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Hop King

Ezra Meeker’s Boom Years

Dennis M. Larsen


Oregon Trail pioneer Ezra Meeker recognized business opportunities and was willing to take risks. He settled in the Puyallup Valley and planted his first hops, eventually traveling to New York and London to open new markets. In 1882, following widespread crop failure elsewhere, desperate brewers offered Pacific coast growers astronomical prices, and the “hop king’s” firm became the largest exporter in the country. As an outstanding entrepreneur on a local and global scale and through his involvement in regional issues such as women’s suffrage and Chinese expulsion, Meeker helped transform the landscape, economics, and politics of his Puget Sound home.


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Two of Ezra Meeker’s defining traits were his ability to recognize business opportunities and his willingness to take risks. In 1852, the Washington Territory pioneer traveled west over the Oregon Trail, finally settling near Tacoma in the Puyallup Valley.

In the mid-1860s, he planted his first hops, and despite wild price fluctuations, attained modest success. Then he met beer brewer Henry Weinhard and began selling to him directly. Approximately twenty-five acres of hop roots led to $9,000 in sales—$154,000 today. Inspired, other farmers slowly joined in, shipping produce to San Francisco.

Ezra served as a broker and traveled to New York and London to open new markets. Convinced Northwest hops were superior, he hired a respected chemist to analyze the quantity of extract produced from Bavarian and New York hops as well as his own. The results confirmed his claims.
Then in 1882, Meeker quietly bypassed California middlemen, sending Washington hops directly to New York. That same year, Pacific coast growers benefited from widespread crop failure elsewhere. Desperate brewers offered astronomical prices and Puyallup farmers were rich. E. Meeker and Co. became the largest hops exporter in the country, and Ezra the official “hop king.”

Rarely idle, Meeker also managed a large family, became involved in philanthropy and development schemes, promoted Washington and Puget Sound, was active in politics and women’s suffrage, and tried to manufacture sugar from beets. Impulsive and pugnacious, he was an intimidating business opponent who became entangled in numerous lawsuits. Sadly, a combination of bad investments, lack of diversification, the 1893 depression, a financial betrayal, and an aphid plague brought Meeker’s boom years to a close.

In his newest book, Dennis M. Larsen recounts Ezra Meeker’s profitable years as well as the intertwined histories of hops, Puyallup, and Washington Territory. An independent historian and former social studies teacher, he has written for historical journals and is author/co-author of four other books. He speaks frequently on the Oregon Trail, Northwest pioneers, and of course, Ezra Meeker.

Illustrations / map / notes / bibliography / index / 368 pages (2016)


“With Hop King: Ezra Meeker’s Boom Years, you get a lot more than a blow-by-blow history of how hop fields came to the state, although you get that, too. The book…sheds light on one of the most colorful and accomplished men from the early days of the Washington Territory, and the subsequent infancy of our state. He was like the Evergreen State’s Forrest Gump — seemingly a part of every big moment in our early history.”—Pacific Northwest Inlander

“Ezra Meeker may have been a man of the 19th (and early 20th) century, but his life story is completely contemporary for business in the early 21st. He tried many careers…But up to the last, Meeker’s reaction to failure was to throw himself with enthusiasm and vigor into the next opportunity.”—Tacoma News Tribune

“Larsen’s biography of Meeker portrays a complex and important figure in state history. Meeker’s influence on one of Washington’s signature crops, his political ambitions, and even his later advocacy for preserving the Oregon Trail show the pioneer sensibility that built Washington.”—Washington State Magazine

Hop King is in its own way an enlightening adventure story because it details the ups and downs of Meeker’s fortunes as an agriculturalist based in a remote corner of the world, who by the 1870s found himself already enmeshed in what commentators today call the ‘global economy.’”—Carlos Schwantes, University of Missouri–St. Louis, Western Historical Quarterly


Additional information

Dimensions 9 x 6 in