A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

July 1996



The Hops Craze

by Dr. Tina Brewster Wray, Curator of Collections

 


"The more substantial and direct effects of the hop business is already beginning to make itself manifest in our home markets. Returns are commencing to come in, and merchants are correspondingly happy over the prospect of a good fall and winter patronage."

The Slaughter  Sun, Oct. 9, 1890  


In the 1880's and the 1890's, the White River Valley was in the grip of the "hops craze." Disastrous crop losses in Europe had driven hop prices to an all-time high and farmers in Washington, Oregon and Northern California enthusiastically turned to growing hops as a means to financial independence. Hops grew prolifically in the fertile soil of the White River Valley. In a good year, local farmers could expect to earn $400 or more per acre. This "Golden Age of Hops" brought the first great prosperity to the communities of the White River Valley. New wealth enabled farmers to construct fine new residences and enjoy a higher standard of living that benefited a growing population of carpenters, shop keepers, and other tradesmen. In addition, many used their new wealth to help their communities through investment in new businesses, and philanthropy.

The hop harvest, in late August and September, was an exciting and colorful time and something of a tourist attraction also. Although the hop pickers included whites, Japanese and Chinese, most were Native Americans who came to the Valley by the thousands from around Puget Sound, Eastern Washington and British Columbia. Men, women and children worked from dawn to dusk and received a dollar for each large hop box filled. These boxes held about 100 lbs. of hops, and an experienced worker could earn as much as $3 a day, but the average daily earnings were about $1.25. Since pickers were paid by the box and the soft hops tended to settle quickly, novice pickers often had the discouraging experience of seeing the contents of their partially filled boxes compress faster then they could fill them. More experienced workers developed strategies to counter this problem. Some worked cooperatively in large groups, reducing the amount of time the hops had to settle. Others would fill small baskets, barrels and crates until enough were gathered to fill a box. Then they would call, "Box Full!" and quickly pour their hops into the big box, fluffing them up as much as possible. Another approach was to first lay a couple of vines at the bottom of the box, which could then be pulled up through the hops to fluff them.



Twined Willow Hop Basket, perhaps made for a child's use.
This was added to the collection by purchase from
the Museum's Acquisition Fund.

drawing by Tina Brewster Wray


The WRVM has a small collection of rare hops artifacts, including a large wooden hop box, and various types of hop baskets. One of the more interesting items is the small hop basket pictured above. This light-weight, open weave basket is made of twined willow, with decorative stripes. Its small size, 20" in diameter, suggests that it was made for use by a child. This basket, and other hops artifacts, will be on display at the museum from June 13 to November 10 in our new exhibit, "The Hops Craze: Western Washington's First Big Business."

Dr. Tina Brewster Wray