Butcher knives, wine and ski parts are among the more unusual items that have found their way through the Port of Green Bay — by the ton — since 1968.
I was recently looking for some historical numbers for the port and found a long list of products cataloging wares and commodities over the last 45 years.
Butcher knives caught my eye as I looked for the more traditional commodity column of “wood products” in a historical report of annual tonnages for the port.
• The year was 1973 and the port imported a ton of butcher knives. It was the first, and last time, over the four-plus-decade span of the report that product has come in or left the port in any quantity.
• Two tons of wine were imported by the port in 1971, followed by 7 more tons in 1972.
• In 1968 and 1969, a total of 45 tons of sewing machines were imported through the port.
• Pigeon nests appear among the commodities, though no quantities values are given — other than 0 in 1972.
• Twenty tons of ski parts came in through the port in 1972, along with a ton of educational material (and, apparently, pigeon nests).
• More than 21,800 tons of frozen butter left the port for foreign export in 1992 and 1993.
• It was a groooooovy year in 1969 when the port exported a ton of movie screens, three tons of stereo loudspeakers and a ton of folding chairs (Washington Island-sized Woodstock, perhaps?).
Dean Haen, head of Brown County’s Port and Resource Recovery department, said a look back at some of those items gives insight into the changing nature of the port.
“What the port is today doesn’t necessarily mean what it’s going to be tomorrow,” he said. “Ports evolve. We went from exporting forest products for the buildings of New York and Chicago ... then we started becoming a manufacturing hub and producing paper products and other finished products, so we started importing raw materials for manufacturing.”
The port has seen its ups and downs, tied largely to the overall economy. In recent years tonnage totals have hung around 2 million tons a year.
The peak over the last 45 years was in 1970 when the port handled 3 million tons of cargo. It approached that figure again in 1979 at 2.8 million tons and peaked most recently in 2006 at 2.5 million tons.
The port was just shy of 2 million tons in 2012, handling more traditional — but no less important — commodities like salt, limestone, stone, and petroleum products.
“We’re importing raw materials, but the port of the future is probably going to be different,” Haen said. “We don’t know what’s that’s going to be, but you can see the variety of cargoes that have moved through the port — as strange as they may seem.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter@nathanphelpsPG or on Facebook at Nathan Phelps (Press-Gazette).