AHS Blog  |  49 History

Photos from the International Fur Trade Exhibition, Leipzig, 1930

Date Posted: January 16, 2014       Categories: 49 History
In summer 1930, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Commerce offered a display at the International Fur Trade Exhibition in Leipzig, Germany. Under the banner “America’s Fur Industry Is On a Firm Foundation,” the exhibit featured the following display of fur seals (from the Pribilofs perhaps?):

Credit for all photos: Records of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, RG 22,
Entry P-92, Box 21, National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

The exhibit also highlighted international treaty protections that “saved the seal from extinction”:

The records of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the archival collection in which these photographs are found—are held at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and include documents related to Alaska’s fur seal industry from the late nineteenth century forward. Historians such as Kurkpatrick Dorsey, Sarah Crawford Isto, and John Bockstoce have done great work on this topic in recent years. Works by Lydia Black, Richard Pierce, and James Gibson covered the earlier Russian America period. Despite this attention, there are boxes and boxes of documents at College Park that an enterprising scholar could no doubt mine for a new perspective.

The ‘Tom & Al’

Date Posted: January 13, 2014       Categories: 49 History
By Rebecca Poulson
A number of years ago, a photographer working with the E. W. Merrill collection at Sheldon Jackson College made photographic prints from some of the glass plate negatives; this summer, Sitkan Lynne Chassin donated this print, of the Tom & Al careened on the beach of Sitka Channel, to the Sitka Maritime Heritage Society.
The Tom & Al on the beach at Sitka. (E. W. Merrill)

The location is the beach of what is now Katlian Street in the historic Indian Village of Sitka. In the background is Japonski Island, which at the time was a military reserve. The two large buildings, one of which is still standing today, are for storing coal for government ships, such as the revenue cutters.
This photo was shot some time after 1907, which was when the radio towers visible in the background were constructed.
The Tom & Al is a sort of sister ship to the famous King & Winge, a classic halibut schooner built in 1914 by the West Seattle firm of the same name, owned by Thomas J. King and Albert L. Winge. According to the “King and Winge Shipbuilding Company” page on Wikipedia, the Tom & Al had been built as the Ragnhildin 1900, and later acquired and renamed by the company.

The King & Winge, on the other hand, was a classic, dashing, modern halibut schooner. Her first voyage was an arctic expedition, where she was also used to pick up survivors of the Karluk expedition from Wrangell Island. She was a fishing boat, possibly a rum runner, a Columbia Bar pilot boat for three decades, and finally a fishing boat from 1962 until sinking in the Bering Sea in 1994.

(The Tom & Al was used for a short time as a whaler in the early 1960s, according to the Offbeat Oregon History blog, which also has a good image of the King & Winge.)
The Tom & Al was probably a halibut schooner in this photo. In the heyday of the cod and halibut schooners, the men went out in the dories – flat-bottomed boats we see here were stacked on deck – to fish, and would return to the mother ship with their catch.
It was brutally hard and dangerous work, with fishermen in small boats on the open ocean, vulnerable to fog, storm, and any mishap that might occur when you’re working with hooks, knives, and fish. The yards and the fishery were dominated by Scandinavians, most of them immigrants: Albert Winge was a native of Norway.
Eventually, the schooner itself was used to set and pick up gear, the way it’s still done today: the boat sets out long lines, of lengths of line known as “skates” for the shape of the canvas squares some boats still use to tie up the coils of line. Each has an eye spliced into each end, and they are tied together end to end with sheet bends (or more properly, beckett hitches). This is a knot that you can untie even after it’s been pulled brutally tight. Each end of the ground line gets an anchor, a float line and a float and flag pole to mark it.
Baited hooks are attached to the ground line with gangions (pronounced gan-yun), a word that seems to come from the fact that they are ganged or grouped along the main line. One end is fastened into the ground line, and the other end is attached to the hook. The knot used for the loops on the ends of the gangion, the gangion knot, seems to be unique to this purpose.
Several of the classic halibut schooners, built a century ago as the latest in marine technology, are still actively fishing. These include the Republic, built in 1914, the same year as the King & Winge. She is home ported here in Sitka and looks ready for her next 100 years of service.

The survival of halibut schooners is a testament to the stout construction standards of the yards, and to the value placed on these aesthetic and functional vessels by their owners. It is also testament to the success of fisheries conservation programs, so that we have a viable halibut fishery today.

Fairbanks Event – “Gold Rush Ice Train” by Chris Allan, Wed 1/15

Date Posted: January 9, 2014       Categories: 49 History
The Tanana Yukon Historical Society presents “Gold Rush Ice Train: George Glover and the U.S. Government’s Unlikely Attempt to Conquer the North by Steam,” a lecture by Chris Allan, National Park Service historian.
Wednesday, January 15
7:00 p.m.
Pioneer Museum at Pioneer Park
The Klondike gold rush stimulated the imaginations of thousands of Americans and people around the world. Some of them set out immediately to face the snow-chocked Chilkoot Pass or White Pass with a heavy pack on their backs.
An 1897 drawing of George Glover’s “ice locomotive” choo-chooing its
way from Skagway to Dawson City. Originally designed to haul
logging sleds in the American Midwest, Glover’s invention was
supposed to haul 150 tons of food for starving miners in the Klondike,
50 Army soldiers to protect the cargo, and 200 private passengers.
The whole plan turned out to be a fraud and an embarrassment to the
McKinley administration.  Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society.

Others dreamed of a mechanical solution to the problem of reaching the distant gold fields. And when rumors began to circulate that the Klondike stampeders would soon run out of food, Secretary of War Russell Alger put his faith in a steam-powered, all-terrain “snow and ice locomotive” to solve this emerging humanitarian crisis.
In retrospect, the story of the inventor George Glover and the U.S. government’s rescue mission is a comedy of errors. The machine could scarcely function under the best of conditions; its inventor seemed to have his head in the clouds; and high-ranking government officials were hoodwinked by scoundrels and flim-flam artists.
However, the short-lived and ill-fated Klondike Relief Expedition offers us a glimpse of a moment in the nation’s history when greed ran rampant, the Far North seemed tantalizingly beyond reach and, for a time, it appeared a steam-powered marvel could accomplish the impossible.

For more information about this and other lectures sponsored by the Tanana Yukon Historical Society, please call 488-3383, or e-mail <tyhs@alaska.net>.

New Issue of “Alaska History”

Date Posted: January 3, 2014       Categories: 49 History

The latest issue of Alaska History is hot off the presses. AHS members will be receiving their copy in the mail shortly, while non-members can obtain a copy by joining the society here or purchasing the single issue here.

In this issue (Vol. 28, No. 2, Fall 2013):

“Fishing in Russian America,” by Andrei V. Grinev

“Sailboats and Power in Bristol Bay: The Bristol Bay Salmon Fishery, 1922-1951,” by Robert W. King

“The New England Fish Company: History in a Photo Album,” by Richard H. Van Cleave

Also in the issue are reviews of recent books about Alaska and a compilation of new titles in the field.

Pick.Click.Give to AHS!

Date Posted: January 1, 2014       Categories: 49 History

It’s the first week of January, that special time when Alaskans apply for the PFD. Please remember the Alaska Historical Society when making your Pick.Click.Give donations. Your support helps us fulfill the AHS mission of educating the public and promoting the study of Alaska history.
Apply for your PFD here:

Thank you for your support of the Alaska Historical Society.