Historical Review of Sawmills in Alabama, Focusing on the Consolidation of Sawmills and the Effects on Employment


Beau Brodbeck






Sawmills in Alabama have evolved over the past century into a primarily highly mechanized systems.  Sawmills that at one time were small operations that dotted the state of Alabama have evolved into large highly mechanized mills that draw upon a vast land base and require fewer employees.  The concept of a small locally owned sawmill run by a family that provide lumber to the local economy has all but vanished.  Sawmills like most aspects of the lumber industry in the United States have changed and grown into large capital-intensive operations that have forced many of the smaller less competitive mills out of business.  To survive in today’s economy, sawmills have had to become larger and more competitive on the world market.  The process of achieving this economical stability has caused the consolidation or decrease in the number of sawmills in Alabama.


Sawmill consolidation has had numerous negative social impacts on communities dependent on the lumber industry.   In many cases small landowners are left without a timber market for their products.  As small sawmills are no longer competitive and are declining, and employment they generate has steadily decreased.  The consolidation of the sawmilling industry has been a historical process, which has been influenced by greater economic and technological trends.  The social impacts of sawmill consolidation have been substantial especially in the rural counties of Alabama where timber is an integral part of the local economy. 


This paper will outline the importance of sawmills and the lumber industry as a whole in Alabama today, as well as compare the trend of sawmill consolidation with similar trends evident in agriculture.  The paper will follow the lumber industry and sawmills in particular through the history and development of the lumber industry in the United States.  The technological changes and the differences in sawmills will be discussed as well as their impact on employment and sawmill consolidation.  The paper will focus on the census data documenting the changes in the number of sawmills, people employed in sawmills, and the mill output, emphasizing the ongoing consolidation in an increasingly production-oriented industry.  The paper will conclude with the social impacts the consolidation of sawmills has had on local communities and society as a whole.


Importance of the Lumber Industry in Alabama


                Timber production is one of the most important industries in the State of Alabama. The importance of the timber industry as an agricultural commodity in Alabama is second only to the broiler industry (AL Forestry Commission, 2002).  In 2002 the timber industry employed 64,500 people with a payroll of over 2 billion dollars (AL Forestry Commission 2002). Timber manufacturing by some accounts is the leading manufacturing industry in Alabama, contributing in 1999 for $4.3 billion in value added, and $10.7 billion in value of shipments (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999).  Additionally timber manufacturing accounted for 18 percent of the total manufacturing in Alabama (AL Forestry Commission 2002).  The South produced 14.7 billion board feet of lumber or 44 percent of the all softwood lumber in the United States and Alabama contributed roughly 1.9 billion board feet in 2002 (AL Forestry Commission 2002). 


Lumber Industry Shift from West to South


The lumber industry, while having moved the majority of its production to the Pacific North West in the 1920’s, continued operating in Alabama.  The South’s lumber production has steadily increased since the 1970’s (AL Forestry Commission, 2002), while the Pacific Northwest has declined from 24.8 percent in 1952 to 16 percent of the lumber produced in the United States in 1997 (Prestemon, Abt, Pg. 299, 306).  The declining harvests in National forests have added to the shift in the lumber industry to the South (Prestemon, Abt).  Harvests in National forests have declined from 17.5 percent of the total harvests in the U.S. in 1964 to 3.5 percent in 1998 (Prestemon, Abt, Pg. 305).  Total harvests have decline in the United States with the exception of the South; the most noticeable change was in the Pacific Northwest where total average harvests went from 5.8 percent in 1950 to 0.7 percent in 1998 (see figure 3)(Prestemon, Abt, Pg 305).  


The move back to the South and Alabama in particular has partially occurred because of environmental movements and government’s policies regarding the protection of old growth forests and endangered species (Prestemon, Abt, Pg. 305).  The protection of old growth Redwood and Sequoia forests and the movement to protect the Spotted Owl pressured the industry to stop harvesting in National Forests.  Additionally environmental pressures from the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, and various other environmental organizations, would cause an increased shift of production on private lands.  The pressures in the West forced a shift to the South were the industry was on the rise.


