Redwood City has been known as the business center of the Peninsula and throughout the years many exciting industries have called it home, including salt, agriculture, tech and many more. This article will give insights to some of Redwood City’s oldest industries include logging, tanning and flower growing.
Redwood City’s lumber industry began long before the city came into existence. In early 1776 the Spanish needed lumber to build the San Francisco Presidio and Mission Dolores. The closest place to find lumber was Woodside and Portola Valley. Laborers cut wood and hauled it up to San Francisco by horse.
In 1850 Charles Brown built a saw mill on Alambique Creek. Around the same time Dennis Martin constructed a saw mill and began lumbering a short distance down the creek. Martin constructed roads to Redwood City in order to get lumber to the waterfront for transportation.
R.O. Tripp was the first to bring logging through Redwood Creek in 1850. Trees were cut and hauled down Woodside Road to the port, which was today’s current downtown, where they were sent to San Francisco by raft on the water.
Transporting wood from the Woodside and Portola Valley area was not done in one day. A night’s layover was necessary, meaning Redwood City needed to build hotels, stables, diners, entertainment — such as saloons — and more. The lumber industry’s increasing use of Redwood Creek drove economic growth in Redwood City and gave life to the community.
From 1864–1959 Redwood City was home to numerous industries vital to the local and national economy, including tanning, the process of making leather. One of the largest tanneries in the world was the renowned S.H. Frank Tannery, which operated on Redwood Creek from 1874–1959. At its peak the tannery produced nearly 13 tons of leather each week. Tannin from red oak trees in the area enabled Frank’s tannery to produce “the strongest leather in the world.” By 1897 Frank’s Tannery became a large -scale industry with business contacts all over the world.
World War I took a toll on the tanning industry as mechanization took over. Frank’s was able to continue its success by developing a new product called “Logger’s Oak” that was used as a sturdy sole leather for boots. It had the ability to hold the seams of boots even when wet.
The tanning industry began to see a decline after World War II as metal began to replace leather. Due to the decline in the industry’s growth, Franks closed its doors in 1959.
Japanese-Americans have had a large impact on Redwood City by bringing us the flower industry. After the 1906 earthquake Japanese immigrants began settling in San Mateo County. Growers were attracted specifically to Redwood City because the land was divided into five-acre parcels, which were an ideal size for nurseries and greenhouses. The world-acclaimed climate also provided growers with a necessary asset for their work.
In 1907 Japanese immigrant brothers Eikichi and Sadakusi Enomoto began growing chrysanthemums in Redwood City and shipping them nationwide. They also helped other immigrant families begin their own flower growing businesses.
By 1926 Redwood City was being proclaimed as the “Chrysanthemum Center of the World” with a local income exceeding $7 million. The flower industry began to expand to other nearby cities and in 1931 the California Chrysanthemum Growers Association was founded for growers located in the Bay Area.
Five years later, five Japanese families bought land in Redwood City for nurseries and greenhouses. These businesses lasted for nearly 50 years before the land was sold for development needs.
We hope you enjoyed this sampling of historical Redwood City industries. There are many more to be explored! If you are interested please visit the Redwood City Downtown Library and the Local History Room located inside. Information can also be found online here.
Celebrate our 150th Anniversary in 2017
Redwood City’s Sesquicentennial is coming up in 2017! Celebrate with us by reading our blogs, attending fun events and more. To learn more about this celebration visit our historic microsite here.