The Camera’s Story of Raftman’s Life on the Wisconsin by photographer H.H. Bennett is a quintessentially American series of mid-western occupational images. By the late 19th century, Wisconsin was one of the premier lumber producing states in the U.S.  Because the Wisconsin River provided easy transport between forests and early settlements, forests along the river were the first to be clear-cut. Rivers were a convenient means to transport pine logs from forests to mills. The mills used huge saws powered by the rivers to cut the logs into boards. Cities such as Stevens Point and Wausau developed around mills. Most of Wisconsin’s major cities were built on rivers.

According to the 1890 U.S. census, more than 23,000 men worked in Wisconsin’s logging industry and another 32,000 worked at the sawmills that turned timber into boards. Each winter, the lumberjacks occupied nearly 450 logging camps. In the spring, they drove their timber downstream to more than 1,000 mills. Logging and lumbering employed a quarter of all Wisconsinites working in the 1890s.

Railroads transformed Wisconsin’s lumber industry at the turn of the 20th century. Transporting lumber by train allowed loggers to work year-round and to cut lumber that was once impossible to float down rivers. Lumber camps were moved into the woods and increased in size. Camps soon featured bunkhouses, kitchens, dining halls, company stores, blacksmiths and carpentry shops.

The soft pine forests of northern and central Wisconsin provided a seemingly endless supply of raw material to urban markets. Wisconsin trees were made into doors, window sashes, furniture, beams and shipping boxes. They were built in lakefront cities such as Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Milwaukee. Wisconsin lumber was used to construct buildings and houses for the Midwest’s growing cities.

This series of 42 Stereoviews is a unique and comprehensive documentation of a logging crew and their various activities. As far as I have been able to determine this is the most complete set of these views extant.


1400. The Pilot.

1401. The Crew.

1403. The Fleet below the dam.

1404. Laying up for wind and drying out.

1405. Pastime, Dick dancing for the boys.

1406. Trip finished. Pulling out the lumber.

1407. Arpin Avenue. Boys turning out of bunks on cook float.

1408. Cook and Cookie before dinner.

1409. Cook and Cookie after dinner.

1410. Pulling in a grub.

1411. Witching up.

1412. Putting in a Yankee.

1413. Working a Spanish Windlass.

1414. Putting in a twister.

1415. Rafting over at foot of the Dells.

1416. Shipping an oar in the Dells.

1417. Shipping an oar. A heavy one.

1418. Putting down a Springpole in the Dells.

1419. Putting down a spring pole–a hard one.

1420. On a sand bar. Working a jack.

1421. On a sand bar. Working a jack.

1422. On a sand bar. Working a jack.

1423. On a sand bar. Setting a jack.

1424. On a sand bar, jack run out. Hold her, boys.

1425. Handspikeing off a bar. A heavy lift.

1426. Putting down the grouzers.

1427. Muscular vigor in action.

1428. Muscular vigor in repose.

1429. Running the Portage bridge.

1430. Taking a drink after a hard pull.

1431. Running the Kilbourn dam. Seen from shore.

1432. Running the Kilbourn dam. On board the raft.

1433. A cold morning.

1434. Breasting an oar–just to steady her.

1435. Dick the skiffman, going ashore with the line.

1436. Taking it easy. Leaving the Dells.

1437. Earning their money.

1438. Making a crossing. Hold her heavy, Pard.

1439. We are broke up–take our line.

1440. Snubbing. Clear that line, quick.

1441. Untitled.

1442. Untitled.

This set has been acquired by the Library of Congress.