Portrait of Frederick Weyerhaeuser, n.d.

Portrait of Frederick Weyerhaeuser, n.d.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser


First-generation immigrant Frederick Weyerhaeuser transformed the American lumber industry and attained almost unimaginable wealth in the process. Today, the family-run Weyerhaeuser Company remains one of the largest lumber producers in the Pacific Northwest and in the world.


Frederick Weyerhaeuser (Born: November 21, 1834, Niedersaulheim, Rhein Hesse; Died: April 4, 1914, Pasadena, California) founded America’s largest lumber company and became the largest individual land owner in the United States. A first-generation German immigrant, Weyerhaeuser arrived in the United States in 1852 at age eighteen. After spending several years as a brewer, a field hand, and rail worker, he purchased a Rock Island, Illinois, sawmill for which he had once worked, and in 1860 he founded his own company. From these humble origins, Weyerhaeuser’s timber company grew into the largest single lumber producer in the country. Over the course of his career, the lumbermen under his employ exploited vast stands of white pine in the American Northwest and played a crucial role in the industrialization of the United States.[1]

Weyerhaeuser’s lumber empire was just as far-reaching and powerful as the contemporary oil and steel companies of John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, and nearly as lucrative. Upon his death in 1914, Weyerhaeuser personally possessed over two million acres of timber land scattered across the Northwest as well as controlling interests in more than 62,500 square miles of company lands. Together, these lands covered an area larger than the state of Wisconsin. It is widely known that Rockefeller, the Standard Oil magnate, was worth roughly $1.4 billion when he died in 1937, and that steel tycoon Carnegie achieved billionaire status before his death in 1919. Few realize, however, that upon his death Weyerhaeuser held as much as $100 million ($2.32 billion in 2011[2]) in capital, stock, timber, and corporate land.[3] One study of note, which calculated the 100 wealthiest American businessmen of all time by figuring the ratio of their fortune at the time of their death to the gross national product (GNP), suggested that Weyerhaeuser was worth even more and rated him as the seventh wealthiest American of all time.[4] This essay will examine how an unassuming immigrant from Niedersaulheim, Germany, attained almost unimaginable wealth and transformed the American lumber industry.[5]

Within a few decades after immigrating to the United States, Weyerhaeuser and his wife Sarah Elizabeth Bloedel, also a native of Niedersaulheim, climbed to the uppermost echelon of American industry and society. The Weyerhaeusers passed their wealth on to their seven children, who continued to advance their father’s vision for the lumber business into the twentieth century. Today, the family-run Weyerhaeuser Company, which is headquartered in Tacoma, Washington, remains one of the largest lumber producers in the Pacific Northwest and the world. This is a story, then, about how an entire immigrant family not only adapted to American culture, but actually altered it within a generation, and in the process, became a fundamental force in American business and a social institution in the Northwest.

Family Background and Immigration to the United States

Frederick Weyerhaeuser was born Friedrich Weyerhӓuser in the town of Niedersaulheim in the province of Rhein Hesse. He was one of two descendants of the Weyerhӓuser family who immigrated to the United States; the other was his sister Louisa. Like many German immigrants, he changed the spelling of his name after arriving in America.

A man by the name of Johannes Weyershӓuser of Ebsdorf (d. May 7, 1804) is Friedrich Weyerhӓuser’s earliest recorded ancestor in Germany. Johannes Weyershӓuser’s son Franz (born in Ebsdorf on March 28, 1764) married Elizabeth Weber of Roth and worked as a farmer in Ebsdorf. They left but one child, also named Johannes (b. April 27, 1792, in Ebsdorf – d. 1847). We can surmise that this Johannes of Ebsdorf was related, perhaps as a cousin, to another man named Johannes Weyerhӓuser living contemporaneously in Niedersaulheim. The German line of Weyerhӓusers in Niedersaulheim began with this Johannes and seems to have ended when future lumber tycoon Frederick and his sister Louisa moved from Niedersaulheim to the United States. Aside from Louisa, Frederick Weyerhaeuser had three other German-born sisters who made it to maturity. Their whereabouts remain unknown.[6]

Niedersaulheim was in Rhein Hesse, wine country; the town was located about fourteen miles from Mainz, home of the Gutenberg press, and was staunchly Lutheran. Naturally, Frederick’s father, Johannes, grew grapes on his fifteen acres, and young Frederick attended the local Lutheran parochial school. In 1846, when Frederick was twelve, his father died. A year or two later, he quit his studies to manage the family vineyard. In 1849, Frederick’s maternal uncle joined other “48-ers” who were leaving Germany to avoid political repression, escape an economic recession, and purchase cheap farm land in America. After settling in the U.S., Frederick’s uncle sent encouraging reports to relatives back home about opportunities in Pennsylvania. In the early 1850s, Louisa’s husband, Michael Koch, found himself struggling to keep his grocery store afloat; the Weyerhaeuser family had few options. In 1852, Frederick and Louisa decided to sell their shares in the family vineyard and use the money to secure passage to Eerie, Pennsylvania, where their uncle was living (at the time, Frederick was only eighteen and could not legally claim his inheritance until age twenty-one).[7] Louisa’s husband emigrated with them.

Once in America, Frederick Weyerhaeuser sought work within German-speaking communities in Pennsylvania. With little schooling and few skills to speak of, Weyerhaeuser initially depended almost exclusively on the good will of his fellow countrymen and kin. In Erie, Weyerhaeuser’s brother-in-law Michael Koch founded a brewery, and Weyerhaeuser started working there. Although many German immigrants made their living as brewers and the profession was a respectable one, Weyerhaeuser was bothered by the tendency of Koch’s professional cohort to drink in excess. He intimated to his children later in life that he thought it regrettable “how often brewers became their own best customers.”[8] After two years at Koch’s brewery, Weyerhaeuser left to work for a nearby farmer named Pickett for thirteen dollars a month. During his free time, he established an important relationship with a local German family, the Bloedels, who were also first-generation immigrants from Niedersaulheim. Weyerhaeuser became friends with blacksmith John Philip Bloedel and eventually married his youngest daughter, Sarah Elizabeth. In 1855, Weyerhaeuser turned twenty-one and claimed his inheritance. Unfortunately, by that time, farm land in Pennsylvania was expensive and difficult to come by. Prompted by his cousin, who raved about the quality of farm land in Illinois, Weyerhaeuser decided to use his inheritance to move to Rock Island, Illinois. Again, he faced troubles: there was no land left to be had when he arrived in Rock Island, so he worked temporarily alongside other German immigrants on the construction of a new railroad, and then for a short time at a German brewery.[9]

The trail Weyerhaeuser traversed from the East Coast to the Upper Mississippi Valley was already well-worn. Of the nearly five million European immigrants who arrived in America between 1820 and 1860, approximately half eventually settled in the incorporated states west of the Appalachian Mountains, a region of the country known as the Old Northwest, or more broadly as the Trans-Mississippi West.[10] German immigrants to the U.S. in the nineteenth century arrived in the port of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi as frequently as they did in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Beginning in the 1840s, steamboats and later railroads carried them up the Mississippi River to towns in Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Many who arrived in eastern cities such as New York and Philadelphia moved several more times before settling down. German immigrants to the West often sought good farm land, but most ended up settling in bourgeoning western towns where they could earn steady wages in manufacturing businesses.[11]

