Historic Portland

Historic Portland Oregon is one of those large cities surrounded by absolutely beautiful scenery and a plethora of historic sites. The list of historic sites to visit seems endless and they stretch out in every direction. A Visit to Portland itself is quite historic for a number of reasons.

portland oregon mass transit

Portland Oregon's efficient and popular mass transit system

The Pioneers Head Down the Columbia

Portland Oregon is located where the Columbia River and Willamette River intersect. Portland, or the settlement that eventually turned into Portland Oregon, had everything to do with these two rivers.

The Columbia of course was the river traveled by the earliest pioneers into the northwest. It was the road that took the pioneers to the fertile Willamette Valley after a 2,000 mile journey along the Overland and Oregon Trails from Missouri. The Willamette River took them a bit south to what would be Oregon City.

It would be Oregon City that would be the main settlement for the Americans from the mid west. The British would mainly reside around Fort Vancouver which is on the north side of the Columbia and base of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Two Men in a Canoe Founded Portland

The story of the founding of Portland Oregon and how historic Portland was given it’s name involves a canoe trip between Fort Vancouver and Oregon City. The land where Portland resides today was a stopping off point along the river between these two settlements. In 1843, two men, William Overton and Asa Lovejoy, who had floated past this spot numerous times, filed claims for land in what was referred to at the time as “The Clearing“.

1890 portland oregon

Portland Oregon, circa 1890

Eventually Overton sold his claim to a man named Francis Pettygrove from Portland Maine. When it came time to name their settlement both men, Pettygrove and Lovejoy, wished to name it after their home towns. The choice therefore was either Boston or Portland. A coin was flipped, Pettygrove won, and the new settlement was officially named Portland. This event attests to just how close Portland Oregon once came to being named “Boston.”

In subsequent years the claim would be sold, resold, and split up. Some owners actually used their claims as equity for other investments.  Certain individuals owned certain sections and some with waterfront parcels. The town was incorporated as Portland in 1851.

Portland and Oregon City

Oregon City is located 12 miles upriver on the Willamette from Portland. Oregon City was the territorial capital. Although Oregon City was the capital and far older, Portland had the distinct advantage of being located where the two traveled rivers intersected and had water depth enough that could handle ocean going vessels. As a result, Portland grew steadily in population. Historic Portland grew into a major port in the Pacific Northwest.

portland union station

Beautifully restored interior of Portland's Union Station

Historic Landmarks of Today’s Portland Oregon

Portland  Union Station– Here is an historic building that fortunately has been saved and preserved. In addition to that it still serves as a busy transportation hub serving Amtrak and other rail lines. Union Station has leased offices on the upper floors and a restaurant on the ground floor. Union Station was built in 1890 for a cost of $300,000. When you view this train terminal, a significant piece of architecture that immediately stands out is the 150 foot high Romanesque style clock tower. Having been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, Union Station is operated by the Portland Development Commission as part of the Downtown/Waterfront urban renewal district.

governor hotel portland

The Governor Hotel

The Governor Hotel– The Governor Hotel was constructed in 1909 and is one of the city’s oldest hotels. Architect William Christmas Knighton designed this luxury hotel billed as a “Hotel of Quiet Elegance”. The Governor Hotel has since become a landmark in Portland’s history and a place as familiar to Portlanders as home.  Portland had only four hotels in the entire city in 1900 which were considered first or second class. The Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905 in Portland brought in many more tourists and the tourism trade continued to grow after that. As a result there was a boom in the luxury hotel industry and the Governor Hotel is an excellent example of the result. Early guests at the Governor Hotel would typically pay from $1.50 for a sleeping room to $2.00 a night for a private bath and breakfast.

roosevelt hotel in portland

Portland's old Roosevelt Hotel

Roosevelt Hotel– Built in 1924, the Roosevelt Hotel building, located at 1005 SW Park Avenue, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, the hotel was eventually converted into 104 condos in the year 2000.

Theodore Roosevelt had a strong connection to the city of Portland. During the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905, President Roosevelt pressed on a gold telegraph key at the White House officially starting the exposition. Roosevelt is also dear to many in Oregon for his efforts in creating Crater Lake National Park in 1902. Many Roosevelt historians know that the president was quite involved with conservation and in setting aside a good deal of public lands for future generations to enjoy as national parks and monuments.

pioneer courthouse portland oregon

Portland Oregon's Pioneer Courthouse

Pioneer Courthouse– Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse has the distinction of being the oldest federal courthouse in the Pacific Northwest and the second oldest west of the Mississippi River. The Pioneer Courthouse was built in stages beginning in 1869 and lasting to 1903. At one time the building housed a U.S. Post Office. Today, the courthouse serves as one of the sites of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. We are fortunate that the structure still remains because over the decades there had been efforts to have it demolished as far back as 1933.

