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Hawley]
Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers, Library of Congress (online).
Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
William Hathaway, Images of America: Idaho Falls, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC (2006).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Supermarket Innovator and Self-Made Millionaire Joe Albertson [otd 10/17]

Joe Albertson, 1985. Albertson’s, Inc.
Supermarket innovator Joseph A. “Joe” Albertson was born October 17, 1906 near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The family moved to a homestead west of Caldwell when Joe was three years old. After graduating from Caldwell High School, Joe began classes at the College of Idaho, a small private school in Caldwell [blog, Oct 7].

While he attended college, Albertson got a job as a clerk at a Safeway store. Meanwhile, in chemistry class, he met a pert, pretty native Idahoan, Kathryn McCurry, from Boise. At the time, students called the College “Dr. Boone’s marriage mill,” affectionately referring to the school’s founder and first President, William Judson Boone [blog, November 5].

Joe and Kathryn only added to the legacy. On New Years Day 1930, the Reverend Boone wrote in his diary, “Marry Katheryn [sic] McCurry to Joseph A. Albertson. 52 present, very fine and very pretty.”

Their wedding came just two months after the stock market crash of October 1929 … not the best time to start married life. Both were soon forced to drop out of college, although they retained their belief in the importance of education and their soft spot for their alma mater.

Hard-working and personable, Joe rose steadily through the ranks at Safeway. He eventually held a district manager position with responsibility for over a dozen stores. However, after over a decade in the business, Albertson had his own ideas about how to organize and run a grocery store.
First store, Boise. Albertson’s, Inc.

By then, the young couple had managed to save about $5 thousand in working capital. With that, $7,500 borrowed from Kathryn’s aunt, and two partners, Albertson went into business for himself. The first Albertson’s Food Center opened in July 1939, at Sixteenth and State streets in Boise.

Joe put his own stamp on food-service trends that had begun at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Before that time, city people bought food from rather small stores that specialized in one part of the menu: produce, meat, and so on. These shops did tend to cluster together, but had separate owner-operators. Then, over the next 20-30 years, corporate-owned chain stores began to replace the independent operators, although the layouts remained relatively small.

By the 1930s, chains were a dominant factor in the food business, and some had begun to offer a wider range of food products.  (A full treatment of this transition is beyond the scope of this article.) Joe’s first layout was much larger  than most competing stores of the time. He didn’t bring everything under one roof right away, but the store had a bakery, made its own ice cream, and featured vending machines for popcorn and nuts. Customers received great variety, bargain prices, and [in Joe’s words] “all the tender, loving care we can give.”

Less than a year later, the partners opened a second store in Nampa. A third followed in November 1940. After World War II, the partnership was dissolved and Albertson's Incorporated was formed. The rest, as they say, is history. They took the company public in 1959 – investors and mutual funds soon made the stock a favorite in their portfolios.

Albertson began easing out of a major management role in about 1976, although he continued as Chairman of the Executive Committee. When he died in January of 1993, the company operated over 560 stores in seventeen states, and annual sales topped the $10 billion mark. After that, the company went through a succession of corporate splits, buy-outs, mergers, and so on … but it still has a presence in Boise.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Brit]
Albertson’s Inc. – Company History.
“Kathryn Albertson,” Quest, College of Idaho alumni magazine (Summer 2002).    
Louie W. Attebury, The College of Idaho, 1891-1991: A Centennial History, © College of Idaho, Caldwell (1991).
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Merle Wells, Arthur A. Hart, Idaho: Gem of the Mountains, Windsor Publications, Inc., Northridge, California (1985).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

George Collister: Boise Physician, Developer, and Spotted Fever Researcher [otd 10/16]

Dr. Collister. H. T. French photo.
Boise physician and developer George Collister, M.D., was born October 16, 1856 in Willoughby, Ohio, just northeast of Cleveland. He graduated from high school there, and attended The Ohio State University. The youngest of eight children, George paid much of the cost of his higher education himself. He attended a medical college in Cleveland and received his M.D. degree in 1880.

Dr. Collister practiced in Ohio for a year. Then, in 1881, his sister Julia recommended that he move to the "coming" town of Boise City. By then Idahoans knew the Oregon Short Line would soon run tracks across the state, but only the most knowledgeable realized that the line would bypass Boise. (Rails would not arrive there until 1887 [blog, Sept 13].)

Collister soon developed a large and prosperous practice. His dedication to his profession was such that historian Hiram French said (1914), “During all the years since beginning practice in Boise, he has had but three months of actual vacation time.”

Besides his private practice, Dr. Collister at various times acted as official Physician for Ada County, Boise City, and the State Penitentiary. For a while he served on the Idaho State Board of Medical Examiners. Collister belonged to the the Idaho State Medical Society, serving a term as its President. He was a member of the Ada County Medical Society as well as the American Medical Association.

Dr. Collister, along with Dr. Warren Springer [blog, Mar 30] and others, contributed data to the first detailed and systematic assessment of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

George also found time to expand into farming, ranching, and general real estate development. To complement winter pasture in the Boise Valley, he owned five thousand acres of summer range in Boise County, running several hundred head of prime cattle.
Fruit Orchard Along Interurban Railway.
Library of Congress.

George, and sister Julia, also had extensive real estate holdings around what came to be called Collister Station on the interurban railway. This station, located about three miles from downtown, was built in the 1890s and made it easy for the doctor to commute to his office in the City.

Dr. Collister had thousands of fruit trees planted on part of his acreage, including some of the first peach orchards in the Valley. Over the years, he and his wife added a greenhouse (which supplied flowers to a shop in the Boise Hotel) and a feedlot.

In 1912, the family moved into a modest (twenty rooms) mansion near Collister Station. When bids were requested for construction, the Idaho Statesman said (March 19,1911), “The palatial home to be constructed for Mr. and Mrs. George Collister … will be one of the best designed and most complete homes ever built in Boise.”

The request included plans for “a large porch with Corinthian columns,” The kitchen would be “fitted up in the most modern and complete manner, having a dumb waiter into the basement and cold storage room, built-in refrigerator, etc.” The full basement would have “a large and well appointed billiard room … and a large den and summer sitting and dining room.”

Although George and his wife had no children themselves, they did have an adoptive daughter: The mother, George’s patient, died of childbed fever a few days after the birth and the couple adopted the baby.

Dr. Collister passed away in October 1935. Today, the area is a subdivision of Boise. The doctor’s name is preserved as Collister Drive, Collister Elementary School, and the Collister Neighborhood Association.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [French], [Hawley]
Collister Neighborhood Association, Collister Neighborhood Plan, Boise City Council (September 2007).
James F. Hammarsten, “The contributions of Idaho physicians to knowledge of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,” Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, Vol. 94 (1983) p. 27–43.