                The reforestation of private lands in Alabama was put into action due to a declining agriculture industry and a concern for the dilapidated environment.  During the Great Depression farmers abandoned or lost their farms, allowing the land to return to forest. Following World War II farms continued to decrease, and in the 1950’s farmland declined further by 20 percent, adding to the land returning to forest (Sternitzke).  Programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, and Soil Bank Program in the 1950’s and 1960’s helped plant back thousand of acres of old abandoned farms in Alabama (Healy). More recent programs like Conservation Reserve Program or CRP and county and state reforestation incentives, have continued to reforest old farmland up to present day, adding to the once dilapidated forest resources of Alabama. Consequently Alabama’s forestland has steadily grown since the 1930’s and more recently by one million acres between 1990 and 2002 to reach 22.9 million acres (AL, Forestry Commission, 2002).  Where once Alabama’s forests had all but disappeared due to farming and the cut-out-and-get-out logging operations, it began to regenerate due to a declining farming industry (Healy).


                Alabama like it had been 100 years in the past had become a favorable place for the lumber industry once again.  It had renewed its forests and still had one of the most extensive water resource bases in the country.  Labor remained rural and cheap (Abt, Winter, Huggett, Pg, 289), and the introduction of technology to agriculture in the 1950’s and 1960’s left many rural Americans seeking jobs in an era turning to the machine (Alabama, State History).  Additionally landownership was in the hands of private owners unlike the Western part of the country where over 80 percent of the land is federally owned (Sternitzke).  Alabama boasts 70 percent of its commercial forestland in the hands of private citizens, reducing federal regulations and interference (AL Forestry Commission, 2002).


In addition to the regenerating forests, desirable private land ownership, labor, and water, Alabama unlike the North West has a long, near year round growing season, exceeding 220 days (Bliss, Bailey pg. 5).  The soils are rich, and the terrain is easily accessible, making Alabama ideal for logging, as it had been in the past.  Alabama can grow pulpwood and sawtimber at a greater rate than most North Western forests where short growing seasons, rocky soil, and high elevations reduce tree-growing capacities. Alabama presented a profitable package to industries looking to the future and again were accepting and ready to embrace the full burnt of the lumber industry.


Impact of Technology on American Farmers


                The Consolidation of the sawmilling industry has paralleled the trends that have occurred in agriculture in the South.  Agriculture and the right to own land are some of the oldest traditions of American life.  Early pioneer farmed 30 to 40 acres, which during early subsistence farming was the most a single family could farm, using the primitive tools available (Healy).  Subsistence farming allowed early Americans to provide for themselves what was necessary for survival during a time when a person’s own initiative provided the only source of food.  Subsistence agriculture prospered in early American life, and while seldom being easy, it allowed freedom.  However this type of farming changed, technology, government institutions, and the push to commercialize the farming industry would cause farming to develop into an industry run by the biggest, capital-intensive producers.


                The Homestead Act of 1862 opened farming opportunities to every man by allowing farmers to own and farm federal land (Browne).  Farming became a source of income that any man willing to farm could venture into (Browne).  Additionally it originally required few capital investments, technology was minimal and the land was mostly free.  Early farmers, farmed even the most unproductive sites in the South, due to the growing population and the lack of outside economic opportunities (Healy). The failure rate was high and the government responded by providing farmers with institutions like the USDA, Extension Service, and the Land Grant Colleges to help farmers succeed, and become producers in a developing nation (Browne). 


The 1930’s introduced mechanization to the farming industry, which swept the nation, pushing thousand of farmers out of business (Healy).  The institutions originally created to educate and disseminate technology to farmers, forced a change from subsistence to capital intensive, technologically advance farming (Browne).  The results were a consolidation and decrease of the farming industry, where only the largest highest producing farmers remained (Browne).  The small less productive farmers fell behind and increasingly lost their farms to the ever-growing capital-intensive production farmers (Browne). 