First named the United States Building, The Pioneer Courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

You’ll also enjoy our Trips into History links to other sites in the Portland area. These include the Tillamook Head Historic Lighthouse and a Visit to The Dalles.

Also, on our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy a Visit to old Fort Vancouver’s Officer’s Row.

amtrak coast starlight

Amtrak's Coast Starlight at Portland's Union Station

Visiting the Great Portland Oregon Area

As mentioned above visiting Portland offers the Oregon tourist easy access to a numerous historic sites in every direction. Historic Oregon City, once the territorial capital is located twelve miles south along the Willamette River. Fort Vancouver Washington is just across the Interstate 5 bridge to the north. The Columbia River Scenic Highway runs east from the Portland area and follows the south shore of the Columbia River to historic towns like The Dalles. Driving northwest from Portland takes you to the mouth of the Columbia to Astoria Oregon and Fort Stevens and the scenic coastline. There are many more areas and sites to explore in addition to the ones mentioned above. Historic Portland has much to offer.

A visit to Portland is a great way to enjoy beautiful scenery and learn much about how our historic Pacific Northwest was settled.

(Photos from author’s collection. Photo of Portland circa 1890 is from the public domain)

 

Tillamook Head / Oregon Lighthouse

Tlllamook Rock Lighthouse could be the west coast’s most unique deactivated lighthouse. Located one mile off Tillamook Head, the lighthouse stands one-hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean. The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was built in 1881 on a small island just off the Oregon coast. The northern Oregon coastal location is between the towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach.

tillamook lighthouse

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

The Tillamook Lighthouse was originally planned to be built at Tillamook Head. It was soon determined that the site on the coast, twenty miles south of the Columbia River mouth,  was too foggy. Work then started to find a more suitable site. Surveyors took a boat out to the small island and decided to build the lighthouse on it. Just getting off the boat at the island, with the whirling Pacific Ocean waves, made that part a challenge. Building a lighthouse on the island was another challenge altogether.

Who Would Build This Lighthouse?

The locals were well aware of the rock island and the dangers it posed. As a result, no local skilled workers could be found who would agree to build the Tillamook Lighthouse. Eventually, workers were found elsewhere who were not familiar with the general area and the rock island in particular. After being housed further north at the mouth of the Columbia River, four workers were first transported to the island in October of 1879. A few days later the remainder of the construction crew were dropped off.

tillamook rock lighthouse

Tillamook Lighthose, 1947

The island offered no natural shelter whatsoever. There were no caves or crevices. A temporary shelter was built to house the workers. Other than that, the work crew was exposed to the elements twenty-four hours a day. This harsh environment most likely was the reason there were no local takers for the construction job. Tools, food and supplies were transported to the island by boat and, because of the wave action, had to be put ashore with a line. There was no way for a vessel to actually moor itself on the rock.

The Storm Hits

Three months after work began on the island, a tremendous storm hit. In January 1880, a nor’easter hit driving waves over the rock island. Parts of rock were torn off the island from the storm and the workers were exposed to all of it. Even the shack where the tools and food were stored was torn away by the storm. Other temporary structures such as the blacksmith shop were damaged.

tillamook head

Tlllamook Rock Lighthouse from Tillamook Head, 2012

The storm’s intensity was such that the service vessel, the “Corwin“, wasn’t able to reach the island until sixteen days after the storm began. When the Corwin did reach the rock, a line was affixed to the rock and supplies were put ashore. Amazingly enough, all of the workers survived the fierce storm.

Decades later in 1934, the fierce storms on that part of the Oregon coast destroyed the lighthouse lens and damaged some of the structure.

The Island

When you view Tillamook Rock Lighthouse you first notice how the island is relatively level at one end and rises on the other where the light is located. The work crew in 1879 leveled the top of the hump portion and it was there that the lighthouse was built. In fact, it took about seven months of work just to level the top of the hump. The lens house rises sixteen feet from the center of a two story structure. Finally, almost one and a half-years after the workers were put on the island, the light was lit. This was in January of 1881.

