Life in Raymond, Washington During the Early Years of the Great Depression, 1929-1933

by Jacob Monson


Raymond is a town on the estuary of the Willapa River, near South Bend in north central Pacific County, Washington. Its early fortunes were tied to the lumber and shingle industries, which boomed through the 1920's. In this picture from ca. 1918, a crew loads logs at a railroad spur in town. The Great Depression devastated lumber and other extractive industries, hurting Raymond's economy and ending its period of rapid growth . (Courtesy of the University of Washington Library, Special Collections)
On October 24, 1929, the American Stock Market crashed, which set off a financial catastrophe that resulted in the loss of some $30 billion in stock value over the span of only two days. The resulting economic collapse, the Great Depression, marred the 1930’s and left an indelible mark on the history of America. While World War II helped lift the United States (and especially Washington State) up from the rubble, many cities and towns struggled to regain the same level of prosperity and population that they had enjoyed prior to 1929.

This report examines the experience of Raymond, a community in southwestern Washington, that faced significant challenges during and after the Depression. It analyzes the coverage found in one of the town’s two major newspapers, the Raymond Advertiser, in order to gain a better grasp of the impact the economic downturn had on the municipality and its residents. First printed in 1920, the Advertiser focused on events and news that came from within or directly affected the Raymond community – fitting for a small town experiencing rapid growth during its early years. However, as the effects of the Great Depression became more difficult to withstand, state and national issues gained prominence. Founded in the midst of a boom, the Advertiser had to alter its focus during the 1930’s. The paper now attempted to explain the economic collapse to readers, while, at the same time, not fully abandoning the generally positive tone of its earlier coverage. Indeed, throughout the Depression, the Advertiser maintained an optimistic attitude, perhaps in an effort to avoid widespread panic among Pacific County residents and to promote continued economic activity in the local community.

 Incorporated in 1907, Raymond is located in Pacific County. During its early years, the town grew quickly, its economic foundation based almost exclusively on the timber industry. Located on (and literally built on top of) the Willapa River, Raymond’s setting made it an ideal point for receiving raw goods, like logs, and for shipping out finished products to locations throughout the region. [1]Because of its convenient location as well as the growth of Washington State more generally, the town prospered, its population rising to 6,000 in 1913 – only six years after incorporation.[2]

 Raymond appeared relatively unaffected in the months immediately following the stock market crash. Indeed, residents even had reason to be optimistic, with plans on the horizon for establishing a Willapa Harbor Port Dock, as a joint venture with the neighboring town of South Bend. Such a facility could provide commercial fishing facilities and make it easier for mills not located on the river to ship lumber and receive freshly cut logs. On December 5, 1929, the Advertiser featured a half-page advertisement urging readers to vote for the Port Dock plan, claiming that it would result in, “…a bigger payroll, increased prosperity and greater development…” for the community. [3] A December 26 advertisement for the Willapa Electric Company echoed this optimism outlook. In it, the company stated that, “We look forward with all confidence to another year….” [4] Two months after the stock market crash, there was no apparent slowdown in Raymond’s economic activity, and consequently, no worrisome reporting from the Advertiser. Though politically active, many Washingtonians, like those in Raymond, had yet to demonstrate sustained concern over or awareness of the stock market crash.


A 1929 cartoon from the Raymond Advertiser critical of President Hoover's policies. In the first frame, a woman labeled “The Public” is standing in front of a stack of wood that is labeled “Country’s Problems,” yelling for President Hoover, and referring to the stack of wood by saying, “he’s not getting a thing done!” In the second frame, Herbert is reeling in a fish from the water labeled “Tax Cuts,” with a few fish lying next to him labeled “Treasury Surplus.”
One way the Advertiser did engage with politics during the early months of the Depression was through political cartoons. These included a December 1929 cartoon critical of President Herbert Hoover’s economic policy.  In the first frame, a woman labeled “The Public” is standing in front of a stack of wood that is labeled “Country’s Problems,” yelling for President Hoover, and referring to the stack of wood by saying, “he’s not getting a thing done!” In the second frame, Herbert is reeling in a fish from the water labeled “Tax Cuts,” with a few fish lying next to him labeled “Treasury Surplus.” To summarize, the cartoon states that President Hoover was ignoring the public and America’s issues, while using tax cuts to build up a U.S. Treasury surplus.[5]

