Idaho History: Manufacturing began early in Boise Valley

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANDecember 29, 2013 

A home-grown manufacturing industry got started early in frontier Idaho because goods imported from Portland, San Francisco or Salt Lake City cost more than merchandise made locally. This was due to the added cost of freight and handling.

On Aug. 4, 1864, in one of the first copies of the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman, we find this: “Machinery Wanted — to dress flooring, siding and finishing stuff, to tongue and groove flooring and ceiling, to make sash doors and blinds. All this kind of work is now done by hand, at a cost far above what it could be done for with the proper machinery. The best varieties of pine, soft, straight and clear, is to be had in abundance, and a good opening is here offered for a sash and door factory to do a good business. Builders always prefer to employ machinery to do this kind of work though it costs them nearly as much as if done by hand. Will not the owner of some idle mill in Oregon take the hint?”

David Landis was the owner of one of Boise’s first complete sash and door factories. In August 1875, the Statesman described his equipment: “He has lately received and put up a large amount of machinery in his shop for the purpose of doing all kinds of wood work. He has a No. 1 Trade engine and boiler, made in Dayton, Ohio. It is a model motive power and will pay any man to go and see it. From the driving wheel of the engine he runs to a line shaft from which he runs a planer, tenoning and mortising machine, molding machine, cut off and rip saws, turning lathe, etc., in fact everything necessary to do all kinds of shop work.”

All of the machines in the Landis shop were made in Norwich, Conn., by C.B. Rogers & Co., a firm started in 1846. An 1889 description of the company says, “Their machinery finds sale not only in various sections of this country, but is exported to South America, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and various points in Europe.”

The Rogers factory employed 125 men. David Landis probably saw the company’s 1872 catalogue, illustrated with steel engravings of its machines, although he may have visited the factory in Norwich and picked out what he wanted. We do know that in 1875 the machinery would have been shipped by rail to Kelton, Utah, and come the rest of the way to Boise by freight wagons pulled by oxen or mules.

Landis’ ad in the Statesman in September 1875 tells us that his “Sash and Door Factory” was located at the corner of 9th and Bannock streets “opposite Morse’s Corral.” (In that day, when everyone depended on horses for transportation, hauling and farming, Downtown Boise had a corral or a livery stable in nearly every city block.) The ad lists prices for three sizes of window sash and for four-panel doors “cheap for cash at the factory (coin prices).” Greenbacks were generally mistrusted at that time of economic unrest, especially in the West.

Landis sold his factory in November 1881 to George W. White, who carried on the business.

Another Boise Valley industry was started in October 1871 when blacksmith A.J. Marston began manufacturing plows. Hardware dealer and future mayor of Boise Peter Sonna advertised them in the Statesman in January 1872 as the “Celebrated Middleton Plows. These plows are of a superior finish with cast steel moldboard, extra hardened, and all work warranted. Orders for breaking plows left at the store will be promptly attended to.”

Curiously, the other leading product manufactured in Boise in the 1860s and ’70s (aside from Cyrus Jacobs’ whiskey) was soap.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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