You’ll find the following photo articles on our Western Trips site interesting.  The Point Reyes Lighthouse near San Francisco and Haystack Rock, a unique geologic formation on the north Oregon coast. Also on this site, see our King of the Columbia Steamboatmen.

haystack rock

Haystack Rock off Oregon Coast near Tillamook Lighthouse

 Decommissioned in 1957

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse had a long life protecting shipping. The lighthouse operated for seventy-six years. It was shut down in 1957 and replaced with a small whistle buoy.  Lighthouse keepers worked decades on the rock in isolated confinement. There were only so many people who could put up with the isolation. This plus the storms there gave the lighthouse the nickname of “Terrible Tilly”. The lighthouse, because of it’s location on this small island made it the most expensive lighthouse to operate. Most lighthouses closed because of a combination of high operating costs and advanced technology.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Today

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is now owned privately and has the distinction of being the only lighthouse on the Oregon coast privately owned yet listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The island is also part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse was sold several times. At one point it was turned into a Columbarium but the license was revoked in 1999.

While there is no access to the old Tillamook Rock Lighthouse , it is a spectacle to see one mile off Tillamook Head on the Pacific coast. The towns around Tillamook Head, Seaside and Cannon Beach, are very popular tourist destinations with plenty of beach rentals and B & B’s.

Astoria Oregon is about twenty miles to the north and offers plenty of historic sites such as Fort Stevens, Fort Clatsop and the world famous Columbia River Maritime Museum.

(1940’s Tillamook black and white photos from the public domain. Color photos from author’s collection)

 

 

 

The Dalles Oregon

The Dalles Oregon is in one of the most beautiful parts of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. History tells is the The Dalles received it’s name from the early French trappers working for the North West Company. The trappers named the area “Les Dalles‘ which translates to “The Sluice” or “The Flagstone“. This may refer to the basalt rock found in and around the Columbia River.

columbia river

The Columbia River with Washington State on far side

The Settlement of the Missionaries

Before the massive emigration along the Oregon Trail, the area which today is the city of The Dalles was inhabited by missionaries who were sent west to Christianize the native Americans of the region. The original missionary party comprised seventy people.The newly organized Methodist Episcopal Missionary Society sent Rev Jason Lee, along with his nephew Rev. Daniel Lee, lay missionary Cyrus Shepard and two assistants, P.L. Edwards and C.M. Walker and others, to Oregon to build the mission. The group set up their mission in the Willamette Valley but the area was considered to be “malarial” and Daniel Lee and others became sick. Daniel Lee ended up journeying to Hawaii to try to restore his health and the leadership of the group fell to Rev. Jason Lee.

Eventually, Jason Lee and others traveled back up the Columbia in March 1838 with the help of Indian guides to the area of The Dalles. There they were greeted by a group of Wascopam Indians. That summer the group constructed the Wascopam Mission.

the dalles dam

The Dalles Dam located 2 miles east of the city

Rev. Jason Lee made a return trip to the east and was very active in urging migration to the Oregon region. He may very well been the very earliest of pioneers touting the area as ideal for settlement. There is no doubt that he was successful in urging a good number of people to make the long journey.

Results of the Missionary Work

The success of the Wascopam missionaries was mixed. At first they had great attendance at their revivals and meetings with the Indians who came from a wide variety of tribes. The Dalles happened to be at a location where many different tribes gathered. After a few years the attendance decreased and eventually the church leaders in the east became dissatisfied with the number on converts versus their expenditures to support the mission. In a large way this was shortsightedness because the Native Americans had thousands of years of tradition not to mention a variety of different languages. To completely change this ingrained tradition in a matter of a few years was asking quite a lot. The missionaries working in Oregon felt largely that the eastern board really didn’t understand how particularly hard their task was.

the dalles downtown area

The Dalles downtown district

Rev. Jason Lee was recalled in 1843 and surprisingly his replacement resigned after a very short time. Yet another reverend was sent west to Oregon and the Wascopam Mission. Eventually, in 1846 an offer was received from a Dr. Marcus Whitman, a missionary outside Walla Walla, to purchase the Wascopam Mission on behalf of the Presbyterian American board. The deal was about to be consummated when Dr. Whitman, his wife and nine others were massacred at their mission by a band of Cayuse Indians. A large group of mostly women and children were also kidnapped during the massacre. The Whitman Massacre is an interesting and tragic story and reinforces just how dangerous missionary work in the far west could be in the 1840’s.