Additionally technology allowed higher production on less land creating super-farms, where more food was available at a cheaper price (Browne).  The ever-increasing production lowered prices, thus forcing large farmers to produce more to cover overhead and expenses, therefore continuously depressing the price through overproduction, the cycle was vicious.  The decline in cotton and other traditional crops in the South were substantial, in part due to poor soils in the northern areas of the State, the bole weevil infestations, and the government’s favoring of high production farmers (Healey, Hightower).  Farms consolidated and technology allowed more to be farmed on less land (Hightower).  Cotton fell from its peak of 23 million acres in the 1920s to 2.9 million in 1982, and corn like cotton fell from 24 million acres in 1929 to 7.4 million acres in 1982 (Healy Pg. 25-26). 


                The need for labor also declined with the consolidation and movement of agriculture out of the South.  Cotton, even as late as the 1940’s required 98 man hours per acre to plant, weed, fertilize and harvest the crop (Healy Pg. 27).  This meant plenty of opportunities for farm laborers, but the introduction of mechanization caused the man-hours for one acre of cotton to drop to 6, by the 1970’s (Healy, Pg. 27).  The use of tractors reduced jobs for rural Americans forcing a mass migration to urban cities (Healy).  Those that remained had “little more comfort than “adapt or die”” (Hightower, Pg. 5).  Wendell Berry states “If mechanization has been a boon to agribusiness, its has been a bane to millions of rural Americans.  Farmworkers have been the earliest victims.  There were 4.3 million workers in 1950.  Twenty years later that number had fallen to 3.5 million.” (Berry, Pg. 150).  Farmers were forced to enlarge their farms by whatever means necessary to survive, be it renting or buying.  This meant large capital investments for land and technology, such as tractors, genetically enhanced seeds, and modern irrigation systems (Healy).  Those that could not change disappeared from the farming business.  Merle C. Prunty best summarizes agriculture in the South in writing;  The contrast between farming systems of the 1930s and those of the 1970s in the South are perhaps the greatest, the most distinctive, that can be drawn in any American region during that time-span.  With few exceptions, the region’s agriculture now is wholly mechanized and capital intensive.  What cannot be done with machines is rarely done.” (Healy, Pg. 30)


                The American farm has changed, family run farms making a “good ole’ living” are part of a past American tradition.  The land grand colleges, and government agencies sealed the rural farmers fate, by pushing technology to make all aspects of American farming more efficient, more productive, and more cost effective.  “Since 1940, more than 3 million farms have folded, and farms continue to fold at a rate of 2,000 per week.” (Hightower, Pg. 2)


                The Lumber industry like the farming industry has changed from an early colonial system of subsistence to a modern system of improved technology, and maximized capital gains.  Sawmills like farming have evolved into large technological, highly efficient mills that require large inputs of timber and have developed to the point of excluding the small woodland owner by increasing the size and production constraints of logging operations.  Additionally like in farming, the larger more productive mills drove the price of wood down so far, that small local sawmills were forced to shut down.  To fully understand the situation of the sawmilling industry in Alabama and the process of consolidation and increased technology, the reader must look to the origins and the history of the lumber industry in America.


Early History of Sawmills and the Lumber Industry


Sawmills according to Michael Williams were the first local industries established in “semisubsistence economies of the newly settled areas”(Williams, Pg 95).  Sawmills located in the early colonies were often very small and run by individual farmers or families.  They required little labor, often only two men, but were vastly important to the survival of the communities.  As Michael Williams writes “Because the sawmill was so essential to pioneer life, towns made grants and townsfolk held shares in what was, in reality, a cooperative enterprise.” (Williams, Pg. 95). These early sawmills served the community and were an essential to pioneer farmers in rural America, where supplies and all facets of life were handmade.


