MOSCOW, Idaho – In an era of corporate mergers and acquisitions, many companies choose to shred their archives in periods of transition.
Not Potlatch Corp. Recently, the Spokane-based wood products company gave the University of Idaho a treasure trove: a 521-cubic-foot chronicle of its 107-year history.
The items in Potlatch’s company archive range from one of its original ledgers from 1903 to the giant brass factory whistle from the mill in Lewiston.
“They had such a wonderful archive,” said UI Dean of Library Sciences Lynn Baird, who will oversee the cataloging of the collection in the coming years. “They had an archival librarian, so this was a very well-managed collection.”
The process of acquiring the archive began in 2008 when Potlatch spun off most of its manufacturing business as Clearwater Paper. With the archive acquisition now completed, the university will begin the massive task of opening the collection to the public, Baird said.
“Making it accessible will not only be creating a catalog of what is in the collections,” she said, “we’ll also try to highlight the pieces that we want to make digitally accessible.”
Baird said the archive offers a detailed record of a prominent segment of local history.
“It captures the economic history of the region,” she said. “If you put the timber industry next to the mining industry next to the agricultural industry, I think that’s really telling the story of Idaho and its peoples. That’s the kind of materials that Harvard doesn’t have, that Yale doesn’t have.”
The real strength of the collection is in its environmental history, with records from the earliest days of forest surveys, according to the university. Photographs and aerial surveys show what the early forests looked like, and the changes they experienced through the years.
There are also extensive records of how timber harvesting evolved, from the era of muscle power and steam engines to modern gas- and diesel-powered vehicles and machinery.
Baird said she is grateful Potlatch put their faith in the university.
“Many corporations dump their records when there’s a transition,” she said. “For them to have entrusted their corporate history to us, I think it honors all the people who have been employed by Potlatch over the years. This is the fabric of Idaho.”