It was not surprising, then, that Weyerhaeuser once again found himself in the company of Sarah Elizabeth Bloedel. Back in Erie, Sarah’s sister Catherine had married a German-born grocer named Frederick C. A. Denkmann, and the two moved to Rock Island shortly after the wedding. In 1857, Sarah, at age eighteen, traveled to Rock Island to assist her sister during a childbirth.[12] Frederick Weyerhaeuser and Sarah Bloedel became a traditional Christian couple: they courted for six months, married on October 11, 1857, and began having children at a steady pace. Overall, the Weyerhaeusers raised seven children, who went on to become executives and socialites in various Western and Midwestern cities, including Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Rock Island, and Portland, Oregon: John Philip Weyerhaeuser (1858-1935, Weyerhaeuser executive), Elise Weyerhaeuser Hill (1860-1946), Margaret Weyerhaeuser Jewett (1862-1939), Charles A. Weyerhaeuser (1866-1930, Potlatch executive), Rudolph Michael Weyerhaeuser (1868-1946, Potlatch executive), Frederick Edward Weyerhaeuser (1872-1945, Weyerhaeuser executive), and Apollonia Weyerhaeuser Davis (1874-1953).

By all indications, Frederick and Sarah Weyerhaeuser were devout Protestants. They attended Rock Island’s conservative German Lutheran Church; Frederick read his German-language Bible daily, and Sarah taught her children to fear the Lord. Daughters Elise and Margaret became especially enthusiastic about the religious stirrings in the Presbyterian movement, and the Weyerhaeusers eventually switched from Rock Island’s German Lutheran church to the local Presbyterian church – a decision that would have profound consequences for that Presbyterian church and later for St. Paul’s House of Hope Presbyterian Church, where the Weyerhaeusers were loyal and generous patrons for generations. Weyerhaeuser nevertheless continued to support a variety of German churches and missions in the region.[13]

Generally speaking, newcomers to the Midwest, whether they settled in small agrarian communities or in the cities of Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis, relied on cheap and available lumber. At the time, Rock Island, Illinois, was only a small town, but its location on the Mississippi River at the virtual border between forest and prairie lands attracted ambitious lumbermen. The city was founded in 1841. In 1854, the Rock Island City Directory included an entry for its first daily newspaper, the Argus. That same year, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific rail line was completed, connecting the city to Chicago. The first school system was established in 1856. Although the population was small – the 1860 census reported it at 5,130 – it was not homogenous: many residents were European born. German immigrants patronized an evangelical Lutheran Church (founded in 1856) and a German Methodist Church (1858); they also read the Beobachter am Mississippi [Observer on the Mississippi], a German-language newspaper founded by a Bavarian physician in 1857.[14] Early Rock Island residents built the town with lumber from local trees, but further south the inhabitants of the booming prairie city of St. Louis, Missouri, relied on timber from Wisconsin and Minnesota for its expansion. Lumber producers in Rock Island spotted an opportunity. The Mead, Smith & Marsh sawmill employed many of the town’s immigrants, including Weyerhaeuser, who started working there in 1856. His job was to tally logs and sort them into four grades.[15]

The three mill owners were not German-Americans, but they took a liking to the young Weyerhaeuser. Marsh, an Irish immigrant who once aspired to become a Roman Catholic priest, was particularly fond of him.[16] One day while the owners were away, Weyerhaeuser negotiated a momentous deal with a group of local German farmers in German. They were so eager to purchase lumber that they offered $60 in gold, a large sum at the time ($1,640 in 2011). Additionally, gold was also the most desired form of currency. So, without asking for permission, Weyerhaeuser made the deal. The mill owners were pleased with Weyerhaeuser’s initiative. Soon thereafter, Marsh promoted him to manager of an associated lumberyard in the nearby town of Coal Valley, Illinois.[17] Weyerhaeuser quickly proved his worth: he did more than manage the stock diligently. By all accounts, his skill and honesty earned him the admiration and respect of English-speaking Protestant Yankees and Irish Catholics as well as German immigrants. Then and later, his ability to cooperate with a diverse group in the West would prove absolutely crucial to his success.

Lumber Entrepreneur

Frederick Weyerhaeuser became a successful lumber entrepreneur in 1858. He managed this despite the Panic of 1857, which drove down the price of lumber, depleted available cash and credit, and destroyed more than a few enterprises in the West. The Mead, Smith & Marsh sawmill was among the concerns that went bankrupt as a result; many other small sawmills along the Mississippi shared this fate. Weyerhaeuser, however, benefited from the hard times. Taking advantage of low prices, Weyerhaeuser took out high-interest loans to buy most of the assets of the Coal Valley lumberyard, assumed Mead, Smith & Marsh’s debt, and leased the Rock Island sawmill. In order to purchase logs and keep the Coal Valley and Rock Island sawmills running, he took ad hoc jobs as an independent contractor, building houses, schools, and county buildings. He even accepted payment in cattle or food, which he then bartered for more lumber to manufacture in his sawmills. It worked. While everyone else seemed to be suffering from the Panic, Weyerhaeuser managed to earn a profit of $3,000 in 1858 and $5,000 in 1859 ($84,600 and $140,000, respectively, in 2011). In his first couple of years as an independent businessman, Weyerhaeuser demonstrated his talent for working hard, networking, and establishing a solid reputation with local buyers and creditors. He consistently put in ten- to twelve-hour days, except on Sundays, and he spent additional time meeting with associates. Most of his peers – German and non-German, literate and illiterate alike – figured Weyerhaeuser to be a shrewd but fair businessman and did not question his prices. His reputation with creditors was also excellent, since he strived to pay off loans as quickly as possible, a quality that Weyerhaeuser believed to be crucial to his success.[18]

It was clear from the outset that Weyerhaeuser intended to include his family in business affairs: almost immediately, all sorts of German-speaking relatives, acquaintances, and family friends took up work at the lumberyards in Coal Valley and Rock Island. Weyerhaeuser’s fortuitous encounter with the Bloedel family in Pennsylvania and his marriage to Sarah Elizabeth in Rock Island brought him into the company of Frederick C. A. Denkmann, a German immigrant grocer who was also his brother-in-law. In 1860, the Rock Island sawmill, which Weyerhaeuser had been leasing, went up for sale at a sheriff’s auction, and he and Denkmann pooled their money to buy the failing mill. The Panic of 1857 had diminished the cost of the property, once valued at $17,000. Weyerhaeuser put in only $4,616.51, and Denkmann contributed $1,607.03 – the latter agreed to pay Weyerhaeuser back his full half of the purchase with interest; so, for about $5,100, plus the cost of equipment, Weyerhaeuser and Denkmann acquired the Rock Island sawmill. On May 1, 1860, they entered into a “co-partnership” named the Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann Company.[19] Denkmann ran the mill with the kind of discipline and tenacity that many factory workers had come to expect from their bosses. Yet the mill developed a good reputation among workers because they were always paid reasonable wages in full in cash. Moreover, Weyerhaeuser and Denkmann never required workers to take payment in the form of merchandise credit at the company story, as other companies began to do at the time. Eager to focus on acquiring logs and sales, Weyerhaeuser left the management of the mill to Denkmann, but ensured his kin steady work. When his sister Louisa and her husband Michael Koch moved to Rock Island to make a new start, Weyerhaeuser gladly employed Koch as a bookkeeper, paymaster, and yard salesman. He also appointed Louisa’s eldest son, John, as the first engineer of the Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann. Many other German-speaking family members, distant relatives, and friends worked for Weyerhaeuser’s company over the years.[20]

