Writing Home: Commentary
6. Brewster's Boosters
Although railroad companies poured more resources into publicity materials than any other entity, other boosters got into the act, too. Local businesses, for instance, supported chambers of commerce that conducted their own campaigns to draw attention, increase investment, and attract immigrants. At the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, to cite the best known Northwest example, Seattle grew considerably because a host of determined promoters identified the city to the rest of the country and the world as the gateway to Alaska and the Yukon. Similarly, territories and states created such agencies as immigration bureaus to promote growth on a broader scale. For example, Washington State sent members of its World’s Fair Commission to the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Their job was to trumpet the advantages of Washington “for immigration and capital.” The state’s representatives were accompanied by displays of agricultural produce, timber, minerals, and other tangible evidence of the economic opportunities that awaited that “tide of people that is turned toward Washington by this Exposition” (cited in Findlay 1991:63). The actual impact of booster materials proved difficult to measure, yet business-minded citizens in virtually every town and territory assumed that they needed to support promotional campaigns in order to achieve the growth they wanted and to compete effectively with rivals for investment and immigration. Their efforts produced an extraordinarily wide array of descriptive materials about virtually all parts of the Pacific Northwest.
Included here is an excerpt from a promotional campaign for the vicinity of Brewster, Washington, dating from around 1909. Brewster lies just north of the Columbia River in eastern Washington, near where both the Methow and Okanogan rivers empty into the Columbia. As fruit orchards began to prosper in areas to the south, around Wenatchee and Yakima, capitalists from the Brewster Commercial Club put out a pamphlet envisioning that the lands around their community would follow a similar path. The supposedly imminent arrival of two technologies—irrigation canals and railroads—appeared to have brought Brewster to the edge of greatness. Yet the fact that neither the canal nor the rail line had actually been completed meant, according to promoters, that those who bought land now would pay relatively low prices for lands sure to increase rapidly in value. Boosters appealed explicitly to both “Mr. Fruitgrower and [Mr.] Investor,” i.e. those wanting to farm the land and those wanting to speculate in it.
In a curious way, booster materials resembled utopian literature by portraying a more perfect world in the future. They both looked ahead to a time when fundamental problems had been overcome and when people lived more easily and prosperously than they did in the present (Hamer 1990:61-62). There were a couple of key differences, however. First, utopians generally hoped for thorough reforms in society or government, while boosters, who usually tended to be satisfied with extant economic and political systems, anticipated improvement for individuals, primarily. Second, boosters frequently identified things in the present that were already pretty ideal. In order to enlist immigrants and investors, publicists had not only to compare the present to the future but also to compare one place to another. To persuade people to come to their place, rather than go to some other well promoted spot, promoters spoke about the superiority of local features. Thus, on Brewster Flats the “soil and air drainage, so essential to the growing of high-classed fruit, is perfect,” and the water in the Methow River “is always pure and exhilarating and a boon to man, beast and soil alike.” Brewster’s boosters, like promoters everywhere, rendered every nearby feature, natural or man-made, in the most positive light.