Timber production in the Eastern United States prior to 1810 was in an infant stage, and production was far from efficient (Williams).  Michael Williams writes about his era in saying:

“…the scale of operations was small.  Tools were crude and hand-forged, production was restricted, distribution haphazard, and the market local.  There was little competition and little incentive to initiate change.  Simply, timber getting was still an adjunct to agriculture settlement, and the timber cut was mainly the by-product of the land clearing and the concern of a multitude of small mills that dotted the country to serve the agricultural population.” (Williams, Pg. 163)


                The census data of 1840 illustrates this point by contrasting the number of mills in relation to people employed by the industry.  There were 31,649 sawmills in the United States but only 22,042 employees on record working in the sawmilling industry (Williams).  This according to Williams illustrates the fact that most mills at this time were very small, possibly operated by one person and on a part time basis by local farmers.  The lumber industry was still very much a facet of agriculture.


The sawmill industry began to change during the 1850’s and 1860’s (Williams).  As the country developed the lumber industry began to change from one and two man operations to large industrialized operations employing 20 to 100 men (Williams).  Williams explains that there were four technological and social changes, which developed the industry that moved across the country.  The first were the technological advancements in saws, machinery, and the introduction of the steam engine.  The second was the development of “local transportation” (Williams pg.167) with the use of the log drive.  The third was the development of a national transportation system connecting areas with timber surplus and those with timber demand (Williams Pg. 167).  The fourth and last reason was the “development of wholesale centers at focal points in the transport system, which held together a multitude of movements between forests and markets” (Williams Pg. 167).  The changes in available technology, transportation systems, and local and nation wide markets enabled lumber production to change into an industry that would eventually consume the vast wood supplies of North America.


Early loggers and sawmill owners cut forests with little thought to future timber production and the environment, and were thus forced to follow the timber supply from the East to the West and South.  These early years of the lumber industry are commonly referred to as the “cut-out-and-get-out” era (Williams, Nassey).  Sawmilling began in the eastern colonies and crept west in search of plentiful timber supplies.  In 1839, New York was the leader in timber production, accounting for 30 percent of all lumber produced (Williams, Pg 161).  Additionally the surrounding areas of Maine, Pennsylvania and New England accounted for another 33 percent, thus forming 63 percent of the total wood production (Williams, Pg 161).  The East led timber production until 1860 when the industry was forced to move due to a depleted timber resource (Williams).


                Increasing lumber demand led to a shift in the timber industry to the Lake States of Michigan and Wisconsin (Williams). Between 1869 and 1889 timber production in Michigan was five times that of New York, timber was ruthlessly cut with no consideration to future or the environment (Williams).  By 1870 the Lake States were in full production and by the early 1880’s the sawmill owners were already looking for future timber supplies due to the rapidly declining timber resources (Nassey). Timber resources in the Lake States were almost completely depleted by 1900, during which time the industry shifted to the Southern United States (Williams).


                The shift of timber production to the South was much like the shift that had occurred 30 years before from the East to the Lake States.  The assault on Southern forests was now far more advanced, as technology in the sawmills and logging operations was more efficient and capable of producing more saw timber.  The production of saw timber in the South went from 1.6 billion board feet in 1880 to an estimated 15.4 billion board feet in 1920 (Williams, Pg. 238).  New technology was immediately applied to southern sawmills; the use of steam engines and circular saws replaced the old waterwheel sawmills often working in unison with gristmills. 


                Alabama like most of the South was seeking industry and was lobbing to make the southern forests available to the lumber industry moving out of the Lake States.  Richard Nassey writes “ In the 1880’s all the ingredients for a prosperous business seemed to be at hand – abundant natural resources, cheap and plentiful labor, and a rising demand for the product” (Nassey, Pg 174).  The South’s land ownership patterns were also favorable to the lumber industry.  The South allowed for the purchase and consolidation of millions of acres into private ownership (Williams).  William explains how the South had allowed 925 people to own 336.3 billion board feet of timber or half of the existing timber in the South, that is 925 individuals owned 46.6 million acres (Williams).  These factors combined to make the South the next big timber production center.


