Lumbering first arrived in this area in the 1830s, logging the white and red pine stands along the St. Croix River. Sawmills were few and much of the pine lumber was floated down the St. Croix to the Mississippi River and on to other states. Logging camps, which supplied the timber, operated in the winter months with about 15 men and a few teams of oxen.
The industry grew quickly, however, and in 1840, lumbermen supplied the growing nation with 5 million board feet of lumber. Ten years later, 90 million board feet was harvested from the new Minnesota territory.
By the 1880s, the industry boomed with an influx of new wealth from lumbermen who had made fortunes in Michigan and Wisconsin and the new markets in the West. Sawmills powered by steam engines ripped through millions of logs annually as lumberjacks spilled into the forests of the north. Logging camps swelled to an average of 70 men, and horses replaced oxen. It wasn't long, however, before horses were replaced by steam-powered equipment. In 1900, the peak year of the pine log harvest, the state produced over one billion board feet of logs—enough timber to build a nine-foot-wide boardwalk around the earth at the equator.
Production began to decline after 1905, as pine timber was depleted and timber companies shifted their interest towards new pine stands in the Pacific Northwest and the South. By 1930, the pine sawmill industry died with the closing of the last sawmill near Virginia, Minnesota. After 100 years of logging most of the pine was gone.
Minnesota's timber industry was rekindled in the 1970s; over a dozen new forest product plants were built or expanded, producing paper, composite board, laminates and other items. Harvest of all forest products in the state in the 1990s matched harvest levels of 1900. Today the products of Minnesota's forests are marketed throughout the world and are found in your home, your car and even in the ice cream you eat.