The Unique Uses of Wood in History

Wood was a huge deal throughout the 19th century and played an instrumental role in the development of the lumber industry, which ultimately brought labor, investments, immigration, and urbanization. The industry weathered many changes as a result of price inflation that occurred in the 19th century and when steel replaced the use of wood in shipbuilding in the 1840’s but despite these ups and downs, wood still remains a readily-available natural material that continues to play an essential role in farming, infrastructure, industrial, and engineering.

Throughout human history and as early Paleolithic times, timber was one of the important materials used for building homes and for the manufacture of tools, weapons, as well as furniture, machines, mills, carts, buckets,  not to mention shoes and water barrels among others. Logging practices began many centuries ago, and remnants historically played a key role both as a fuel, raw materials, and sleds of wood made for transportation vessels, which is when wheels were invented in 3-4000 BC and led to the development of carts.

Wood has been one of the most versatile and useful materials for thousands of years, in fact, in the 19th century in North America, it was the primary source of energy used for fuel in railroad construction as well as for bridges, log cabins, to name a few. Of course, the style and durability of structures built back in the day relied heavily on the type and quality of timber, its availability and the conditions of use. When you look at the architecture of the early colonists from Europe, you will see that wood was predominantly used in their homestead construction. And today in areas where timber supply is plentiful in many parts of the world, this material remains dominant in the creation of classic furniture pieces and has even found its place in the artistic, cultural and technical development of modern society.

Before the introduction of “technology” such as the crosscut saw, railway, tractor, steam-powered donkey engine, timber axes and manpower drove the lumber industry, which made life laborious for 19th century loggers who worked from dawn till dusk in a hard, seasonal, and dangerous occupation that meant contending with falling trees, falling out of them, rolling logs, and saw accidents. Living conditions in lumber camps were basic, especially during the winter months when trees needed to be felled, collected and transported via rivers to sawmills because cold trees such as birch, oak, elm, and cedar were easier to chop down as their sap had stopped flowing.

What is impressive is that early settlers in the Midwest built their homes using a combination of grass with roots and soil called sod because there was no wood sufficient enough to use. People that live in the northeast of America used maple, fir, pine, walnut, hickory woods and those who lived in a sugar pine forest used pine lumber. This only makes us appreciate wood as one of the oldest and most versatile material to-date.

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