By Peter Shrake
This odd looking apparatus was once an important tool in the Hops Craze that swept the Sauk County area in the mid 19th century.
In 1852, Jesse Cottington immigrated to Reedsburg, Wisconsin, from England, and brought along with him the knowledge of his previous occupation; the cultivation of hops.
Cottington imported hop roots from New York, at the time the leader in the hops market. Soon Cottington, along with several of his neighbors discovered the land well suited to growing the crop. The combination of Cottington's knowledge and the rich soil of Sauk and adjacent counties soon turned Wisconsin into a thriving hop production area.
Fourteen years after Cottington settled in Reedsburg, hops market conditions, fueled by the hops louse infestation in New York, created the " "Hops Craze" in the region.
Hops production was a full time business. Each year a pole 12 to 20 feet tall would be placed next to the hop's root. Later in the season, the vines would be tied to the poles and "trained" to climb in a clockwise fashion around the pole. The young hop vines would be tended to throughout the growing season, draping the pole in a lucent green beard. At the end of the growing season, thousands of "pickers" and "pole pullers" shipped in from Milwaukee, Chicago, and other cities, would descend upon the hop yards and strip the vines of the yellow-green flower cones, the ingredient sought after for brewing. The tool depicted was used to lift the poles up out of the ground and carry them to the picking racks.
By 1867, Sauk County produced some 2,000,000 pounds of hops annually, averaging a price between 50 and 60 cents per pound, marking the heyday of hops in Wisconsin.
The belief that the hop market would continue to grow, led farmers in the area to neglect other agricultural ventures and over produce hops. One year later in 1868, the bottom fell out of the market when the hops louse infestation was resolved in New York, resulting in an over supply of hops. Prices dropped from 60 cents a pound to less than 10 cents a pound, and growers were forced to sell their crop at a loss. Farmers lost fortunes along with homes and soon the thousands of acres of hops dwindled into obscurity.