On January 16, 1930, the Advertiser discussed the outlook for the upcoming year for two of Washington State’s most important industries: mining and farming. The paper, for example, proudly states that, “1930 should be a great mining year.” On the topic of farming, the Advertiser noted that farmers believed 1930 would be similar to 1928, which was “satisfactory.” The writer then mentions that, during the fall of 1929, prices were down to levels not seen since 1921, citing “recent stock market declines” as having “a depressing effect on the market.” Apparently, the stock market crash did have a negative effect on the region’s farming, though the paper’s positive outlook for the coming year indicates the belief (or the hope) that the impacts would not continue into 1930. [6]

Also in January 1930, Paraffin Companies, Inc. offered an optimistic message for Raymond consumers. The company’s advertisement in the Advertiser promoted spending, as a means to maintain quality of life and, more importantly, to provide economic stimulus. In the ad, the corporation’s president, R.S. Shainwald, stated that there was no reason to lack optimism for the year ahead. He explained that, with Herbert Hoover undertaking additional construction projects throughout nation, and the “basic industries enjoying unprecedented prosperity,” normal spending was both warranted and needed. He also predicted that salaries would remain as they were, and that “plenty” of jobs will be available. On the surface, at least, Mr. Shainwald did not harbor the same cynicism toward President Hoover’s policies that the Advertiser displayed with their cartoon. However, both agreed that consumer optimism was the way to go, or at least shared enough business sense to promote optimistic spending in favor of fearful saving. [7]

Optimism, both in reporting events and in editorials, remained prominent in the Advertiser. On October 8, 1930, Pacific County held a joint dedication ceremony for the new Willapa Harbor Port Dock and the new state highway - a road that joined Raymond to the town of Grays Harbor, cutting the driving distance between the two communities in half. The dedication was a significant event for the entire region with over 1,000 people in the audience.  Among those in attendance were port officials from all over Washington, including: George P. Lamping, commissioner of the Port of Seattle; George W. Osgood, manager of the Port of Tacoma; and E.C. Gribble, manager of the Port of Olympia. During his remarks, Lamping expressed feelings of hope and optimism, “Your highway to the world is over Willapa Harbor. The connecting link is this dock.” The port dock represented a potential catalyst for increased economic activity, which could catapult this young, developing city into prominence. [8]
The Raymond Advertiser encouraged citizens to support the Willapa Port Dock, arguing that it would bring economic prosperity to the region.

In the January 8, 1931, edition of the Advertiser, a brief article mentioned the Willapa Harbor Saving and Loan Association’s financial statement, explaining that, “investments are safe and earnings sure.” [9]In that same issue, the Editorial section provided more words of encouragement. An article entitled “Prosperity’s Back” noted that, “Economists and learned men tell us that prosperity is just around the corner…” Written with hopes of inspiring more consumer confidence, the article seemingly ignored the difficult plight of many in the community. [10]

Despite the paper’s continued optimism, the Great Depression had indeed begun to affect the residents of Pacific County. For some, the damage was already done – and irreparable. Eight pages beyond “Prosperity’s Back,” a local business, The Cash Bazaar, expended cash on an advertisement it could hardly afford as a last ditch effort to cut losses. Explaining their circumstances, while also boasting door-busting prices, the Bazaar ad noted, “…a few short weeks have been enough to prove to us that we can’t achieve the impossible. So we’re through – we’re not going to ‘Die a Slow Death.’” The advertisement underscored the omnipresent adversity of the Great Depression. [11]

The Cash Bazaar would not be the only business in the area to shut its doors. A clothing store in nearby Hoquiam, Nis Abrahamsons, soon followed, claiming in an ad that it was putting on a sale that would cost thousands of dollars, “on account of the Severest Business Depression Hoquiam has ever endured…”[12] A report released January 15 by the West Coast Lumbermen’s Association, for the week that ended January 3, 1931, showed numbers for 303 mills. The mills were operating at an average of only 22.6% of their capacity, almost exactly half of the 45.29% of capacity at which they were running a year prior. The week before, production was at 21.07%, which was the lowest production total of any week in 1931. For 32 weeks after May 24, 1930, the mills’ average production was at 44.95% - a total reduction of one-and-a-half billion feet of lumber. The Advertiser put partial blame for the dismal year-ending numbers on “holiday shutdowns,” but somberly mentioned that the operating plans for some of the mills indicated that low levels of production would continue into the immediate future.[13] Money was also becoming a scarce commodity. When the First Willapa Harbor National Bank failed, currency was so scarce that Raymond’s Commercial Club was printing its own form of currency that local businesses would accept for goods, called “Oyster Money.” Workers were losing jobs and wages, and businesses were dropping left and right.