                Early competition in the sawmilling industry kept prices down.  Sawmills ranged from large to small “peckerwood” mills (Nassey).  The investment in sawmills ranged from over one million dollars to a few thousand dollars, for the small portable sawmills (Nassey).  Like in agriculture entry into the sawmilling industry was easy at this period in time, but the lack of education and money forced producers to sell their outputs immediately, regardless of price (Nassey).  This like in agriculture forced an overproduction which, suppressed timber prices and kept competition and the rate of failure high (Nassey).  This was the era of the small lumbermen; numerous markets and an endless timber resource in an undeveloped region favored the small producer.  The success of these small operations would later suffer from further advances in technology, and the development of the region and the transportation systems.


                The South reached its maximum timber production in 1920 at which time the Pacific Northwest became the leader (Williams).  Timber production began in the Pacific North West in 1900 and by 1920 had almost matched the timber production of the South (Williams).  The Pacific North West was estimated to contain roughly one half to two thirds of the remaining forests in the United States, making them the last frontier for unexploited timber production (Williams).  However, the lumber industry exploited the Pacific North West like it had the East, Lake States, and the South.  It was not until the 1940s that practices began to change and more care was taken to protect the environment (Williams).  The industry remained concentrated in the West until the environmental movements of the 1970s began to force the industry to relocate.


                The shifts in the locations of natural resources combined with the changes in technology continually changed the face of the lumber industry.  The industry follows very closely with the initial settling and pioneer movements.  Sawmills changed from small one to two man operations located in numbers of up to 25 per county in the early colonial America, to large highly industrial mills which have consolidated to a mere 4,403 in the entire United States in 1997(Census, 1997).  The technological changes of sawmills were a key factor and an important part of the process of sawmill consolidation.


Changes in Sawmill technology


The early mills were primitive and logs were cut using two man teams who practiced the pit-sawing method (Williams).  This method involved, first squaring the logs using axes and then placing the log over the pit, where two men one above and one below would laboriously hand saw boards (Nassey).  A hard days work would yield anywhere from 100-200 board feet of sawn lumber (Nassey).  This technique while being considered primitive was used in the south almost exclusively until the Civil War (Nassey).  The relatively low demand for wood and the community markets allowed for this primitive method to succeed (Nassey).  The method had a low site impact and was environmentally friendly, only selective trees were cut (Nassey, Williams).


                The placement of mills near water became essential as the use of the water wheel became more common.  This new system called a Muley saw consisted of a single saw attached to a waterwheel from which it derived its power (Nassey).  The use of the waterwheel revolutionized sawmilling.  This system was capable of sawing 8000 board feet a day (Williams), and was often used in conjunction with gristmills (Nassey).  The use of this method required less labor, and was capable of supplying a greater amount of wood for growing communities demanding lumber.  Additionally it created few pollutants and still cut a relatively limited amount of wood having a limited impact on forests.


                The greatest improvement in technology for sawmills occurred with the introduction of the circular saw (Nassey).  It was invented in England in the early 1800’s, but was not installed in Alabama mills until the 1880s, and was used extensively throughout the state (Nassey).  The introduction of the steam engine into sawmilling operations in 1830 further increased output and timber production, although the steam engine did not replace the water wheel on a large scale until the 1880s (Williams).  The new circular saws were capable of sawing 40,000 board feet of lumber in one day, far exceeding anything done before (Williams).  The introduction of this new technology was immediately implemented in Alabama during the move of the lumber industry from the Lake States to the South (Nassey). 


The circular saw was used in Alabama up to World War I, when the introduction of the band saw replaced it (Nassey).  The band saw was more efficient and was introduced primarily to the larger sawmills in Alabama (Nassey).  The band saw consists of a long ribbon like saw, which revolves around two large wheels, much like a belt.  The band saw’s advantages over the circular saw were reduced saw kerf or wasted wood and higher sawing speed.  Production with the band saw rose to 75,000 board feet (Williams, Pg. 261). 