It was remarkable that Weyerhaeuser was able to pay his employees faithfully in the aftermath of a major recession in 1857 and through the Civil War (1861-1865); this was something that many companies struggled to do during the turbulent 1860s. Weyerhaeuser was actually drafted to serve in the Union Army, but hired a substitute instead, a common practice for those who had the $300 on hand ($7,900 in 2011). The Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann Company rapidly expanded after the Civil War. By 1866, over sixty men were employed at the mill, which included new shingle, lath, and planing departments. Weyerhaeuser’s mill became the primary supplier of sashes and doors to St. Louis, and it won a major contract with the Union Pacific Railway, which needed wood for the construction of a bridge. By the end of the 1860s, both Weyerhaeuser and Denkmann had sold enough wood to repay the debt they had accrued; they both had strong lines of credit and substantial homes in Rock Island.[21]

The desire for wood was inexhaustible, but trees were not. The Chippewa River Valley in Wisconsin and virtually the entire state of Minnesota were covered with white pine forests but sparsely populated. Well before the U.S. incorporated the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota (in 1848 and 1858, respectively), the lumber industry was already almost entirely committed to working with white pine for several reasons: white pine was light and easier to float down river than hardwoods like oak; sawmill operators preferred white pine because it was strong, durable, and the grain often went in one direction; and manufacturers and salesmen desired white pine because once processed it had a shiny and attractive finish. Already by 1860, experienced lumbermen noted that the demand for wood in Chicago and the Great Lakes region had reduced Michigan’s stands to dangerously low levels.[22]

To understand Weyerhaeuser’s role in shaping the future lumber industry, one must consider the typical practices and challenges of his contemporaries in the Northwest at each step of the wood manufacturing process. Early lumber companies were migratory in nature, since they moved steadily westward in search of new pine trees. Lumbermen in Wisconsin and Minnesota came to rely on the Mississippi River, steamboats, and rails to transport their lumber from remote locations in the Northwest to market. The timber there was plentiful (though by the turn of the twentieth century, even Wisconsin and Minnesota’s forests were approaching extinction), and a conglomeration of independent logging operators joined the frenzy. Initially, the vast array of lumberjack crews, rafting and steamboat transporters, and sawmills in the upper Trans-Mississippi Valley preferred to work independently of one another and settled for modest profits. The lack of general management resulted in the misuse of the forests. It was all too common for an individual lumber company to buy a tract of land, cut down every last tree, and then sell the land to farmers or eager speculators as soon as possible (to avoid paying property taxes). In other words, almost every company in the mid-nineteenth century practiced a policy of indiscriminate exploitation with no plan for sustainability. The problem was exacerbated by a variety of outside factors: the overall demand for wood rose steadily after the Civil War; another wave of European immigration from 1880 to 1910 contributed to a population boom in American cities; and an industrial revolution expanded communication and transportation networks and markets. It was more important than ever that the timber industry meet the pressing demand for forest products, and at the same time achieve some level of sustainability for future generations.

Migratory lumberjack crews composed almost exclusively of males were charged with the task of travailing the harsh terrain and weather in Minnesota and Wisconsin. While German and Irish immigrants predominated in the Midwest, lumberjacks were mostly of varied origins; they included experienced American loggers from the Northeast, Englishmen and French-Canadians, and immigrants from the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland. This diversity could be seen in Minnesota’s first American settlement on the St. Croix River, Stillwater, which harbored a small Dutch Town for German mill workers, an Irish Church for Irish loggers, a Swedish Church, and thriving communities of French-Canadian and Swiss immigrants.[23] Lumberjacks felled trees during the winter months exclusively because there was little sap to contend with then, and because it was nearly impossible to transport logs without ice roads. They relied on snow, sleighs, and horses to move logs to iced-over Mississippi River tributaries or dammed lakes.

When the ice melted in the spring, the logs began their long journey to the sawmills further south. Some companies based in Stillwater, Minnesota, like that of French-Canadian immigrant David Tozer, a future associate of the Weyerhaeuser Company, hired river crews to drive logs as far south as St. Louis, located more than 550 miles downriver.[24] Booms downstream were designed to catch the floating logs and sort them for the mills. Since lumberjacks were only paid for the logs that made it to booms, during the spring they often “drove” their logs down the Mississippi in bateaus, or flatboats, or on giant log rafts. One Swedish immigrant, lumberjack, and river driver, Fritz Adolph Johnson, remembered that “the life of a lumberjack or river driver” in the 1860s “was a rough one.” “River pigs,” as they were often called, worked all day navigating the treacherous river, muscling giant paddles against river banks and sandbars. Men risked their lives clearing log rafts of snags. “A first class driver,” Johnson reminisced, “had to be able to ride anywhere on a log that might barely hold his weight.”[25] One Boston-born driver made the long haul to Minnesota sometime in the 1860s and worked alongside Native Americans, Frenchmen, and “Swedes and Polanders” who “couldn’t talk English.” He felled the logs in northern Minnesota, drove them on a 100-day cruise to Minneapolis, and took up work sawing logs with a giant whipsaw for delivery even further downstream. After a few years, he took pride in his river-driving prowess: “I was just like a squirrel on logs,” he boasted. Indeed, each stage of the process required tremendous strength, endurance, and skill.[26]

The decentralized nature of ad hoc logging operations along the Chippewa, Mississippi, and St. Croix rivers made the lumbering business an inefficient and even haphazard enterprise. Many independent companies failed due to setbacks that were inherent to the business. The lumberjacks and river drivers knew well that natural disasters – insect and fungus epidemics, forest fires, bad weather, and insufficient snow in the winter or too much rain in the spring – could destroy fledgling lumber companies along the Mississippi. Lumbermen worked to control the unwieldy river, to build dams and booms, but without a central organization the river often got the best of their efforts to keep the logs flowing. Floods on one hand and log jams on the other occurred frequently with devastating effect. In 1869, Weyerhaeuser witnessed a serious log jam in the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. Logs were piled from the bottom of the river as high as twenty feet above the waterline and for as far as fifteen miles above Chippewa Falls. It took weeks and months for scores of men to clear the pile up and move the timber to Weyerhaeuser’s Rock Island mill.[27]

And if log jams were not enough, competition between the hundreds of rafting crews and sawmills and lumber companies slowed production, sometimes to a halt, as teams of workers spent days and weeks finding and sorting the logs of their individual employer from those belonging to other companies. Each company marked their logs for identification, but during the process many of them were lost, and disputes often arose when one company accused another of “stealing.” As hard as it was for northern mills at lumber entrepôts such as St. Paul-Minneapolis in Minnesota and Eau Claire at Chippewa Falls to streamline production, it was even harder for the Mississippi River mills downstream to expedite the delivery of their logs. Weyerhaeuser had enjoyed success, but he knew that it would not last for long unless he could secure a steady and sustainable supply of pine from Wisconsin and Minnesota, and there were many mill owners along the Mississippi who had the same realization.

