Right around 1879, the fishwheel
, McCord replica
) came to the Columbia River. A clever application of mill-like thinking to traditional net fishing techniques, the fishwheel's river-powered automation of upstream harvesting revolutionized canning in Oregon and Washington, drawing both commercial attention and critical concern
[NYT 1881, PDF]. Two men, Thornton Williams and William Rankin McCord, each filed patents for fishwheel designs in 1881 (#245251
) and 1882 (#257960
) respectively; Williams brought an infringement suit against McCord which was dismissed on the grounds that the invention was not new
, being based directly on the publicly documented work of one Samuel Wilson in 1879. Fishwheels were fair game.
By 1908, with tensions running high between the high-yield upriver fishwheel operators such as Seufert Brothers Cannery
and the larger cohort of downriver gillnet operators, the gillnetters successfully put an initiative
on the Oregon ballot to effectively ban fishwheels on the Columbia; the fishwheelers responded by putting their own bill
, designed to prohibit gillnet operation, onto the ballot as well.
Both measures passed
, throwing the local fishing industry temporarily into disarray; enforcement of the law was impractical and made more complicated by issues of jurisdiction between Oregon and Washington fisherman on the same river. A federal injunction put the laws out of action, and fishing operation resumed, but as a result of the confusion the Columbia River Compact was established in 1918 to formally address river rights issues between the two states.
In 1926, with the Columbia's fish population already grossly reduced by decades of aggressive commercial fishing, a Oregon voters approved the latest proposed ban of fishwheels on the river. Washington followed suit in 1934). Frank Seufert reportedly responded to the Oregon ban in 1927 by painting the roof of a barn near his cannery with a complaint:
"TO BUILD THIS BUSINESS IT TOOK 47 YEARS. THE INITIATIVE LAW OF OREGON DESTROYED IT IN ONE DAY"