See our article on the Whitman Mission Tragedy.

Because of the Whitman Mission tragedy, the purchase by the Presbyterians never materialized. In 1848 the mission land was taken over by the city of The Dalles, as per the recently enacted U.S. Land Claim Act, and their takeover was supported by the U.S. Supreme Court.

the dalles mural

A mural in The Dalles

Oregon Trail Days and The Dalles

When the Oregon Trail pioneers reached The Dalles it was decision time. The destination for most of the pioneers was the fertile Willamette Valley to the west. Specifically, many were headed to Oregon City on the Willamette River just a few miles south of present day Portland Oregon. There were two ways to journey there from The Dalles. One was to raft down the treacherous Columbia River. This was of course before the series of dams built on the river during the twentieth century. The river looked a lot different than it does today. The second option was to travel overland to Oregon City. This option involved a trail named the Barlow Road which ran southwest from The Dalles and around the southern slope of Mount Hood. The Barlow Road had been completed in 1846.

See our Trips Into History article on the Diaries of Oregon Trail Pioneers.

The Barlow Road was a private trail set up by Sam Barlow as a toll road. Pioneers paid $5 per wagon and 10 cents per head for livestock and cattle. The Barlow Road, even though it cost money to travel on was the preferred way by many, not all however, to make the final leg of the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail journey. While taking the Columbia River route didn’t mean sure disaster, there were enough accidents and fatalities to make the Barlow Road a solid alternative.

Visiting The Dalles

One of the best things about driving to The Dalles from Portland Oregon is that you have the opportunity to travel along the banks of the Columbia River on the Columbia River Scenic Highway. The Dalles is located about 85 miles east of Portland. On your way to The Dalles you’ll pass the Bonneville Dam which has a fantastic visitor center that showcases everything about the Columbia River including an underwater viewing of their Fish Ladder. Also along the way are several beautiful waterfall sites such as the Multnomah Falls and the Wahkeena Falls along the Columbia River Scenic Highway.

When you visit The Dalles, you also want to see The Dalles Dam which is one of the several dams now along the Columbia River.

(Photos from author’s private collection)

 

 

 

 

Mount Hood Oregon

The state of Oregon is a premiere vacation state with beautiful forests, mountains, rivers and seashores. There are a great number of historic lodges and hotels spread throughout the state. Below are two very historic sites which were built during the first half of the 1900’s and today still serve as excellent and scenic lodges. The first is at the base of Mount Hood Oregon and the other is directly on the Columbia River in the popular Columbia Gorge area, north of Mount Hood. Timberline Lodge is a great place to enjoy Mt Hood skiing.

timberline lodge mount hood

Timberline Lodge in winter

Timberline Lodge–  The Timberline Lodge at the foot of Mount Hood in Oregon is one of the most historic lodges in the entire state. The Timberline Lodge was actually a project undertaken by the Works Progress Administration along with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Hundreds of men were put to work building the lodge. Work on the lodge began in 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression.

The lodge was built at an elevation of 6,000 feet. Stonemasons were brought in from Europe to teach the American workers. The stonemason craft was important in as much as some four hundred tons of volcanic rock from nearby canyons was used in the project. In addition to this, very large Ponderosa pines were gathered together by adjacent forests to help support the roof. The building of Timberline Lodge was truly a unique endeavor.

Constructing the lodge required even more skills. During the 1930’s the art of blacksmithing was something from the past. Something back from the 1800’s. A master blacksmith was recruited to help the men learn the art. The results were a large collection of handwrought gates, lights, ornaments and other hardware used in the construction.

mount hood oregon

Mount Hood Oregon

Furniture built for the Timberline Lodge was another fascinating aspect. Chairs were built big and out of strap iron. Chairs and bench seats were a combination of rawhide leather and hardwood planks. Rugs to cover the lodge rooms consisted of over one hundred hooked rugs. They were made by Oregon women who used the worn out blankets and uniforms of the workers.

The Timberline Lodge was 360 feet long and four stories high and at the top was a 750 lb weather vane. The construction cost was $1 million. Today, it would take perhaps twenty times that amount  to build the same type structure. Many people in Oregon today know of some relative who was involved with the project.