Rise of the “Lumber King”

During the 1870s, Weyerhaeuser began to widen his gaze beyond his mill in Rock Island to the source of its enterprise: the great forests in the Northwest. Weyerhaeuser reminisced later in life, “When I first saw the fine timber on the Chippewa, I wanted to say nothing about it. It was like the feeling of a man who has discovered a hidden treasure. If only Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann could control this, they would have an almost inexhaustible supply of the very best timber in the world.” But Weyerhaeuser was wise enough to recognize that he “needed help.” At the time, there was little cooperation between sawmills, steamboat operators, and other related industries in the mid-nineteenth-century Trans-Mississippi West. Weyerhaeuser, however, would be instrumental in changing that.[28]

Weyerhaeuser began to form working relationships with fellow lumbermen in the region – both German and American – and inaugurated a massive cooperative effort to make lumbering more efficient, sustainable, and profitable for him and his associates. The “Weyerhaeuser syndicate,” as the cooperative became known, started as a tentative union between the major American and German lumber companies along the Mississippi. The original fifteen companies met in Chicago on December 28, 1870, and officially created the Mississippi River Logging Company (MRLC). The Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann Company appeared on the original charter, as did several other German-led companies, including those owned by German immigrant Peter M. Musser, who founded firms in Muscatine and Davenport, Iowa, and whose children and grandchildren eventually became major executives in the Weyerhaeuser Company.[29] Though Weyerhaeuser only functioned as an executive for the MRLC at first, he later became president of this company as well as several other important cooperatives in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and thus emerged as one of the most influential of the associates. In 1871, the MRLC bought up tens of thousands of acres of timberland in Wisconsin, and then Minnesota, and formed partnerships with hundreds of sawmills in the region.[30]

Although the Chippewa millmen put up stiff competition and even filed lawsuits against the Weyerhaeuser syndicate, they were powerless to thwart the concerted efforts of Weyerhaeuser and his associates for several reasons. For one, there was strength in unity. The Mississippi River Logging Company took over almost every aspect of the logging business. They hired new steamers to haul their company logs on giant rafts. In 1870, Weyerhaeuser himself rode on the maiden Mississippi River voyage of a new 100-foot long, twenty-foot wide, stern-wheel steamer named the Glenmont, which J. W. Van Sant of Iowa had designed specifically for pushing log rafts. In 1874, Weyerhaeuser and Denkmann purchased their own steamboat, the C. J. Caffrey, and other associates followed suit. During the busiest months, the MRLC employed a fleet of seventy-five steamboats and over 1,500 men. MRLC members were also able to substitute the singular and confusing marks each respective company used to identify its logs for a single, standard company sign. While companies outside the syndicate spent days and weeks culling their individually marked logs at stopping points, associates of the Mississippi River Logging Company simply kept track of the logs they were due and pulled company-marked logs from booms; by the mid-1870s, MRLC logs accounted for roughly two out of every three logs floating down the Chippewa River. To ensure that associates received the same quality of timber they purported to have cut, the MRLC hired “graders” who assigned standard grades to the timber felled by lumberjacks during the winter and inspected the logs floating downstream in the river in the spring.[31]

The associates of the Mississippi River Logging Company voted, pooled their money together, and took out large loans from banks and other creditors to buy not only timber but also stock in other lumber companies. Meanwhile, independent mill owners on the Chippewa struggled to stay solvent and were often eager to sell their properties to the MRLC. Weyerhaeuser was particularly adept at knowing when and where to buy, and the force of his business acumen usually compelled his associates to consent to his plans. One of the most important purchases Weyerhaeuser organized involved a natural still water off the Chippewa River near its conjunction with the Mississippi. Access to this stretch of still water allowed the MRLC to streamline logs around the usual stopping points and booms along the Chippewa and direct them straight to a sandbar called Beef Slough.[32] By then, Weyerhaeuser and his associates had been purchasing timberland along the Chippewa, and when the Beef Slough Company went bankrupt after a record flood in 1870, he and several of his associates leased the slough. Eventually, they bought it and built it into a major supplier of wood to the sawmills on the Mississippi. By the mid-1870s, one associate of the Norton, Laird Company reported that “nearly all the most substantial manufacturers” between Beef Slough, Wisconsin, and St. Louis, Missouri, “were brought in,” and business expanded exponentially. The Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann Company, for example, more than doubled production from eight million board feet in 1869 to seventeen million in 1875. On October 20, 1875, another group led by Weyerhaeuser acquired 50,000 premium acres of pine land for manufacture at Beef Slough from Cornell University, for ten dollars per acre at seven percent interest.[33]

The mills at Eau Claire filed numerous lawsuits through the 1870s and 1880s against the operations of the Mississippi River Logging Company on the grounds that its logs, dams, and booms prevented “freedom of navigation” for boats, but to no avail. In an important Wisconsin State court case in December 1879, Captain E. E. Heerman v. Beef Slough, judges ruled that boat operators were entitled to compensation for damages but that no court had the right to abate logging operations on the Chippewa, citing a long precedent of lumber company use of the river and noting that “free navigation” had been “acquiesced in for a long time.”[34] Unimpeded by the lawsuits, the Mississippi River men continued to buy up land, mills, dams, booms, and riparian rights from companies along the Chippewa. Weyerhaeuser orchestrated new associations with companies in Wisconsin, including the Chippewa River Improvement and Log Driving Company (1876).[35]

In large part, the bitterness between the millmen at Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and the “outsiders” from Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri abated after a record flood in June 1880 sent logs careening down the Chippewa River, plunging over dams, wrecking entrenchments, and tearing out booms, bridges, and houses. Most of the logs destined for the mills at Chippewa Falls flashed down the river and scattered on the river bank along a 125-mile stretch; some beached three miles from the river. Many of the logs settled at Beef Slough before continuing down the Mississippi. The Chippewa millmen were forced to cut a deal with their rivals, the Mississippi River Logging Company. As president of the syndicate, Weyerhaeuser saw to it that they received fair terms: the MRLC would use their runaway logs in exchange for an equivalent number of company logs that passed through Chippewa Falls. In no time, the Chippewa millmen were back in operation. Now realizing the benefit of partnering with Weyerhaeuser and his associates, several Eau Claire lumber companies reached a provisional agreement on November 24, 1880, at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Chicago to form the Chippewa Logging Company (CLC), a conglomeration of MRLC and Eau Claire manufacturers (the former group owned 65 percent and the latter 35 percent). Weyerhaeuser, who had recently become the president of the MRLC, gained full authority to purchase properties on behalf of the CLC, and he immediately ended the struggle by convincing his associates from the MRLC to purchase the majority of shares of the Chippewa Lumber & Boom properties as well (7,380 shares out of 12,300).[36] So, by 1881, Weyerhaeuser was not only the co-founder of Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann in Rock Island but also the president of several large companies in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. He was also fast becoming one of the biggest stockholders among the associated members of the so-called Mississippi “syndicate” and Chippewa “pool” as well as the largest private landowner. For that reason, most commentators simply referred to the associated lumber companies in the Northwest as the “Weyerhaeuser syndicate” or the “Weyerhaeuser pool.”