Additional technology has been added to modern sawmills to further improve their outputs and production.  Most mills today still use variations of the band saw technology, and the larger mills have fully mechanized the production process, requiring less labor and higher output requirements to maintain production. Mills have strived to increase efficient output, while reducing maintenance and labor costs (Sternitzke, Pg. 9).  The lumber industry in general has increased the efficiency of wood use by 41 percent between 1952 and 1998, which has in part reduced the timber output over the past few years (Prestemon, Abt, Pg. 305).


The cut-out-and-get-out era of the lumber industry was the “hay day” for the sawmilling industry.  Small operations remained common even throughout the technological advancements of the cut-out-and-get-out era. The advantages for small to medium size mills were greater during this time, for the amount of lumber wasted during sawing in using the primitive techniques, was great (Nassey).  Even circular saws wasted a lot of wood, so it made sense to locate more, smaller mills closer to the wood supply to reduce freight (Nassey, Pg. 175).  This helped many of the smaller sawmilling operations compete with the larger mills.  However the improvements in technology allowed for higher efficiency and minimal losses of the product due to poor sawing techniques.  The band saw for example allowed for less saw kerf while increasing the speed of production (Nassey, Williams). 


Consolidation of the Sawmill Industry in Alabama


                The consolidation of the sawmilling industry like the consolidation of agriculture began with changes in technology.  Sawmills, like in agriculture where farming went from “…sticks as hoes to sharp steel plows and then to tractors.” changed from pit sawing to modern high production band saws (Browne, Pg. 40).  The initial subsistence farming and the early years of sawmilling, as an integral part of subsistence communities, have both changed into capital intensive, production-maximizing industries.  The impacts of technology have not only decreased the number of sawmills but have also replaced machines with manpower.  Where labor was once an important asset and necessity in early sawmills, it has been replaced with the modern machine.


Sawmills in Alabama prior to the increased production experienced during the cut-out-and-get-out lumber operations were few, numbering 284 in 1870, and were primarily local operations (Manufacturing Census, 1870).  In 1880 Alabama had 384 reporting sawmills that were sawing 251,851 thousand board feet (Manufacturing Census 1880).  These mills were more than likely subsistence farmer community type mills with a few larger mills starting to move into the area.  In Alabama employment and the number of sawmills have decreased, while boasting an overall constant timber production output, leading to the notion of consolidation. Employment in Alabama has decreased in sawmills from 16,034 in 1920 to only 5,055 in 1997 (See Figure 1) (Census of Manufacturing, 1920, 1997). 


The number of sawmills has decreased in Alabama from an all time high in 1920 of 1,926 sawmills to 138 in 1997 (See Figure 2) (Census of Manufacturing, 1920, 1997).  Output has not followed the declining trend, but has remained roughly constant from its estimated output in 1920 of 1.8 billion board feet to 1.9 billion board feet in 2002 (Census of Manufacturing, 1920; AL Forestry Commission).  The consolidation of the lumber or sawmilling industry becomes evident as employment and sawmills continue to decline while larger more productive mills producing the same output with less labor, thrive.  The significant changes in timber production are replicated across the timber producing regions of the Nation, lending significance across timber dependent regions of rural America.


Social Impacts


Timber dependent counties as described by Conner Bailey and John Bliss are counties in “which 25% or more of manufacturing employment is in forest-based industries” (Bliss, Bailey pg. 5).  Counties such as these are found in many areas of Alabama, where the forest products industry provides one of the most important source of rural employment (Bliss, Bailey 2001).  These counties suffer the most when forest industry consolidation leads to fewer opportunities, for there are few if any alternative industries to support declining jobs in these counties.  Cottrell in “Death by Dieselization” raises the question of “just who pays” for the changes in the local economy, when technology replaces the need for the community or the labor? (Cottrell). 


