The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Weyerhaeuser, Frederick
|The Cyclopædia of American Biography (1918)
WEYERHAEUSER, Frederick, lumber merchant and financier, b. in Niedersaulheim, Germany, 21 Nov., 1834; d. in Pasadena, Cal., 4 April, 1914, son of John Weyerhaeuser. Like his father, his ancestors, who had migrated from Western Germany some four hundred years back, were all farmers and vineyardists. The little family estate consisted of a fifteen-acre farm and a vineyard of three acres, which the father found ample to support his family of eleven children. Niedersaulheim is a town of the Rhine Valley, situated near the city of Mainz, in the midst of a beautiful, rolling, agricultural region. In ages past it had been one of the walled towns which the Romans established all over ancient Germania. At the age of six Frederick Weyerhaeuser was sent to the Protestant school of the town, where he received a primary education and where were inculcated in him those religious precepts which constituted during all his life one of the foundation stones of his character. Every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon was devoted to a study of the Bible and the church catechism. Two years later, at the age of eight, he began to assist in the work of the farm, helping about with such tasks as his strength permitted. When he was twelve years old, the death of his father compelled him to relinquish most of his school studies and devote himself to the management of the farm, sharing in the responsibility of maintaining the family. The year 1848 was a memorable one in Germany, on account of the heavy emigration of the best of Germany's manhood brought about by the revolutionary disturbances throughout the country. Most of these exiles, and the best of them, came to America, and among them were some members of the Weyerhaeuser family, who found their way to Western Pennsylvania and settled there in the following year. The enthusiastic letters which came back from these pioneers roused a desire for betterment in those who had remained at home. One of Mr. Weyerhaeuser's elder sisters and an aunt made the pilgrimage across the waters and joined the settlers in Pennsylvania. In 1852 another group of the family followed, and among these was Frederick Weyerhaeuser, then a sturdy youth of eighteen. Landing in New York, in July of that year, the party continued into Pennsylvania, and settled at North East, about fifteen miles from Erie. Here one of the earlier immigrants had established a brewing business, and he at once took young Frederick into his employ. The boy worked for two years, earning $4.00 a month during the first year and $9.00 during the second, but he was never entirely satisfied with the nature of his work. At the end of the two years he abandoned the brewing business, because, as he expressed it, he felt that a brewer “often becomes his own best customer.” For the next year he was employed on a farm, where he received $13.00 a month. Meanwhile the farm in the old country had been sold, and the proceeds were divided among the children, Mr. Weyerhaeuser, now grown to manhood, receiving his portion. This enabled him to escape from the drudgery of the farm work, and to look about him for some better opportunity. In 1856 he migrated further west, to Rock Island, Ill., and there, for a while, found employment with the construction company which was building the Rock Island and Peoria Railroad, now the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific. During this brief period he did not cease to look about him for his real opportunity, nor was it long before he found it; at any rate, it was his first step into that business which was to prove his real life work. He was offered the position of night fireman at a sawmill, operated by Mead, Smith and Marsh, at Rock Island. Here, then, was the first rung to the ladder that was afterward to lead him to wealth, influence, and power, and he lost no time in mounting it. When, two days afterward, the night shift was laid off, the new fireman was retained. Those two days had been long enough to convince his employer that he was not an ordinary hand. Nor did he remain fireman long; presently he was put to work as tallyman, loading lumber and keeping count of the daily output from one rotary saw and the mulay saw. One day at noon some farmers came to the mill to buy some lumber. The salesman was away to lunch. The young tallyman, not without some misgivings, pushed aside his lunch basket and prepared to fulfill the duties of the salesman. Exercising his own judgment, he sold the lumber, and when the salesman returned he turned over to him $60.00 and a tally of the lumber he had sold. Mr. Marsh, who was present, ran his eye over the details of the sale and decided that the young German could fill a position of more responsibility than that of a simple tallyman, so he gave him charge of the local yard and the sales, naturally with a corresponding advance in salary. Toward the end of the following year Mead, Smith and Marsh decided to open another branch of the business in Coal Valley, Ill., to