Way before Redmond approved backyard chickens five years ago, poultry had a long and large presence in the area — at one time it was said that there were more chickens than people.
Yet little of that history had been researched until now. Thanks to a grant from 4Culture that was secured by the Redmond Historical Society, many of the stories have been captured and a larger narrative pulled together.
“Redmond fits a pattern of family chicken farming that stretched from coast to coast starting in about 1910 and ending in the late 1960s — people all over the country were raising chickens and selling eggs,” says historian Tim Wright. Wright will present the results of the project at Redmond Historical Society Saturday Speaker Series program at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 10 at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center.
“This is also a story about immigrants from places like Sweden, Russia, Austria, Italy and Germany who sought financial success through raising chickens,” explains Wright. “Several of the people we talked to recalled their parents saying that owning a chicken farm had been their ‘dream’ and some of them even gave up good jobs — such as working for Boeing — to have a chicken farm.”
“What makes Redmond and the adjoining areas unique, however, is their importance as a research center for poultry production,” adds Wright. “The poultry breeder Heisdorf and Nelson (H&N), with operations in Kirkland, Woodinville and, later, Redmond, applied genetic research to improving egg production.”
In fact, H&N built a new headquarters in 1966 on, what is today, part of the Microsoft campus in Redmond. There poultry geneticists used IBM punch cards to record data on 100,000 birds. Eventually, a hatchery was added at the site. At the height of its scientific poultry breeding, the company annually sold over 90 million chicks worldwide from its hatcheries and those of its franchisees.
Crystal Rojas Mora, a professional historical researcher, used archival research to identify more than 100 family farms in and around Redmond and mapped as many as possible. Rojas Mora is also the vice president of collections of the Redmond Historical Society, a volunteer board position.
According to Rojas Mora, “compiling a history of ownership for select farms was a challenge. Sometimes indexes spanning decades had to be searched.”
The research focused, in part, on collecting first-hand accounts and photos from people who grew up on the farms or worked for H&N. “After Tim’s presentation, several of the project interviewees will be on hand to answer questions from the audience,” notes Redmond Historical Society volunteer, Sherry Stilin, who managed the project.
The Saturday Speaker Series is presented by the Redmond Historical Society on the second Saturday of the month with three programs each in the fall and spring. Topics range from local, state and Pacific Northwest historical interest. There is a suggested $5 donation for non-members.
The Redmond Historical Society is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that receives support from the City of Redmond, 4 Culture, Nintendo, the Bellevue Collection, Happy Valley Grange, Microsoft and 501 Commons as well as from other donors and members.