Initially the local communities pay; the merchants, bondholders, churches, and homeowners are often the segments of the community who suffer (Cottrell). Out migration of the younger and more mobile sector of the population abandon the declining communities and move to prospering urban centers (Cottrell; Bailey, Bliss 2001).  However, the older population with extensive experience in a declining trade (i.e. mule logging, outdated sawmilling laborers) are less flexible and likely to move, and are often victims of persistent poverty in declining communities (Bliss, Bailey, 2001; Cottrell).    As out migration becomes more evident, and money more scarce, the local merchants, churches and bondholders find limited business and are often forced to close (Bliss, Bailey 2001; Cottrell). 


Additionally, community services such as education begin to decline with the out migration of the younger and more capable community members, adding to the problem of community growth and persistent poverty.  These trends are not restricted to only timber dependent communities, but any community that depends on a single industry.   Communities such as these become ghost towns, when the sawmill closes and the need for the community disappears, for there is nothing left to support the community (Bliss, Bailey 2001).


Land in many timber dependent counties of Alabama contrary to the nationwide phenomena of land parcelization or fragmentation has become consolidated (much like the sawmills) into larger blocks (Bliss, Sisock, Birch 1998). “The Share of Alabama’s private forestland held by the largest 1% of owners grew from 51% in 1978 to 58% in 1993” (Bliss, Sisock, Birch 1998 pg. 404).  Most forest owners in Alabama own less than 10 acres each, while most of the timberland is in tracts greater than 100 acres (Bliss, Sisock, Birch 1998). 


The technology used for harvesting timber is increasingly becoming too costly to operate on tracts under 50 acres and impossible on tracks under 20 acres (Greene, Harris, 1997).  The options available to small land owners have largely disappeared with the loss of shortwooders, mule loggers, and small more manual labor oriented operations needed to make these smaller tracks profitable (Greene, Harrris 1997; Toms, 2001).  These types of operations existed at one time, when smaller sawmills were more prevalent.


A large portion of timberland owners in timber dependent counties where land consolidation is most evident have a limited or declining market.  The 8% of Forest owners who own 80% (Bliss, Sisock, Birch 1998) of forestland are the representative population that succeed in timber dependent counties in Alabama, while the vast majority or 92% of small landowners derive no benefits.  The impacts of the lumber industry’s consolidation have affected communities by consolidating timberland into larger blocks.  Small landowners find few opportunities to sell timber as scale-appropriate loggers and secondary industries continue to decline.  However, the consolidating timberland continues to provide lumber to mills, the need for high production loggers, and income to a small select population.  The persistence of poverty in these timber dependent communities continus as not only jobs, and small sawmilling operations disappear, but the opportunities for timberland owners as well.


Timber dependent communities and counties have paid the price for technology, and forest industry consolidation, but as Cottrell asks, “who benefits?” (Cottrell).  According to Cottrell “Defense of our traditional system of assessing the costs of technological change is made on the theory that the costs of such change are more than offset by the benefits to “society as a whole”” (Cottrell, pg. 363).  The advancement in sawmills has had many positive impacts on society as a whole.  The changes in technology from sawpits to band saws, and the development of transportation systems and wholesale centers has allowed lumber to be readily available to American consumers.  The subsistence system or the underdeveloped sawmilling techniques of the previous century could not have provided the lumber needed for the overall booming American economy.  To allow for the success of the “whole” portions of American society paid the price of success (Cottrell).  While employment has declined, sawmills continue to provide some of the only sources of employment in some rural timber dependent counties (Bailey, Bliss 2001).  Additionally worker safety has increased, and the environments the modern sawmill workers labor under are far beyond that of mill workers of the previous century (Nassey).