The Timberline Lodge was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt who called it “A monument to the skill and faithful performance of workers”. The projects goal was to add a recreational facility in the Pacific Northwest while helping to create jobs. The views from the lodge are quite dramatic. You can see the forested slopes below Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson about forty miles south. The Timberline Lodge offers fifty bedrooms. Each is furnished with pieces built exclusively for the lodge. The designs of the room are somewhat Art Deco which was a popular theme in the 1930’s.

The skiing at Timberline Lodge is considered excellent. The first ski trails were established as far back as 1906. Today, Mt  Hood skiing is world class not to mention a world class hiking and mountain climbing venue as well. The peak of Mount Hood has an elevation of 11,235 feet. Amazingly, it was first scaled in 1857.

The lodge is located at 27500 East Timberline Road, Timberline Lodge Oregon. This is about 47 miles south of Hood River Oregon.

Two additional articles you’ll find interesting are The King of the Columbia River Steamboat Men and the Waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge.

cloumbia river gorge hotels

Columbia Gorge Hotel

The Columbia Gorge Hotel– Here is another excellent Oregon lodge which has a lot of history attached to it. Located on the south bank of the Columbia River in Hood River Oregon, the Columbia Gorge Hotel offers one of the finest views of the river. The hotel is located along the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway which in itself is one of America’s most scenic byways.

The site where today’s Columbia Gorge Hotel stands on was first developed by a Hood River pioneer named Bobby Rand in 1904. Rand built the Wah Gwin Gwin Hotel which in Native American language translates into “rushing water”. The name showcases the fact that the grounds contain a 208 foot waterfall. This was of course before the Scenic Highway was built. This was an era when visitors to the Wah Gwin Gwin Hotel came by steamer on the Columbia River from the Cascade to The Dalles. An interesting story is that ship captains would blow their whistle to alert the hotel of the arriving guests.

columbia river view

View from hotel

The hotel was sold to a man named Simnon Benson in 1920. Benson is referred to as Oregons very first tourism promoter. Benson was instrumental in having the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway built. He also wanted a hotel built at the end of the highway. As a result, he had the Wah Gwin Gwin torn down with the idea of building a lavish luxury hotel on it’s siteTo help accomplish his dream, Benson employed the same Italian stonemasons that were used to build the Scenic Highway. The new hotels name would be the Columbia Gorge Hotel.

What wasn’t foreseen was the coming Great Depression. Economic troubles would also reach into the Columbia River Gorge. During this period of economic turmoil the Columbia Gorge Hotel was bought by the Neighbors of Woodcraft which turned it into a retirement home. The building served as a housing facility all the way up to 1977.

Today’s Columbia Gorge Hotel and Spa is now owned by a corporation. It has also undergone a large restoration and is a marvelously elegant hotel. It’s location right on the north bank of the Columbia River and in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area affords visitors a million dollar view. The Columbia Gorge Hotel is located at 4000 Westcliff Drive in Hood River Oregon, about 60 miles east of Portland.

(Timberline and Mount Hood photos from the public domain. Columbia Gorge Hotel photos from author’s collection)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balloon Bomb / World War Two

japanese submarine

Japanese Imperial Navy "Sen Taka" World War Two submarine

 

World War Two is often times considered an event that occurred many miles away from the shores of North America. For the most part this is correct. German U-Boats operated not far off the shores of America and did indeed inflict damage to Allied merchant shipping. The action in the Gulf of Mexico is a prime example. Action off the east coast of the United States is another good example. What about the west coast of the U.S.? Did Japanese submarines lurk there as well? The answer is yes. Was damage caused along the U.S. west coast? The answer again is yes although the Japanese activity there could be classified as more of a harassment operation rather than something of a tactical nature.

The Japanese Balloon Bomb

japanese fire balloon

Japanese Fire Balloon that was shot down and reinflated by American military

One element of this harassment actually didn’t originate from a submarine but rather from mainland Japan itself. This involved a weapon known as the “fire balloon” or “Balloon Bomb“. It’s a fact that the Japanese actually used balloons in warfare since the 1800’s. These devices were constructed of “washi“, a paper obtained from mulberry bushes that was considered impermeable and extremely tough. These were hydrogen filled balloons carrying a charge of perhaps a 33 lb antipersonnel bomb. Other charges carried may have been a 26 lb incendiary device. These balloon bombs were built at many locations throughout Japan.