Eventually, critics complained that the so-called “Weyerhaeuser syndicate” was not really a conglomeration of independent, willing partners but rather a power-hungry monopoly. This view became more common at the turn of the twentieth century, when reform-minded “muck-raking” journalists, such as Ida M. Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens, wrote exposés on big business corruption. Apparently, Steffens once approached Weyerhaeuser in his St. Paul office and demanded to know how rich he was; in the end, he decided not to make a story of it. Nearly three decades later, Steffens reminisced that immediately after he posed the question, Weyerhaeuser telephoned his banker: “There’s a man here who has asked me how rich I am. Can you make a rough estimate? No? Too long a job? All right.” Then, he turned to Steffens and said: “He doesn’t know either, can’t say offhand.”[37] Weyerhaeuser personally wished to avoid such confrontations and the public eye. Besides the lawsuits filed by the Chippewa millmen, hardly any political disputes or workers’ strikes focused attention on the Weyerhaeuser syndicate. There were only two exceptions, both of which were brief strikes. In 1886, workers at the Big Mill at Chippewa Falls demanded a ten-hour instead of a twelve-hour workday. The dispute ended with a compromise: they did not win a shorter workday, but Weyerhaeuser’s company increased wages from $1.25 an hour to $1.375. The other strike of note took place in 1898, when American Federation of Labor affiliates incited workers to completely close the Big Mill. According to one account, Weyerhaeuser wired the man responsible for resolving the strike, William Irvine, the following message: “If you are sure that your men’s wages are fair, urge them to go back to work. If they will not, open the booms and let the logs go down the Chippewa.” Apparently, Weyerhaeuser’s threat compelled the strikers to return to work.[38]

For the most part, Weyerhaeuser and his associates largely avoided the kind of investigations and public scrutiny that other big corporations faced at the turn of the century.[39] On the whole, they faced more chagrin from conservationists and environmental activists than from anti-monopolist trust-busters. At the time, a growing number of outspoken Progressive-minded critics of the timber industry, including conservationists, were pushing to regulate the exploitation of America’s great forests in the West. These critics included first-generation German immigrant and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz and President Theodore Roosevelt.

Weyerhaeuser’s lumber business thrived during a time in American history when the acquisition of land in the West was easier than ever. Weyerhaeuser showed unparalleled initiative in annually reinvesting his surplus and accruing loans to purchase tracts of timberland, first in Wisconsin, then in Minnesota, and later in the Pacific Northwest. He often made land deals by bringing in other associates, but he was also willing to buy well before his company or his associates were ready to harvest. One biographer summed up Weyerhaeuser’s business model succinctly: “locate strategically, invest as little as possible initially, build conservatively, expand broadly, keep a minority interest, reinvest profits, and supervise everything in person.” He once said that “the only times I ever lost money were when I didn’t buy.” Indeed, he was eager to form partnerships and private gentlemen’s agreements with anyone who wanted in. He formed so many agreements through each and every one of his companies that most of his partners had no idea exactly who was a member of the Weyerhaeuser syndicate.[40]

By 1890, most of the available stumpage in Wisconsin was owned by Weyerhaeuser’s Mississippi River Logging Company and the Chippewa logging companies at Eau Claire, but the trees were running thin. Weyerhaeuser knew that the center of logging would eventually shift westward from Wisconsin to Minnesota, and in 1891 he decided to move to St. Paul, Minnesota, leaving his eldest son John in charge of the mill in Rock Island, Illinois.[41] The reason for selecting St. Paul as his new home was obvious; it had emerged as the new center of lumbering. The bourgeoning lumber industry in Minnesota had contributed to the rapid growth of the “twin cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The population of Minneapolis grew from 13,000 in 1870 to 164,000 in 1890; St. Paul grew from 20,000 to 133,000 during this same period. The number of Minneapolis sawmills likewise increased from fifteen in 1870 to 234 in 1880.[42] Weyerhaeuser purchased a mansion at 226 Summit Hill Road, St. Paul, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi; the residents of this upscale neighborhood easily made the “Who’s Who in America” lists, a sure sign that Weyerhaeuser had arrived. He began attending the House of Hope Presbyterian Church, periodically made donations to German missions and organizations, and became a director of the National German American Bank in downtown St. Paul.[43] Weyerhaeuser quickly formed a relationship with his neighbor, English-Canadian immigrant and director of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company James J. Hill; Hill ranks just below Bill Gates on Klepper and Gunther’s “Wealthy 100” list as the 37th richest American businessman of all time.[44]

Railroad tycoons like Hill earned their fortunes by accepting massive land grants from the federal government for the construction of railroads and re-selling unused land for a profit. Hill’s Northern Pacific Railroad took over 40 million acres (or 68,000 square miles) of prime old-growth pine land in the Pacific Northwest for an “alternate” Transcontinental Railroad route that never came to be.[45] Weyerhaeuser and Hill stood to benefit greatly from these unused federally-granted lands. As early as 1890, James Hill told an associate in Stillwater with palpable excitement that the “Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company have bought all the Northern Pacific pine on the Upper Mississippi and hold more pine than any other company,” and in 1895, Hill intimated to another associate in Seattle, Washington, that “Mr. Weyerhaeuser’s party has been ready for some time to send a representative to the Coast to establish a large business but has postponed definite action waiting to see if Northern Pacific comes into our hands.”[46] Hill was indeed eager to sell his land for much-needed cash, and Weyerhaeuser was keen to secure his company for the future.

During a casual meeting at Hill’s mansion on Summit Hill Road in 1899, the railroad and lumber kings negotiated one of the largest private land deals of all time. Weyerhaeuser pledged to purchase 900,000 acres of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s best pineland in the state of Washington for $6 an acre, a remarkably low price. Hill demanded that Weyerhaeuser pay three million dollars up front ($83.9 million in 2011), followed by eight payments of $300,000 (plus interest). In return, Hill offered Weyerhaeuser railroad shipping rates far below the commercial rates. The deal was audacious, to say the least. Weyerhaeuser did not have the capital to purchase such a large amount of land, so he asked almost every one of his partners for substantial investments to raise the three million. Many of his associates refused to take part in the deal because Washington was far removed from any of the transportation networks needed to bring the logs to market, and they predicted, correctly, that it would take decades to build the necessary infrastructures; it was not really until the completion of the Panama Canal in 1913 that lumbermen in the Northwest successfully tapped into a Pacific-based market. Other risks included the potential of a market crash, like the one Americans had witnessed during the Panic of 1896, or mass depletion due to wildfires, which in the early twentieth century were rampant: today’s annual average of forest decimation due to wildfires is around two million acres; in the early twentieth century, it was not unheard of for wildfires to destroy 50 million acres of timberland in the United States, though in the 1880s and 1890s newly formed forestry departments contributed to preventing such calamities.[47]

Through persistent cooperation Weyerhaeuser was able to pull together every last bit of his capital and resources, and he made the deal with Hill in 1900. That year, he also formed the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company to manage the land. Among those who joined Weyerhaeuser in this bold endeavor were his long-standing German-American associates and friends, Peter Musser of Muscatine, Iowa, and Frederick Denkmann of Rock Island, Illinois. Others on the list had worked closely with Weyerhaeuser for decades in the Mississippi River Logging Company.[48] By 1900, the lumber entrepreneur from Niedersaulheim was already fabulously wealthy; this deal ensured that his offspring would be as well.