Specifically the impacts of sawmill consolidation on rural communities affect not only the laborers, the loggers and small sawmill owners, who are left behind, but also the landowners or timber growers.  The need for management options for landowners, especially small landowners are growing.  As the timber industry continues to grow and the economic constraints of not only sawmills but of loggers increase, landowners are forced into clearcuts or limited types of selective cuttings increasingly becoming rare (Greene, Harris, 1997).  The developments of a forestry market with applicable scale-appropriate systems have not been largely developed (DeCoster 1998) since the decline of such systems during the consolidation of sawmills.


The fragmentation of private property and the growing size and production constraints of logging crews and sawmills have left many landowners without a market.  The need for scale appropriate logging equipment and processing mechanisms along with a viable market are needed.  As was illustrated in this paper sawmills in Alabama have experienced a consolidation process, which has reduced employment and scale appropriate mechanisms.  The introduction of capital intensive technology has industrialized the process of timber production to the point of excluding many small-scale producers and small non-industrial private landowners.  The need today is to reverse the process of sawmill consolidation and look back at the large segment of the population that has been left behind and create not only scale-appropriate systems but a market for local producers.


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Research” (pg.21-50).


Lamb, Sara.  Sawmills Fall Like so Much Timber in Southern States, Mobile Press

Register (AL, Feb. 29, 1996).  Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News,  Mobile, AL.


Nassey W. R. A. History of the Lumber Industry in Alabama and West Florida, 1880

1914, Nashville, Tennessee, 1960 (174, 175, 181)


Prestemon J. P., Abt C. R.  Southern Forest Resource Assessment, Timber Products

Supply and Demand, Southern Research Station, Asheville, NC, 2002 (Pg. 304-306)


Simon, Bryant. 1991.  “Choosing Between the Ham and the Union: Paternalism in the          

Cone Mills of Greensboro, 1925-1930.” Pp.81-100 in Jeffrey Leiter, Michael Schulman, and Rhonda Zingraff (eds.) Hanging by a Thread; Social Changes in Southern Textiles.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press. (Pp. 81, 91


Sternitzke, Herbert S.  Alabama Forests, 1963.  New Orleans, LA.  U.S. Department of

Agriculture, Forest Service: Southern Forest Experiment Station. (pg. 9)


Toms, Christopher, W.  1999.  Whoa, Mule: Animal-powered logging in Alabama at the

end of the Twentieth Century.  Auburn University. Auburn, AL.


Williams, Michael. 1989.  Americans and their Forests.  Cambridge.:  Cambridge

University Press. (pg. 10, 95, 161, 163, 167, 238, 261)



Census Data


U.S. Census Bureau.  Census of Manufactures, Geographic Series 1997, 1992, 1987,



Bureau of the Census.  Census of Manufactures, Alabama, 1977, 1967, 1963


United States Census of Manufactures, Vol. II, Part 1, 1958


United States Census of Manufactures, Vol. III, Area Statistics, 1954.  Washington D.C.:

U.S. Government Printing Office.



Census of Manufactures Reports, Industry Division, 1947.  Washington D.C., U.S.

Government Printing Office. (pg. 4-5)


Fourteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1920, Vol. 10, Manufactures

1919 Reports for Selected Industries.  1923, Washington Government Printing Office. (pg. 425, 437, 439)


Thirteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1910, Vol. 10.

Manufactures 1909 Report for Principle Industries.  Washington D.C.: Washington Government Printing Office. (pg. 491-504)


Twelfth Census of the United States, Taken in the Year 1900.  Vol. 9.  Manufactures Part

III Special Reports on Selected Industries.  Washington D.C.:  Washington United States Census Office 1902.


Bureau of the Census.  Manufactures 1905 Part III Special Reports on the Selected

Industries.  Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1908.


Department of the Interior Census Office.  Report on Manufacturing Industries in the

United States at the Eleventh Census:  1890.  Washington D.C.:  Government Printing Office. 1895.


Sargen, Charles S.  Department of the Interior Census Office.  Report on the Forests of

North America (Exclusive of Mexico): Special Agent Tenth Census.  Washington D.C.:  Government Printing Press.

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