On a positive note, the Willapa Valley Farm Loan Association met on January 13, 1931 and reported $15,000 worth of loans closed in 1930, with an additional $16,500 approved, and a total of $98,000 worth of loans in good standing. The Advertiser reported that the Association was one of the very few entities that had no delinquent debtors and no foreclosures – a sign that at least some farmers in the area were not overwhelmed. [14] Continuing to push the cup-half-full perspective, on January 22 the editorial section of the Advertiser started with a piece titled “Pioneers Optimistic.” The first sentence read, “Willapa Harbor pioneers… declare that during the early part of 1931 we will enter into a great era of prosperity.” The blurb pointed to Raymond mills running full time, previously closed mills back up and running, high lumber shipment numbers the previous month (contrary to the report on the 15th), increased business and new development reports around the town as evidence of a prosperous future. The editorial also looked to roadwork related bills pending in the Legislature as potential beacons of hope. [15]

After the bills passed the Legislature, they reached the less than sympathetic desk of Governor Roland Hartley. His vetoes and conservative spending had driven banks and businesses into bankruptcy and contributed to even higher unemployment numbers. In all, Governor Hartley vetoed 69 of the 208 bills that passed the 1931 session, though his rejections spared Pacific County legislation. The Advertiser highlighted the impact of a few bills, including: relocating the Raymond-Aberdeen highway to shorten it from Arctic to Cosmopolis, with an additional $192,300 appropriation added and signed by the Governor; $181,000 appropriated for the construction of a Willapa River bridge in Raymond; and a bill to establish a state highway through White Pass, which the Advertiser described as, “the most direct route to Eastern Washington,” and claimed it would, “greatly increase tourist travel to Pacific County beaches."[16] The encouraging news however, proved too little and too late for some businesses. Basil’s Clothing Store, for example, located in downtown Raymond, ran a full-page advertisement on March 26th in the Advertiser, promoting big price reductions in a “Quitting Business” sale.[17]

An event in June 1931 proved especially important for Raymond and the surrounding community. Weyerhaeuser Timber Company’s stockholders approved a merger consolidating Weyerhaeuser’s Pacific County timber holdings with the Raymond Lumber Company, the Lewis Mills and Timber Company and the Willapa Lumber Company. This merger also included the election of a board of trustees, including the founder’s children Frederick E. and John P. Weyerhaeuser. The news was good for Pacific County residents because Weyerhaeuser had sufficient funds to cover overhead while awaiting returns on their investments, which was not the case for the previous owners of the mills.[18] Weyerhaeuser’s actions stemmed from a business shift, specifically their transition from strictly timber holdings to mill operations, but, regardless of motivation, the company’s move proved vital to Raymond’s survival as other businesses continued to close their doors. In late June, The Raymond Bootery closed up shop and advertised their going-out-of-business sale in the Advertiser. Leftover money from roadwork, totaling about $25,000, helped to soothe the pain as well. It was used to employ men from South Bend to clear timber for a road relocation project. This was an effort towards the purpose of, “…relieving the serious unemployment situation there.”[19]

As the economic situation remained dire, Raymond citizens pinned their hopes on the newly elected President, Franklin Roosevelt. Two days before he took office, the Advertiser displayed its confidence in him on the front page of their paper. Words printed below his likeness stated, “…May it be the beginning of a new era of Prosperity… of progress toward a brighter future than our wonderful country has ever known.”[20] Roosevelt hit moved quickly during his first 100 days in office. His acts sought to stabilize the economy and decrease unemployment. His plan, known as the New Deal, focused on three key areas: relief for the needy, recovery for the economy, and reform for economic policy. The Washington Emergency Relief Administration (WERA) served as a channel to distribute federal funds, both as direct relief to the impoverished and as work projects for those in need of a job.