The Weyerhaeuser Family’s Legacy in Twentieth-Century America

Weyerhaeuser was obviously sympathetic to the cause of his German compatriots in America. He married a woman from his hometown of Niedersaulheim, attended German-language church services, offered jobs to kin and friends from Germany, negotiated deals with German-American businessmen, directed the National German American Bank, and donated generously to German-American institutions. He also honored his country of origin. In 1894, he embarked on a trip to Niedersaulheim, a place that, as he told his children, “still felt like home.” He even sent money from America to Niedersaulheim for the construction of a Sangerhalle [hall for choir concerts], which still stands today. Reading the German Lutheran Bible and listening to German music were his pastimes, but American business was his passion.

Frederick and Sarah Weyerhaeuser made so many American acquaintances and rose to such heights in the American business world that their children had little trouble assimilating into American culture. Their four boys became accomplished executives of major firms in the Weyerhaeuser syndicate; their three girls married prominent men.[49] Weyerhaeuser and his children lived through a time in American history when anti-immigrant, nativist sentiment figured prominently in politics. Fortunately for him, however, he did not live to experience the anti-German hysteria surrounding the U.S. entry into World War I. On the whole, neither Weyerhaeuser nor his children worried about feeling excluded in America. The Weyerhaeusers were never the object of anti-immigrant attacks, which was a testament both to their success, power, and influence in American society and to the good reputation that Frederick Weyerhaeuser had earned for himself in the Northwest.[50]

All of Weyerhaeuser’s seven children spoke German and English and embraced his hyphenated identity in some way. Still, neither Weyerhaeuser nor his children pressured the third generation to maintain German customs. After all, third-generation immigrants were American, and they did not identify with immigrants born in Germany. Here, Frederick Weyerhaeuser’s grandson, Frederick King, offers a good example. Although his father, John Weyerhaeuser, spoke German, the young F. K., who later became president of the Weyerhaeuser Sales Company, struggled in his German classes.[51] He never learned German, but he did go on to become a student at Yale University. He was in his senior year at Yale when President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany on April 2, 1917. F. K. signed up for the air force immediately. What is telling about F. K.’s decision to join the U.S. war effort is that no one in his family batted an eye over sending a third-generation German-American over to fight Germans. If anything, family members only expressed concerns about his safety. After aviation training, F. K. was deployed to Italy and piloted several bombing raids near the tail end of the war. He wrote to his brother, Phil Weyerhaeuser, that he believed he was fighting for a “good cause” and that he hoped the Allies could “hold the Huns till we [the U. S.] can get an Army over here that will knock the everlasting Hell out of them.”[52] One can only guess what Frederick Weyerhaeuser might have thought about the prospect of his grandson dropping bombs near his hometown of Niedersaulheim. He died in his mansion in Pasadena, California, on April 4, 1914, four months before World War I began.

During the funeral at his final resting place in Rock Island, Weyerhaeuser’s children remembered him as a good father; his pastors assured the crowd that he was also devout; and his associates reflected on the admirable habits that had earned him his fortune.[53] Frederick Weyerhaeuser’s imprint on American business and society proved indelible as his children and the children of his associates began harvesting the more than two million acres that Weyerhaeuser had purchased in the Pacific Northwest. After moving its headquarters to Tacoma, Washington, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company (later renamed the Weyerhaeuser Sales Company), made serious strides toward making lumber production sustainable for future generations. The Weyerhaeuser Company promoted conservation, inaugurated experimental reforestation programs (1925), launched a new advertising campaign slogan, “timber is a crop,” (1937), and established the nation’s first “tree farm” in southwestern Washington (1941).[54] The company thrived through the twentieth century. In 1981, great-grandson George Hunt Weyerhaeuser, chief executive of the Weyerhaeuser Company, reported that the six million acres of Weyerhaeuser lands were supplying seventeen million tons of wood to refining complexes annually. At the same time, he reaffirmed the company’s commitment to reducing the depletion of American forests by developing long-term forest growth initiatives.[55]


Frederick Weyerhaeuser was a powerful force in the American forest products industry for over fifty years, but his legacy has lasted even longer. The Weyerhaeuser Company is still one of the greatest lumber producers in the United States and one of the largest landholders in the country. Although there have been (and are) many producers of wood, the name Weyerhaeuser remains inseparable from the American lumber industry.[56] Over time, the family-owned Weyerhaeuser Company has become increasingly international in scope and now produces a wide variety of forest products for customers throughout the world.

Despite his enormous success, very few of Weyerhaeuser’s contemporaries knew his name. Unlike Rockefeller and Carnegie, he was rarely included on lists of notable American businessmen or millionaires.[57] He was finally mentioned in the 1913 edition of “Who’s Who in America,” a year before his death. The situation was partly his own doing: Weyerhaeuser preferred anonymity throughout his life. He worked very long days, lived unostentatiously, and avoided public appearances unrelated to work.[58] In a newspaper article describing Weyerhaeuser as the “Lumber King,” one Seattle reporter informed readers that the millionaire and his St. Paul associates “did not look so very different from the lumberjacks who had just accompanied them out of the pine woods. They wore slouch hats, their faces were tanned, their hands rough and their appetites ravenous.”[59] After his wife’s death in 1911, Weyerhaeuser spent the remainder of his days quietly tending to the garden of one of his Pasadena homes. He once told two of his children how amused he was when tour busses stopped outside his mansion and announced that “Frederick Weyerhaeuser, the richest man in the world, lived there…”: “If they had only realized,” son Frederick and daughter Louise Weyerhaeuser recounted, “that the man spading his poppies, dressed in gardening clothes, topped most of the time with a rather worn gray sweater, was the man they were trying so hard to meet, they would have been surprised indeed.”[60]


[1] This essay draws on the extensive collections at the Weyerhaeuser Reading Room of the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota, including but not limited to the Weyerhaeuser Family Papers, the Weyerhaeuser Company Records, the Margaret Weyerhaeuser and Jewett Papers, the records of the Rock Island Lumber and Manufacturing Co., the Mississippi River Logging Co., and the Weyerhaeuser Timber Co., as well as numerous records of businesses involving the “Weyerhaeuser syndicate.” Records from the Minnesota Historical Society will be identified by the abbreviation “MHS.”

[2] All current values (in 2011 USD) are based on Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” MeasuringWorth, 2011, using the Consumer Price Index.

