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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Oregon

On this day in 1859, President James Buchanan signed the bill that gave territorial Oregon statehood. In terms of antiquity, 150 years doesn't much rate--even by US standards. We're recent-vintage history--there are probably people alive today who knew elderly kin who were alive during territorial days. That puts us within the range of living history. People in places like Jerusalem, Cairo, Varanasi, and Beijing would smile wryly at our little accomplishment.

In terms of changes, though--Oregon's seen a lot. When we became a state, slavery was still legal. The British Empire stretched across the globe. Steam power was state of the art (and fire lit and warmed our homes). Football hadn't been invented, and baseball was just two years old. Names like Siam, Persia, and the Austrian Empire. In other words, things have changed a fair amount for the average Oregonian.

In one respect, however, things haven't changed: we still enjoy a good beer. When Buchanan penned us into officialdom, Oregon already had three breweries: the Eagle Brewery in Jacksonville, a short-lived place in Oregon City run by the brewer Louis Behren, and of course Henry Saxer's Liberty Brewery in Portland--the one Henry Weinhard would buy a century later. In fact, for the entire history of the state--except when it wasn't legal to brew beer anywhere--beer has been brewed here locally. The thread grew thin indeed after the 1940s, when it was only Henry's brewery that kept the tradition alive, but it never broke completely.

In 1859, when Oregon celebrated its statehood, we might imagine shaggy-bearded roughnecks gathered around fireplaces in pubs lit dimly by oil lamps. They had no Blazers to discuss, no stereos to play music, no cars to carry themselves to parties. But they did have beer, fresh and chilled by the February cold, and no doubt they raised bottles in salute to this new piece of America. We can do the same today.

Happy Birthday, Oregon.


  1. Though it doesn't alter your larger point about Henry's, the Salem Brewing Association and then Sick's did brew in Salem until 1953! It's sad that Thompson's brewpub in the McMenamins empire is the only brewery in Salem at present.

  2. Don't forget the Ram across the street from WU!