which point the railroad had been extended, and which was advantageously located in a rich farming region. By this time Mr. Weyerhaeuser had proved his qualities, and the owners did not hesitate to send him as manager of the new lumber yard. The business under his charge prospered. But this was unfortunately not true of the other branches of the firm, for presently it was in financial difficulties. By this time Mr. Weyerhaeuser had saved up a small sum from his salary and he was able to purchase the assets of the embarrassed firm, making an initial payment of $500.00. Thus he embarked in the lumber business under his own name. Later he also acquired the mill at Rock Island, buying a raft of logs at Davenport, and laying down the lumber in Coal Valley at a cost of about $8.00 per thousand feet. When he came to figure out his profits for the first year, he found that they amounted to $3,000. The following year they amounted to $5,000. Mr. Weyerhaeuser now formed a partnership with F. C. A. Denkmann, then conducting a grocery store at Rock Island, and thus was formed the firm of Weyerhaeuser and Denkmann, later to play a leading part in the lumber industry of the country. In two years the struggling partners had cleared away all debts, and then began to increase the capacity of their mills, which in a few years rose from an annual output of 3,000,000 feet to 10,000,000 feet. By mutual arrangement, adapting themselves to their individual inclinations, it came about that Mr. Denkmann, who was a fine mechanic, looked after the management of the mills, while Mr. Weyerhaeuser gave his attention to the business — the purchase of logs and the selling of the finished lumber. Thus it was that he acquired an expert knowledge of estimating standing timber, and in other ways became an experienced lumberman. The increase in the demand for lumber was now rapidly developing the lumber industry along the Mississippi, and some of the mill owners began to consider the advisability of purchasing timber lands among the white pine forests in the North. Among these was Mr. Weyerhaeuser, who held that a successful business must be backed by a sure and extensive source of supply. Therefore, in 1868, the firm began to invest in pine timber lands on the Chippewa River. Other lumbermen had been doing likewise and great quantities of logs were being floated down the river. This brought about some difficulties. The logs of the various owners had to be floated down the river, mixed together, and then sorted at the booms. This sorting of the logs belonging to over a hundred owners was bound to cause confusion in which not a little injustice to individuals was necessarily involved. Finally a conference of the various mill operators along the Mississippi was held with the object of adjusting these difficulties. Among them was Frederick Weyerhaeuser, who suggested that a logging company be organized, on a co-operative basis, which should protect their mutual interests, especially on the Chippewa River. The result was the organization of the Mississippi River Logging Company a few days after the conference. This company, of which the individual mill operators were the stockholders, was to carry on the purchase and sale of pine lands, the driving of logs on the Chippewa River, the purchase of logs and the sorting and brailing of logs at Beef Slough, Wis., and at West Newton, Minn. The logs cut from the lands of the company were distributed among the stockholders, in proportion to their holdings. The first operations of the company, under salaried management, were not entirely satisfactory. Consequently, a reorganization took place, and Mr. Weyerhaeuser, who had been the leading spirit in the movement, was elected president in 1872. In 1881 the company gained control of the Chippewa Lumber and Boom Company, at Chippewa Falls, and soon after was organized the Chippewa Logging Company, more popularly known as “the pool.” The purpose of this new company was to buy sawn logs for its stockholders, to buy timber lands and timber and to carry on a general logging business. During the twenty years of its existence it handled over ten billion feet of saw logs. One of the difficulties was the apportionment of the logs, which naturally differed much in quality, among the various stockholders on an equitable basis. This delicate work of appraisal was intrusted to a committee of three, of which Mr. Weyerhaeuser was a member, as well as the chairman and executive. That the stockholders remained satisfied with his appraisals is a very significant indication of the confidence they had in his integrity. Having made secure, not only his own source of supply, but also those of the other mill operators, Mr. Weyerhaeuser was now able to develop the business of the firm according to his own ideas. Other mills were added to the equipment. With a quick judgment and a keen eye he grasped an opportunity whenever he saw it, investing in a new enterprise here or helping to develop an old one elsewhere. It was characteristic of him that he always desired to share his opportunities with others; he was ever a promoter