By late 1933, some optimism had returned to Raymond. The Advertiser reported on Roosevelt’s policies, including the newly created National Recovery Administration (NRA). In order to increase consumer confidence and promote spending, which was necessary to lift the country out of the Great Depression, the NRA ran encouraging advertisements in local papers. The October 5, 1933, edition of the Advertiser featured a full-page NRA ad, with many local businesses listed. It showed a running back rushing up the field, symbolizing the United States powering out of the Depression. “Let’s Go!” the advertisement said, encouraging “teamwork” and a unified march behind the President, who is “piloting the team.”[21] The local businesses advertised had short comments, such as, “We cooperate with the NRA,” and “We do our part,” which was one of the slogans of the agency's slogans. Its plan for keeping competition honest and making sure wage cuts and price drops stayed at a minimum, without forcing anything through legislation, was to have businesses that cooperated in following the NRA guidelines display the symbolic blue eagle in their windows. Customers were encouraged to shop only at businesses displaying the image. [22]This strategy was a shrewd plan by Roosevelt’s administration to keep the competition of the free market alive, while making sure the it did not lead to undesirable practices. The Advertiser’s task was starting to get easier as the optimistic view they had been pushing all along was beginning take form in reality. Instead of “Closing up shop,” businesses opted to advertise “We do our part,” and The New Deal became a beacon of hope as buyers and sellers alike began to see the light at the end of the dark, dreary tunnel.


As the economic situation remained dire, Raymond citizens pinned their hopes on the newly elected President, Franklin Roosevelt. Two days before he took office, the Advertiser displayed its confidence in him on the front page of their paper. Words printed below his likeness stated, “…May it be the beginning of a new era of Prosperity… of progress toward a brighter future than our wonderful country has ever known.”

The Great Depression affected the entire nation, whether big city or rural farm, industrial hub or agricultural center. When the impacts of the stock market crash reached the Pacific Northwest, the industries that built the region, including timber and wood products, experienced an unprecedented decline. Communities throughout Washington State, even those that had boomed during the 1920’s like Raymond, suffered from high unemployment and poverty. Yet, despite this adversity, the Raymond Advertiser strove to emphasis the positive aspects of life and business in Pacific County, thereby keeping the spirits and the confidence of its readers as high as possible. By the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election, the Advertiser had done all it could to convince local residents that good times would return. It was a commendable effort, and one can only speculate as to what might have happened to Raymond had there not been such a constant advocate for hope like the Advertiser. The city of Raymond has never returned to the same level of population or industry as it enjoyed before the Great Depression, but it is certainly reasonable to speculate that things could have turned out a lot worse without the paper.

 



[1] Jennifer Ott, “Raymond – Thumbnail History,” Historylink.org, September 28, 2010, http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=9590

[2]  “Raymond,” Willapa Harbor Chamber & Visitor Kiosk, accessed February 28, 2012, http://willapaharbor.org/raymond/

[3]  “Vote Yes! For Port Dock,” Raymond Advertiser, December 5, 1929, p. 7.

[4] Raymond Advertiser, December 26, 1929.

[5] Hoover Cartoon, Raymond Advertiser, December 5, 1929, p. 7.

[6] “Mining in 1930” and “Washington Farm Situation Explained,” Raymond Advertiser, January 16, 1930, p. 4.

[7]  “The Paraffine Companies, Inc. Sends Message of Cheer,” Raymond Advertiser, January 16, 1930, p. 6.

[8]  “A Glimpse of Willapa Harbor’s New Port Dock,” Raymond Advertiser, January 1, 1931, p. 8.

[9]  “Saving and Loan Growth is Shown,” Raymond Advertiser, January 8, 1931, p.1.

[10]  “Prosperity’s Back,” Raymond Advertiser, January 8, 1931, p. 1.

[11]  “Cash Bazaar – Quitting,” Raymond Advertiser, January 8, 1931, p. 9

[12]  “Nis Abrahamson’s,” Raymond Advertiser, January 8, 1931, p. 11.

[13] “The Lumber Industry,” Raymond Advertiser, January 15, 1931, p. 2.

[14]  “Farm Loan Assn. Holds Meeting,” Raymond Advertiser, January 15, 1931, p.1.

[15]   “Pioneers Optimistic,” Raymond Advertiser, January 22, 1931, p. 2.

[16]  “Governor Vetoes Many Bills,” Raymond Advertiser, March 26, 1931, p.1.

[17] “Basil’s Quitting Business,” Raymond Advertiser, March 26, 1931, p. 12.

[18]  “Holders Approve Merger,” Raymond Advertiser, June 4, 1931, front page; Jennifer Ott, “South Bend – Thumbnail History,” Historylink.org, September 26, 2010, http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=9589

[19] “Raymond Bootery Quits!” Raymond Advertiser, June 25, 1931, p. 6.

[20] “Roosevelt to Assume Office,” Raymond Advertiser, March 2, 1933, p.1.

[21] “Let’s Go,” Raymond Advertiser, October 5, 1933, p. 3.

[22] “We Do Our Part,” History Matters, accessed February 10, 2011, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6697/