New Exhibit and Publication Share History of World War I and Vancouver's Spruce Mill

Vancouver's Spruce Mill
The interior of the Spruce Mill at Vancouver Barracks


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News Release Date: May 14, 2013

Contact: Meagan Huff, (360) 816-6255

What: Straight-Grained Soldiers, a new exhibit on the history of the Spruce Production Division and early army aviation, and The U.S. Army Spruce Production Division at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, 1917-1919, a new publication available free online.

Where: Pearson Air Museum, 1115 E 5th Street, Vancouver, WA 98661. Publication is available online at

When: Exhibit opens Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Pearson Air Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

On May 22, 2013, a new exhibit on the history of Vancouver's World War I-era Spruce Mill will open at Pearson Air Museum, titled Straight-Grained Soldiers. The museum previously hosted a smaller temporary exhibit on the mill, and Straight-Grained Soldiers is an expansion that includes interpretive panels, displays of artifacts, and participatory elements.

As military aviation transformed methods of warfare during the First World War, spruce lumber to build combat, reconnaissance, and training airplanes was in high demand. The Pacific Northwest was home to one of the world's best supplies of spruce, and so the U.S. Military created the Spruce Production Division, based out of Vancouver Barracks, to ensure that the allies would have enough spruce to produce aircraft. At its peak, the Spruce Mill, once located on the plain where Fort Vancouver and Pearson Air Museum are located today, operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and produced 1 million board feet of lumber daily.

This exhibit will take visitors from the entry of the United States into the war in 1917, through the creation of the Spruce Production Division and the home-front efforts undertaken in Vancouver, up to the end of the war and the birth of the Army Air Service.

Said Museum Technician Meagan Huff, "This exhibit is a great opportunity to share the history of Vancouver's contribution to the war effort. Because they didn't go overseas, Spruce Production Division soldiers often faced accusations of cowardice, but they played a tremendous role in making sure that early military aviators - whether they were American, British, or French - were equipped with planes to fight the war."

In addition to the exhibit, a new publication on the Spruce Production Division is now available from the National Park Service. Industrial historian Ward Tonsfeldt authored the study that delves deeply into the SPD and its place in labor history, as well as the logistics of supplying lumber from the Pacific Northwest for early aircraft.

"The Spruce Production Division was a critical home front part of the war effort that altered the lumber and aviation industries forever," said Archaeologist Dr. Doug Wilson, "Its history ties Vancouver and the entire Pacific Northwest to the Allied forces in the air."

Background: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service, is at the heart of the Vancouver National Historic Reserve. The Vancouver National Historic Reserve brings together a national park, a premier archaeological site, the region's first military post, an international fur trade emporium, one of the oldest operating airfields, the first national historic site west of the Mississippi River, and a waterfront trail and environmental center on the banks of the Columbia River. The partners of the Reserve teach visitors about the fur trade, early military life, natural history, and pioneers in aviation, all within the context of Vancouver's role in regional and national development. The Reserve's vast array of public programs -- including living history events, cultural demonstrations, exhibits, active archaeology, and other special events and activities -- create a dynamic, fun, and unique tourist destination for people of all ages.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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