5. Hop Center of the World

From: Hoptopia

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72 in one of the early surprises of the Pacific Northwest hop industry , Ezra Meeker’s fortunes came crashing down in the late 1890s. Whereas many credited hop-aphid infestations as the culprit of his demise, the depression of the decade was to blame.1 Meeker’s millions earned from the wolf of the willow dwindled in the face of upswings in European production, and scores of small farmers defaulted on loans that he as a middleman extended. By 1897, Meeker abandoned hops and joined the gold rush in the Yukon and Alaska, showing not only that the industry was volatile but also that it attracted those willing to take risks.2 But the hop culture of the Pacific Northwest endured beyond the charisma and expertise of this one man. Emil Clemens Horst, the Seavey family, and other grower-dealers filled his vacuum . So, too, did brewing-industry professionals and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Despite ongoing obstacles, Pacific Northwest hop acreage continued to expand. By 1905, Oregon became the nation’s largest hop producer, with the Willamette Valley cultivating the majority of the state’s acreage.3 Once a speculative undertaking by a handful of enterprising farmers, the plant became Oregon’s most important specialty crop in the first half of the twentieth century. The hop offered an increasingly visible sign of the valley’s agricultural diversity and a marker of how rural commodities linked urban centers and marketing networks near and far. Mostly, small diversified farmers and larger grower-dealers contributed to the expansion of hop farming, but they were not the only players in the industry. In Mount Angel, Oregon, for example, the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey made good money in raising hops beginning in the late nineteenth century.4 While growers would face new challenges, the Willamette Valley’s hop industry increased production f i v e Hop Center of the World Hop Center of the World • 73 year after year. In the opening decade of the twentieth century, boosters proclaimed the region the “Hop Center of the World,” a title long held by Bavaria, Germany.5 By decade’s end, Oregon averaged approximately twenty thousand acres of hops harvested each year, contributing millions of pounds to local brewers and others around the world.6 Constantly on the agenda of expansion and the search for recognition lay a series of questions: How might the regional hop industry work to better produce and market the crop, reduce the risk of market fluctuations, and overcome international stigmas? the great extravaganza In the same year that Oregon claimed the title as the nation’s largest hop producer, the state’s growers saw a tremendous opportunity. The city of Portland announced its debut as an international economic and cultural center by hosting its first and only world’s fair, marking the one-hundredth anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest. The “Great Extravaganza,” as many dubbed it, provided an invaluable opportunity to display Oregon’s bounty—goods produced and processed in the state and shipped from Portland. Organizers sought to highlight the state’s diverse products and market Oregon goods as a brand name, taking a page from California agriculturalists and entrepreneurs.7 When Oregon business leaders considered the world’s fair, they thought deeply about how to promote the products of their state. Decades prior to the turn of the century, Oregonians contributed to the global marketplace, with timber, wheat, and salmon leading the way.8 But the state’s leaders felt slighted during the previous year’s fair in St. Louis, where organizers allotted little room for Oregon’s display. Topping the list of complaints, one representative noted that “[t]he Oregon exhibits were placed in various exposition buildings at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition” and “the State did not receive from these exhibits the amount of good that it should.” To rectify this slight, organizers of the Portland event decided to feature the wide range of the state’s accomplishments “under the roof of Oregon’s own State building .”9 Situated near the fair entrance, the Oregon Building would house exhibits from each of the state’s counties to showcase their exceptional contributions to the world. More pointedly, as one historian notes, “[t]he exhibits and activities elaborated on the theme: Oregon had grown by harvesting its natural bounty from forests, fields, and rivers for national and 74 • chapter five international markets. In the coming decades, Oregonians hoped to...


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