The balloon’s direction was at the mercy of the jet stream which was most favorable during the winter months. Because of this, the first balloon was launched from Japan in November of 1944. Based on the jet stream speed it was anticipated that the fire balloon would travel for about three days before reaching the U.S. west coast. The balloons were equipped with a control system that operated the balloon bomb through three days of flight. It was figured that by that time the balloon  would likely be over the United States. After three days aloft the balloon’s ballast was expended.

Why a Fire Balloon?

The question was…why a fire balloon? Why attack the U.S. west coast with a balloon bomb? Also, what was the goal of this weapon? Could this long distance weapon possibly be intended to change the course of World War Two? It has been estimated that about 9,300 of these balloons were launched by Japan between November 1944 and April 1945. This was during the latter part of the war and at a time when Japan was slowly but surely on the losing side. Out of this very large number of fire balloons launched, some three hundred were observed over the western U.S. Over the years after the war, several of these devices were discovered. Eight balloons were found during the 1940’s, three during the 1950’s and two in the 1960’s. Parts of one balloon were also found as late as 1978. Japanese Fire Balloons were found as far east as the state of Michigan.

artillery gun at fort stevens state park

World War Two coastal gun battery at Fort Stevens Oregon

One goal of the Japanese fire balloon campaign appeared to be to start forest fires, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Their stated aim was also to “destroy” U.S. and Canadian cities in North America which seems to be a long shot at best since the steering of the devices were left to the whims of the jet stream. As late in the war that this occurred, it would be outlandish to think that the course of the war could be altered by the balloon bomb campaign. The several small forest fires that did occur because of the fire bombs were quickly put out. Nothing strategically was accomplished by the fire bomb effort.

Two additional articles with photos on our Western Trips site you’ll be interested in are the Defense of San Francisco Bay and the USS Pampanito Submarine.

Fatalities in the United States

Outside of the fire balloon attacks, the Japanese offensive on the U.S. west coast caused little damage. Attacks did include a submarine shelling of an oil platform just off Santa Barbara California, a night time attack on Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon and an attack by a very small aircraft launched from a Japanese submarine.

mitchell monument in oregon

Mitchell Monument

One very unfortunate incident that occurred on May 5, 1945 did involve a balloon bomb that had landed in a southern Oregon forest. A group of adults and children headed out for a picnic and while looking for a suitable site discovered a balloon on the forest floor. Part of the group approached the balloon and as they did it exploded. The result was that five children and a pregnant woman were killed. Records indicate that this was the only fatal incident involving Japanese fire balloons launched against North America. The photo at right is of the “Mitchell Monument” located in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near Bly Oregon where the wife of Reverend Archie Mitchell and five Sunday school children were killed in 1945.

What the Public Knew.

Much has been written about what the public did and did not know about the Japanese fire balloon bomb program. When Japan began sending fire balloons eastward toward the U.S. there was not a lot press about the subject. One reason could have been concerning perceived Japanese experiments with biological warfare. Another was that the American military didn’t want to broadcast to the Japanese that indeed some balloons actually did reach North America. Although the effectiveness of the balloon campaign was quite low, why publicize anything about them to the Japanese. Why have the enemy learn through the media just where some of these balloons have landed? Publicity could only encourage a continuation of the program and possibly excite the population on the west coast as well.

japanese float plane

Japanese float plane launched by submarines

As a result, the Office of Censorship asked the media to refrain from reporting on the balloon bombs. After the deaths in Oregon, the government lifted the censorship. If for no other reason to warn people of the potential dangers if another one was discovered. Some thought that it was wrong for the military to cover up the balloon attacks since knowledge of it by the public could have prevented the unfortunate Oregon fatalities.

Interestingly enough, some in the public actually thought that the balloons were launched from U.S. soil, possibly from beaches along the west coast where submarines landed launching parties. Some believed it impossible that the balloons could travel that far from the Japanese mainland. This launching from U.S. beaches was very unlikely and there has never been any evidence found whatsoever that balloons were launched from American soil.

Exhibits of the Japanese Fire Balloon

Parts of Japanese Fire Balloons or Balloon Bombs that were found in Oregon in 1978 are exhibited at the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum. The museum is located at 1220 Sherman Avenue, North Bend Oregon. The museum is operated by the Coos County Historical Society. Founded in 1891 as the “Coos County Pioneer Association”, it is considered the second oldest historical society in the State of Oregon.

An excellent book on the subject of the Japanese Balloon Bombs is The Cloud Atlas by author Liam Callanan.