Idaho History

Idaho History

Idaho fair of 1897 quickly became gold standard for locals, children, exhibitors

The prime motivation for organizing the great Idaho Intermountain Fair of 1897 was to show off the state’s resources to the region and the nation. A secondary benefit, certainly anticipated by Boise’s business community, was that it would attract lots of people to the capital city who might spend money. These goals have characterized fairs since the Middle Ages in Europe, whether sponsored by the church, by merchants or by guilds of craftsmen. Today nearly every American city has its fair or festival. These occasions furnish entertainment and education, help local business and contribute to local pride. They would not flourish unless people loved them. They certainly loved the 1897 fair, and in the 120 years since Idahoans have continued to support fairs at every level.

Idaho History

Hall of Fame pitcher got start in Idaho striking out Dudes, Beet Diggers

Some of the most famous baseball players of all time played for Idaho teams before going to the major leagues, where they had long and impressive careers. Two of them were pitchers with outstanding won-lost records but with very different public images. Walter Johnson, who played for Weiser in 1906-07, was always popular, but Carl Mays, who pitched for Boise in 1912, was disliked by most and even detested by some. We’ll tell his story in a later column.

Idaho History

Prohibition kept Boise law enforcement officers busy

Prohibition had no sooner gone into effect in Idaho in 1916, and in the rest of the country in 1920, than a significant part of the population began to look for ways to get around it. The demand for liquor was so great that tens of thousands of Americans who had never before broken any law now figured that making and selling illegal liquor was worth the risk. The Idaho Statesman reported regularly on those who got arrested for trying.

Idaho History

Forming Idaho’s 44 counties took more than half a century

After the Idaho Territory was created in 1863, 13 new counties were formed, and after Idaho became a state in 1890, the process continued. In 1892, the Legislature authorized a local election to see whether those affected were in favor of dividing Ada County to create a new county in the west. The desire to be as self-governing as possible would lead prominent citizens in larger Idaho towns to lobby the Legislature to allow such a vote to create a new county, with their town as county seat. Probably no new county was born with as much excitement and celebration as was Canyon County in 1892.

Idaho History

Japanese workers instrumental in building of Northwest railroads

The Alien Contract Labor Law passed by Congress in 1885 banned the importation of foreigners and aliens under contract to perform labor in the United States. That the law had not been strictly enforced was revealed in the 1890s in the Pacific Northwest when railroad companies, in urgent need of manual labor, spurred the massive importation of Japanese crews under contract, in direct violation of the 1885 law.

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Arthur Hart shares his love for history as a teacher, museum director and in his columns found in the pages of the Idaho Statesman.
Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com
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