[3] We will probably never know how much Weyerhaeuser was worth at the time of his death, because most of his income was tied up in resources such as timber, stock in companies, and land. Also, he passed on much of his private money to his sons in the last five years of his life. Some obituaries, such as one from the Washington Post, estimated his worth at $100,000,000 ($2.32 billion in 2011). This figure was based on the value of his property, stock, and personal income together. Some estimates were even higher. More recently, Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther estimated Weyerhaeuser’s fortune at $200,000,000. According to several reports, his will estimated his private holdings – in other words, the parts of his income that were solely his own and not tied to stocks and corporate land holdings – at $875,000. Minnesota tried to claim inheritance taxes based on an estimated estate of $30,000,000 in that state alone, though the final settlement of Weyerhaeuser’s heirs fixed the property value at $11,604,332. See Washington Post, April 4, 1914, p. 8; Fairbanks Daily Times, April 5, 1914 p. 1; Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther, The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present (Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1996), xi, 38-40; Fort Wayne Daily News, April 9, 1914, p. 2; Fort Wayne News, May 7, 1914, p. 2; Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1914, p. 15; Vancouver Daily World, August 27, 1915, p. 2; and Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, August 25, 1916, p. 6.

[4] Andrew Carnegie is ranked fifth. Rockefeller, not Microsoft multi-billionaire Bill Gates, ranks at the top of this list because, upon his death in 1937, his 1.4 billion dollars amounted to a mind-reeling 1/65th of the entire nation’s annual economic output. According to this method (which is controversial), Frederick Weyerhaeuser actually ranks ahead of Bill Gates (31st place). See Klepper and Gunther, The Wealthy 100, xi, 38-40. Randall E. Stross of Fortune Magazine criticizes Klepper and Gunther’s method for inadequately representing wealth, and he suggests alternatively that one ought to measure wealth relative to the average income of everyone in the United States. Stross notes that the gap between the wealthy elite and average Americans is, as of 1997, 311 times greater than in the age of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Weyerhaeuser. See Randall E. Stross, “Bill Gates: Richest American Ever and You Thought Rockefeller Had Money,” Fortune.com August 4, 1997 (Accessed June 27, 2014).

[5] The definitive scholarly work on Weyerhaeuser and the timber industry is Ralph W. Hidy, Frank Ernest Hill, and Alan Nevins, Timber and Men: The Weyerhaeuser Story (New York: Macmillan Company, 1963). Although there are several biographies of Frederick Weyerhaeuser’s children, who took over the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company (also known as the Weyerhaeuser Sales Company), and two personal biographies written by Weyerhaeuser’s descendants, until 2013 there was not a single complete scholarly biography of the great lumber tycoon. For the definitive biography of Weyerhaeuser the man, see Judith Koll Healey, Frederick Weyerhaeuser and the American West (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2013). See also Frederick E. Weyerhaeuser, “A Record of the Life and Business Activities of Frederick Weyerhaeuser, 1834-1914,” 1939, MHS; William Bancroft Hill, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, and Louise Bertha Lindeke Weyerhaeuser, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Pioneer Lumberman (Minneapolis: Printed by the McGill Lithograph Co., 1940), MHS; Frederick K. Weyerhaeuser, “Trees and Men,” Newcomen Address, nos. 31-40 (New York: The Newcomen Society in North America, 1951), 5-32; George H. Weyerhaeuser, “‘Forests for the Future’: The Weyerhaeuser Story,” Newcomen Address (New York: The Newcomen Society in North America, 1981); Charles E. Twining, F.K. Weyerhaeuser: A Biography (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1997); Twining, A Bundle of Sticks: The Story of a Family (St. Paul: Rock Island Co., 1987); and Twining, Phil Weyerhaeuser: Lumberman (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985).

[6] Elizabeth Weber of Roth died in Ebsdorf on March 21, 1818, at the age of fifty-five, and Franz Weyershӓuser died fifteen years later in Ebsdorf at the age of sixty-eight. As Burgermeister (mayor) of Ebsdorf, Franz Weyershӓuser wrote and prescribed primers for the village school. Nelson C. Weierheiser, Genealogical and Historical Record of the Ancestral Descendants of Franz Weyershaeuser of Ebsdorf, Kreis Marburg I, Hesse (Buffalo, NY: s.n., 1923), 1-5.

[7] Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 3-4.

[8] Hill, Weyerhaeuser, and Weyerhaeuser, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Pioneer Lumberman, 3.

[9] Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 4.

[10] Jon Gjerde, The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 25. For statistics, see Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 2000,” U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Working Paper No. 81 (Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, February 2006): 1-119; James P. Shenton and Kevin Kenny, “Ethnicity and Immigration,” inNew American History, edited by Eric Foner (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997); and Ira M. Leonard and Robert D. Parmet, American Nativism, 1830-1860 (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971), 19, 33.

[11] For more on German immigrant settlement patterns in the First West, see George Helmuth Kellner, “The German Element on the Urban Frontier: St. Louis, 1830-1860” (Diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 1973).

[12] Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 5.

[13] Twining, F.K. Weyerhaeuser: A Biography, 13. Although it is difficult to figure exactly how much Frederick Weyerhaeuser donated to German churches throughout the region, several German-language letters written by ministers and addressed to Weyerhaeuser indicate that donations were consistently forthcoming. In 1893, one German-speaking reverend in St. Paul thanked Weyerhaeuser for his financial support during Christmas: “Nehmen Sie meinen herzlichsten Dank fuer Ihre freundliche Gabe an unser Werk und besonders fuer die herzliche Art, in der Sie geben” [Please accept my heartfelt thanks for your friendly gift to our work, and especially for the heartfelt manner in which you have given it]. Reverend Niklaus Bolt to Weyerhaeuser, St. Paul, January 3, 1893, Weyerhaeuser Family Papers, Box 2, MHS.

[14] Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 2-3.

[15] At the time, lumber companies determined the quality of wood by sorting their stock into four simple grades: clear, common, no. 2, and sheeting (northern lumber sold wholesale, and customized planing was available). See Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 22.

[16] Mead was a Congregationalist minister from Vermont who started a church across the river near Davenport, Iowa; Smith was a machinist and also a Yankee.

[17] Hill, Weyerhaeuser, and Weyerhaeuser, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Pioneer Lumberman, 25-6.

[18] Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 5-7. Weyerhaeuser liked to tell others, “I think I have succeeded because I care more for my credit than for my clothes.” See New York Times, April 5, 1914. He also attributed his success to his hard work: “The secret…lay simply in my readiness to work. I never counted the hours or knocked off until I had finished what I had in mind.” See Movers and Shakers: The 100 Most Influential Figures in Modern Business, the Ultimate Business Library (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 347.

[19] Frederick Weyerhaeuser and F. C. A. Denkmann, “Article of Agreement,” May 1, 1860, Weyerhaeuser Family Papers, Box 2, MHS.

[20] Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 29.

[21] Ralph Hidy, Frank Hill, and Alan Nevins found that wages at the Rock Island sawmill actually doubled between 1858 and 1865. Head sawyers, the most skilled men at the plant, received $1.50 per day in 1858 and $3.00 per day seven years later. The lowest wage went to unskilled workers and boys at 40 cents per day, rising to 75 cents in 1865. Workers were expected to work twelve-hour days – sometimes with an hour off for lunch, sometimes not. Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 8-9, 29-30.

