Aggressive Regionalism: Commentary

7. Erwin L. Weber, In the Zone of Filtered Sunshine

Boosterism helped give shape to writings about the Pacific Northwest during the nineteenth century, and it continued to affect perceptions of the region in the 20th century. Boosters came in many different forms. Stevens and Davis in Status Rerum and Merriam as editor of The Frontier aimed to promote a type of regional literature, and Col. Hofer of The Lariat wanted to promote Northwest writing as well, although he preferred a type of writing that differed from what the others championed. Others promoted schemes for social reform or individual betterment.  But classic boosters were people who spared no words in seeking to encourage economic and demographic growth in a place.  And the places they promoted were generally understood to be competing for growth against rival places. 

In the Zone of Filtered Sunshine, produced and distributed by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1924, was written to promote economic and demographic growth in and around the city of Seattle. It pitched its argument at prospective investors and immigrants who needed to be told why they should move their capital and themselves to lands around Puget Sound. In making its case, the pamphlet simultaneously discouraged those same investors and immigrants from staking their futures in the rival cities of California. The key to the argument was making a virtue out of the coastal Northwest’s cloudy weather. And to present this case, the Chamber of Commerce hired Erwin L. Weber, a man whose membership in engineering, scientific, and meteorological societies seemed to give him authoritative credentials.

People should locate in Seattle, Weber argued, because its type of weather had proven throughout history to be the most conducive to economic prosperity and achievements by civilization. “Filtered sunshine—sunshine filtered thru the clouds—and only a moderate degree of intense sunshine, as exists in the Pacific Northwest, is best for all, and vital to the development of the most energetic peoples.” On the other hand, Weber claimed, “Intense and prolonged sunshine, as exists in the greater portion of the United States,” including especially California, “is detrimental to the highest human progress. History abounds with the annals of peoples who built up empires and civilizations under the temporary stimulus of intense sunshine. But this same intense sunshine later broke down the stamina and resistance of these peoples, thus causing the fall of their empires and the decay of their civilizations.” The argument then proceeded to assume a racial dimension. The cloudiest regions of the world had produced “the Nordic races”—the “most energetic human types” who had in turn produced “the highest and most enduring civilizations.”  By contrast, other parts of the world had proven better suited “for the darker types” whose attainments had supposedly never been as great or as enduring, and whose empires had crumbled under the burden of too much sunshine.

It is very difficult to say how much impact Weber’s thesis had. At the time he wrote, some social scientists were just beginning to dismantle the racialist thinking that he espoused, but their campaign had not gotten very far. In the Zone of Filtered Sunshine probably exerted less influence on thinking about place than it reflected and refined some of the conventional wisdom that residents of the coastal Northwest already possessed about their region.

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