Backlist to the Future: Oregon at Work

“Oregon is one of the best places on earth to live,” says Governor Ted Kulongoski in his foreword to Oregon at Work, and I couldn’t agree more. With Oregon’s abundance of lush hiking trails, delicious local food, and wealth of breweries, it’s easy to see just how much this state has to offer. But what about all the hard work that’s gone into making Oregon the great state it is today?

Oregon at Work explores that question. Researched and written over a period of two years by Tom Fuller and Art Ayre, the book investigates how jobs and work in Oregon have changed over the course of one hundered and fifty years, spanning from 1859–2009, and looks specifically at the changes that affected how these jobs were performed, and how they continue to grow. The book itself is divided into three fifty-year sections, and each section is chock full of personal stories, diary entries, old photographs, and statistics on wages, spending, cost of goods, and incomes. Each industry is given attention, from logging to brewing and everything in between.

The interesting part about the book is that the personal stories all come from interviews conducted by Fuller and Ayre, so they each have a personal, relatable feel to them. My favorite is the story of Elmer Harris Taylor, who in the 1950s spent his summers as a logger to help pay for school and make ends meet. In only ten weeks each summer, he was able to cut enough timber to support himself for the rest of the year. How’s that for determination? It really shows the reader how much wages and costs have changed over the past sixty-four years, in addition to how the costs associated with being a student have changed.

Though Oregon at Work is certainly a must-read for any local history buff, it also makes a great academic book and I can definitely see it being used in a college-level history course—maybe even a high school course. It’s approachable and easy to follow, with a variety of people and work given spotlight. When I first picked up the book I wasn’t sure if I’d find it interesting, but the profiles and data on the logging industry immediately caught my attention, much to my surprise. Oregon at Work may surprise you too; you might discover a side of Oregon you never knew about.

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