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homeCommerce, Climate, & Community: A History of Portland & Its People

Commerce, Climate, & Community: A History of Portland & Its People

Commerce, Climate, & Community: A History of Portland & Its People focuses on commerce, immigration, community, and environment. The author examines the tensions between social classes and ethnic groups, and the emergence of residential patterns and government. The narrative also locates Portland within the broader context of U.S. urban development, and the development of cities within the orbit of the Pacific Rim. William Toll currently teaches American Urban and American Jewish History at the University of Oregon, where he is an adjunct professor.">

compiled by William Toll


River City, Rose City, Rip City: The city at the mouth of the Willamette River is all this and more.

Foundings: Making a Market Town

The arrival of white settlers to the region that would become Portland served as a catalyst for major social and geographic changes.  This chapter explores early settlement by whites, the taking and dividing of territorial land grants, and the social, religious, business, and governmental institutions that developed during Portland’s earliest years, 1843-1900, and served as the foundation for future development in the region.


The Mature Distribution Center

By the turn of the twentieth century, Portland had developed into an established city complete with a commercial downtown, bustling waterfront, and fully operational trolley line.  A series of bridges connected the east and west sides of the Willamette River, while the shipping industry moved goods from eastern Oregon, through Portland, and on to destinations around the world.  Railroads soon connected the city to distribution centers outside the Pacific Northwest, while immigrants arrived and settled. 


The Self-Promotional Metropolis

Between 1900 and 1930, Portland residents were a busy lot: They threw themselves, and the nation, a party in the Lewis and Clark Exposition; furnished the nation with one of its most well-known woman rights activists, Abigail Scott Duniway; and reorganized the structure through which state politics were conducted.  The Progressive Era in Portland was marked also by the development of ethnic neighborhoods throughout the city, nascent labor movements, and a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Federal Connection: Recovery, Energy, & War

The Depression of the 1930s hit Portland hard. Portlanders saw no real recovery until World War II when war production brought in the Kaiser shipyards and thousands of laborers to work them. While women experienced a degree of social independence, Japanese citizens became the subjects of internment and African American workers the subjects of de facto segregation.

Portland Neighborhoods, 1960s-Present

The 1960s defined Portland through urban renewal plans and social protest. Blacks and Native American groups worked to reconstruct the fabric of their neighborhoods, city officials sought to revitalize the city center through waterfront renovation and parks development; and Land Conservation and Development Commission programs focused on growth boundaries and mass-transit programs.


In the face of the twenty-first century, Portland attempts to move forward while holding on to pieces of its past.


A collection of books and articles used in the shaping of this narrative.

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