Oregon Blue Book Centennial Web Exhibit
Progressive Era origins
The Oregon Blue Book was born during the Progressive Era, a period from the 1880s to 1920s, in reaction to the stranglehold on power held by cronyism and political machines in the United States. Many of the movement's reform efforts focused on exposing corruption and strengthening democracy. Central to this was the belief that government should come out of the smoke-filled back rooms and into the disinfecting sunlight. Progressives created the Oregon Blue Book to provide citizens with important information about how their government operated and who was accountable.
Evolution of the Oregon Blue Book
The first Oregon Blue Book, published in 1911, had a connection to a great name in Oregon history. In his official capacity as state printer from 1907 to 1915, Willis S. Duniway, son of Oregon pioneer and woman suffrage leader Abigail Scott Duniway, oversaw the typesetting and printing of the first three Oregon Blue Books. His uncle, Harvey Scott, was a powerful figure as the longtime editor and publisher of the Oregonian newspaper. His nephew, David Duniway later became Oregon’s first state archivist in 1946.
The 1911 Oregon Blue Book adopted a promotional style and featured numerous photographs that extolled the virtues of the state—from its agriculture and industry to its scenic beauty and tourism opportunities. For example, one passage expounded that “high above the clouds towers snow-capped Mount Hood, magnificent in its supreme eminence and in its beauty and ruggedness.” Later Oregon Blue Books took a more informational approach with fewer photographs and less boosterism.
Over the decades, the work to gather information and compile each edition of the Oregon Blue Book was done by the secretary of state’s executive office staff. By the 1970s, the project had become too large for the executive office staff to accomplish effectively. The work then was delegated to one or another of the divisions of the Secretary of State's Office for numerous editions. Private companies contracted to produce several Oregon Blue Books during this period.
However, with contract costs mounting by 1998, the job of producing the Oregon Blue Book was given to the Oregon State Archives, a division of the Secretary of State's Office. The last seven Oregon Blue Books have been compiled and edited by the Oregon State Archives staff.
The change in responsibility brought revisions in the formatting, production, and the overall look of the publication. Prior to 1999, black and white images documenting recent events and illustrating the work of agencies were integrated throughout the Oregon Blue Book. In contrast, the 1999-2000 edition reduced the number of black and white images but added a 32-page color insert on glossy paper. This allowed the addition of high quality color photographs of state symbols as well as a colorful tour of the State Capitol.
The highlight of the color section in each edition has been a topical photographic exhibit or essay about Oregon history or culture. Over the years, these have celebrated Oregonians at work, colorful Oregon trademarks, the centennial of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, Depression Era public works, farms and ranches over 150 years old, and the centennial of woman suffrage in Oregon.
Early Oregon Blue Book covers used very basic designs with text describing the directory and naming the secretary of state. In fact, the biggest modification to the covers during the first 17 years of publication was the addition of a U.S. flag. But that changed in 1929 when an illustration of the Circuit Rider statue in front of the State Capitol debuted on the cover. From that point forward, every cover has displayed a unique look.
As the covers evolved over time, they reflected the eras in which they were created. Covers from the 1930s featured beautiful Art Deco style illustrations and fonts. Post-World War II covers highlighted the scenic beauty of the state. Many Oregon Blue Book covers concentrated on the State Capitol as a natural focal point of state government.
Cover photographs and contests
The first photograph used on an Oregon Blue Book cover was an image of Big Lake and Mt. Washington near the Santiam Highway. It was taken by State Highway Commission photographer Ralph Gifford for the cover of the 1945-1946 edition. Scenic Oregon photos taken by the Highway Commission were used as cover images over much of the next three decades.
Two photos by famed Oregon photographer Ray Atkeson have appeared as Oregon Blue Book cover images: his panorama of Mount Hood taken from the ledge of the Salmon River canyon was selected by Secretary of State Mark Hatfield for the cover of the 1957-1958 Oregon Blue Book; and Atkeson’s photo of the Metolius River in central Oregon was chosen by Secretary of State Norma Paulus for the cover of the 1979-1980 Oregon Blue Book.
In the 1980s, Secretary of State Barbara Roberts established a photo contest to solicit scenic Oregon images from Oregon’s many talented amateur photographers. Roberts selected an image of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, taken by Jerry V. Hunt of Canby, for the cover of the 1985-1986 Oregon Blue Book, The cover photo contest continues to this day with excellent results. Each contest winner is invited to the State Capitol to participate in Oregon Blue Book release ceremonies and meet members of the legislature.
Value of the Oregon Blue Book
After a century of publication, the Oregon Blue Book continues to serve as a concise and accurate record of Oregon government and life. Browsing through the older editions of the book proves to be both nostalgic and informative. The current and previous editions are reference fixtures in Oregon public libraries and school libraries, where they are provided free of charge by law as a public service. Highly prized by newspaper editors, the books offer quick and ready information about who served as state senator from Coos County in 1919, the duties of the Oregon State Defense Council during World War II, or the size of the state adopted budget in 1997.
As the Oregon Blue Book enters its second century, its editors honor the work of their predecessors and look forward to carrying the effort far into the future—a continuation of the historical record for Oregon.
Buy a 37-minute video exploring the history of the Oregon Blue Book.