People, Geography, and Businesses

The People of Idaho Falls

Let’s start with the people, who have lived in Idaho Falls or are now living here.

About 32,000 have been buried in 24 cemeteries in Bonneville County. A little more than three times that amount, 104,234 people, were living in Bonneville County as of 2010.  The 2010 census shows the population of the City of Idaho Falls to be 56,813. More than 12,000 people from outside the city commute to jobs in Idaho Falls. The growth of Idaho Falls and the nearby communities of Ammon, Lincoln and Iona has in effect integrated these towns, with a combined (additional) population of 19,266, into Idaho Falls. Populations of Swan Valley, Irwin, and the part of Ririe within Bonneville County are at most a few hundred each, leaving a sizable rural population in the county.  A large part of this rural population can be considered part of Idaho Falls either because of geographic proximity or social, religious and business connections.

Between 1883 and 1885 the population of Eagle Rock exploded from 550 to 1500, when the railroad house came to town.  But by 1890 it had plummeted down to 472 as the railroad jobs were lost to Pocatello. The population more than tripled in each of the next two decades.  The next largest period of high population growth was in the 1950’s, in which the population grew by 73%, due to formation of the National Reactor Test Site, the forerunner of the Idaho National Laboratory.  The growth spurt of the 1950’s was followed by the slowest growth, of 7.9%, for the decade of the 1960’s.  Since then the population has grown by 10-15% per decade.

In recent years, the fastest growing segment of the Idaho Falls and Bonneville County population has been Hispanic, increasing from about 2% of the population in 1980 to nearly 12% in 2010.Based on the 2010 census, 57% of the people living in Bonneville County were born in Idaho.  It’s highly probable that most of those were born and grew up in Idaho Falls.  In our highly mobile society, that’s a high number, suggesting strong attachments to the city or area. Based on the same census, 37% of Bonneville County residents came here from other states, while 5% were foreign born.

In contrast, in 1880, only 12% of the population of Eagle Rock and Willow Creek had been born in Idaho, about 33% in Utah, 27% in 22 other states and 19% in eight European countries or Canada.

In 2010, there were 2,412 births in Bonneville County and 890 deaths.  The net in-migration from other states to Bonneville County from 2000-2009 was 8,057 people, but in 2010 turned negative as 107 more people left than came.  The net in-migration of people born outside the United States to Bonneville County was 853 from 2000-2009 and remained positive in 2010, when 128 more came than left.

The geography of Idaho Falls and the surrounding area

Geologically, the most obvious feature of our city is the river that runs through the town, and supplies electric power to most of it.  Not quite so obvious is the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer, of which Idaho Falls sits on the eastern edge. One reason water is so essential to the city is the dryness of our climate, with an average annual precipitation of only 10.5 inches.

Located near the eastern edge of the Snake River Plain, the terrain of Idaho Falls is nearly flat.  The elevation at different points in the city varies in an irregular pattern from about 4,700 to 4,735 feet.

While many Idaho Falls residents enjoy recreational opportunities in mountains within easy driving distances in any direction from Idaho Falls, the closest mountains are the Blackfoot Range, southeast of town.  Taylor Mountain, rising to 7,414 feet, is included in this range, named for James “Matt” Taylor who built the first bridge in what became Eagle Rock.  The highest point in Bonneville County is the top of Mount Baird, at 10,025 feet, in the Snake River Mountain Range.  The highest point in Idaho, 12,668-ft Borah Peak, is 96 (cross-country, straight-line) miles from Idaho Falls.

Idaho Falls Businesses

Once canals began supplying water to pioneers in Eastern Idaho, agriculture became the economic base for Idaho Falls and remained so until the early 1950’s.  As early as 1869, geologist Ferdinand Hayden, who led numerous expeditions in the West and has left his name in numerous places in Yellowstone Park, reported that the Snake River Valley “was composed of a rich, sandy loam, that needs but the addition of water to render it excellent farming land.”

A 1920’s brochure included the following in its description of Idaho Falls:

“It is in the center of one of the greatest irrigation districts of the West, and the trade center for 1,300,000 acres of irrigated lands, exclusive of hundreds of thousands of acres of dry farming, grazing and forest lands.”

“[Among businesses] located in this city might be mentioned the largest sugar factor in the West, grain elevators, feed mills, wholesale grocery houses, three strong and successful banks, wholesale potato houses, bonded warehouses, cheese factory, bottling plants, bakeries, oil distributing plants, some of the finest garages in Idaho, planing mills, steam laundry, one of the largest wholesale seed pea companies in the world, honey shipping house, several lumber yards, cream buying stations, ice cream and candy factories…”

The above quotation mentions four of the agricultural products (potatoes, grain, sugar and honey) – two of which are now largely forgotten – that were important in the history of Idaho Falls.

To some, Idaho is synonymous with potatoes; Idaho Falls along with other parts of southern and eastern Idaho is a center for marketing and processing potatoes grown in the area. In recent years six billion pounds of potatoes have been grown in Idaho leads each year; potato processing in Eastern Idaho accounts for 44% of the total in the state.

Idaho also leads the nation in barley production, and two of the three barley processing facilities in the State are in Idaho Falls, Anheuser Bush’s Idaho Falls malt plant and the Idaho Falls Modelo malt plant.

In 1903 some Idaho Falls citizens formed the Idaho Sugar Company and constructed a sugar factory in Lincoln.  The History of Idaho, published in 1914, reported that this sugar factory was the largest in the world, processed sugar beets from 10,000 acres, and disbursed a million dollars annually in payment for beets and labor.   It’s original capacity of 600 tons of sugar beets a day was expanded to 4400 tons/day.  Over 75 years of operation, the plant produced over 4 billion pounds of sugar.  As late as 1970, the plant was the second largest sugar factory in the nation, employing between 350 and 400 workers, and producing about 150 million pounds of sugar a year.

In the early 20th century Idaho Falls was recognized as one of the largest producers of honey in the world.

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