In 1867, workers smelted the first iron ingots produced at the Oregon Iron Company on Sucker Lake, now known as Lake Oswego. Brothers Henry and John Green, along with wealthy Portland banker William S. Ladd, founded the company in 1865, and early stockholders included Portland Mayor Henry Failing. Miners obtained ore in Sucker Creek Gorge and from mines tunneled into Iron Mountain several miles away. Investors hoped the company, one of the first industrial manufacturers in the Willamette Valley, would sell its product to railroad companies that were beginning to lay tracks through Oregon, but lower-priced iron imported from Scotland lowered sales.
While the company did smelt some iron for rail cars, production was not steady. The company reorganized several times, improved their equipment, and even developed a pipe-casting plant. But poor quality ore, debt, and high expenses contributed to its eventual closure in 1919. At the factory’s height in the late 19th century, the iron works employed as many as 300 workers. California photographer Carleton E. Watkins captured the factory on a glass plate soon after it was built in 1867.
Written by Kathy Tucker, © Oregon Historical Society, 2002.