of the co-operative spirit among his associates. The result was that they came to acquire almost a blind confidence in his business judgment and in his honesty, and whenever he saw an enterprise that promised good results, he was always able to swing the financial support of a large following to its assistance. Nor, as results have proven, was their confidence misplaced. These various co-operative enterprises, some of them large, others of almost nation-wide scope, some of them casual, others permanent, but all under the one leadership, came to be called the “Weyerhaeuser syndicate.” Yet in most of these joint enterprises Mr. Weyerhaeuser was not even a controlling shareholder; often his interests were less than 20 per cent. The first great extension of these enterprises was in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In the former, at Chippewa Falls, Hayward, Lake Nebagamon, and other points, great manufacturing plants were established. In Minnesota Cloquet, Little Falls, and Minneapolis were the centers of activity. The latest of these great enterprises with which Mr. Weyerhaeuser was associated was the Virginia and Rainy Lake Company, at Virginia, Minn. He was also interested in the South, where he and his associates secured large tracts of yellow pine lands in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Especially worthy of mention are the operations of the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, the largest of the corporations in which Mr. Weyerhaeuser was interested. This was organized in 1900 to purchase the extensive timber lands of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, acquired by grant from the government. The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company has since sold several hundred thousand acres of this standing timber at going prices, the whole originally amounting to 900,000 acres of timber. At the same time, however, it has continued making heavy purchases of still more inaccessible tracts. Now its holdings in Washington are estimated at 1,500,000 acres and in Oregon at 450,000 acres. In Idaho there are five companies in which Mr. Weyerhaeuser was interested, having total assets of fully $25,000,000. It will be noted that Mr. Weyerhaeuser's operations were largely connected with the supply of the uncut logs, yet the lumber manufacturing enterprises with which he was connected produce many hundreds of millions of feet of lumber annually. He also became interested in many banks, among them the Merchants' National Bank of St. Paul; the Continental and Commercial National Bank of Chicago; the Third National Bank of St. Louis; the First National Bank of Duluth. He was also a director of the Great Northern and Chicago and Great Western Railroad Companies. With this extension of his personal interests, Mr. Weyerhaeuser soon found that maintaining his headquarters at Rock Island was no longer convenient, therefore, in 1891, he removed to and became a permanent resident of St. Paul, though also maintaining a winter home in Pasadena, Cal. In all his large and far-reaching activities the outstanding characteristics of this prominent figure in the development of our great West were his distaste of anything savoring of monopoly and the pervading spirit of co-operation that dominated all his undertakings. Mr. Weyerhaeuser was a believer in the precepts of the old-fashioned religion, and among these may be found, when not distorted, the teaching of the fellowship of all men. From first to last he followed this precept, for never did he behold an opportunity for the acquisition of wealth but he was ready, even anxious, that others should share it with him. And in this regard it is only just to insist that he was in sharp contrast to many who have shared in the great prosperity which the development of the West bestowed on its early pioneers. On 11 Oct., 1857, during the period of his early struggles, Mr. Weyerhaeuser married Sarah Elizabeth Bloedel, who was a native of his own town, but who had come to the United States with her parents as a child. In Rock Island, where Mr. Weyerhaeuser first made her acquaintance, she was living with her sister, the wife of F. C. A. Denkmann, who later became his associate in the firm which was to play so large a part in the life of Mr. Weyerhaeuser. It was not merely a community of business interests, therefore, which bound the two partners together. Mrs. Weyerhaeuser died about two years before her husband, and this had not a little to do with hastening his own end. Seven children survived them: John P. Weyerhaeuser, now manager of the Nebagamon Lumber Company at Nebagamon, Wis.; Elsie, wife of Dr. William Bancroft Hill, one of the faculty of Vassar College; Margaret, wife of J. R. Jewett, professor of Semitic languages at the University of Chicago; Apollonia, wife of S. S. Davis, a successful business man of Rock Island; Charles A., president of the Potlatch Lumber Company, in Washington; Rudolph M., in charge of the great interests at Cloquet, Minn.; and Frederick E., formerly assistant to his father and now manager of the family interests in St. Paul.