[22] Stephen George, Enterprising Minnesotans: 150 Years of Business Pioneers (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 19.

[23] Paul Caplazi, “Paper on Early Stillwater Days,” April 1944, Stillwater, Minnesota, MHS.

[24] French-Canadian and lumber entrepreneur David Tozer remembered that “many French people” participated in the early logging industry in Minnesota. Tozer was one of several Frenchmen who left Quebec in 1856, traveled on the Great Lakes to Chicago, caught a train to western Illinois, and took a steamboat up the Mississippi River to Stillwater, Minnesota, on the St. Croix River. He hired many French-Canadians as well as Swedes, who rafted logs as far south as St. Louis, Missouri. In 1886, Tozer along with another lumberman from Stillwater, Minnesota, partnered with Weyerhaeuser’s close associate Peter M. Musser to form the Musser-Sauntry Land, Logging and Manufacturing Company. Under the direction of Tozer, Sauntry, and Musser, this company purchased pine land from the Omaha Railroad along the St. Croix River. For more on these business dealings, see the John M. Musser and Family Papers at the MHS. D. Tozer & Co. joined the Weyerhaeuser syndicate in 1906, as did almost every other independent operator in the region. David Tozer, Jr., “Early History of Logging and Milling in Minnesota as Told by an Associate,” 1-14, MHS.

[25] Fritz Adolph Johnson, “River Driving in the Nineties,” January 23, 1879 – ca. 1905, Westergutland, Sweden, Fritz Adolph Johnson Reminiscences, MHS.

[26] Fred Kennerson, Interview with Anna B. Tibbs, Transcript, North Conway, New Hampshire, August 1934, 1-14, MHS.

[27] Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 24.

[28] Hill, Weyerhaeuser, and Weyerhaeuser, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Pioneer Lumberman, 14.

[29] In 1890, Musser joined with Weyerhaeuser-Denkmann, and Laird-Norton to form the Pine Tree Lumber Company. Based in Little Falls, Minnesota, the company acquired massive amounts of pine land from the Northern Pacific Railroad in north-central Minnesota. Musser’s son, Richard Drew Musser, as well as Weyerhaeuser’s son, Charles Weyerhaeuser, jointly managed the company. The Mussers and Weyerhaeusers remained close business partners during the rest of the twentieth century, chairing the boards of major companies in the Northwest, including the Boise Payette Lumber Company, the Northwest Paper Company, the Potlatch Lumber Company, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, and the Wood Conversion Company. The John M. Musser and Family Papers are available at the MHS. For a genealogy of the Musser family, see “The Mosser, Moser, Musser, Muser Family in America,” John M. Musser and Family Papers, Box 1, MHS.

[30] For the original charter of the Mississippi River Logging Company, December 28, 1870, Chicago, Illinois, see the records of the Mississippi River Logging Company, Box 5, MHS. Frederick Weyerhaeuser’s company, Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann appears on that document, and one can see him listed as an executive on the revised Articles of Incorporation in 1871 and again in 1876. See Articles of Incorporation of the Mississippi River Logging Company, as Amended September 27th, 1876 (Clinton: L.P. Allen, Steam Book and Job Printing, 1876), Mississippi River Logging Company Papers, MHS.

[31] Movers and Shakers, 348; and Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 56, 72.

[32] According to legend, “Beef Slough” got its name when “a government boat loaded with beef cattle for the soldiers at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, could not get over the bar. The cattle were unloaded, and the boat went on.” Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 45.

[33] Cornell University continued to sell its lands to the Weyerhaeuser syndicate over the next decade. On November 3, 1880, Cornell sold 160 acres to the Mississippi River Logging Company. See the records of the Mississippi River Logging Company at MHS. Lamb & W. J. Young obtained six shares of the new company that formed after the purchase from Cornell; Benjamin Hershey obtained five; and Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann and the Laird, Norton, and Youman Brothers obtained four each. They finally bought up the remaining shares of the Beef Slough Manufacturing, Booming, Log Driving & Transportation Company in 1881. For more on the purchase, see Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 63.

[34] Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 50, 55, 68. The definitive ruling in Captain E. E. Heerman v. Beef Slough did not prevent Chippewa mills from pressing for more lawsuits against the Mississippi River Logging Company on the legal basis of “free navigation.” The state courts simply held to their 1879 decision in another case in 1892, when a steamboat captain working for Weyerhaeuser’s Mississippi River Logging Company blew up a government-constructed dam because it obstructed the passage of his log raft. The court ordered a fine, but the United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, A. R. Bushnell, emboldened by the muckrakers who exposed corruption in big businesses such as Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, raised old cries of “freedom of navigation.” Bushnell argued, “The company have this year so thrown out of the Chippewa River, to float down to West Newton Chute [where the government dam was], from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 feet of loose logs. These logs have at times been so thick in the river that in some places a man could walk across it on them, and steamboats, navigating the river, have at times been delayed thereby from ten to twenty hours.” Bushnell thought the statute to fine the company $3,000 seemed “wholly inadequate as a remedy,” because “the logging company would pay numbers of such fines and these injuries [would] still be continued.” He proposed a “bill in equity to enjoin the logging company from throwing their loose logs into the Mississippi River to the obstruction of its navigation and the destruction of these dams for the improvement of navigation.” See “Government Dams on the Mississippi River: Letter from the Attorney-General” House of Representatives, 52nd Congress, 1st session, Ex. Doc. No. 178, pp. 2-3, in the Weyerhaeuser Family Papers, File 1, Box 1, f. 37, MHS. An agent of the Laird, Norton Co., a member of the Weyerhaeuser syndicate, wrote to Frederick Weyerhaeuser on April 8, 1892, and explained that Mr. Bushnell “has utterly gone out of his way as a United States Attorney for the District of Wisconsin, to slur our Company and to make a bad impression upon the Department of Justice to whom he was writing, as you will note by the items that I have marked.” The report was referred to the Committee on River and Harbors along with Captain McKenzie’s testimony, and, in the end, the company only had to pay a small fine. Laird, Norton Co. to Frederick Weyerhaeuser, 435 Summit Ave., St. Paul, Minn., April 8, 1892, the Weyerhaeuser Family Papers, File 1, Box 1, f. 37, MHS.

[35] Partners in the new venture included Frederick Weyerhaeuser of Rock Island, Illinois, Chauncy Lamb of Clinton, Iowa, William J. Young, also of Clinton, Iowa, and Earl S. Youmans of Winona, Minnesota, though many more joined the company after its founding. Frederick Weyerhaeuser, et al., Patent of the Chippewa River Improvement & Log Driving Company, July 8, 1876, Mississippi River Logging Company Papers, MHS.

[36] By 1881, then, the Mississippi River Logging Company had completely taken control of the Beef Slough Manufacturing Company and the Chippewa Logging Company. The MRLC owned sixty percent of the Chippewa River Improvement & Log Driving Company, while the Eau Claire firms owned a minority share of about forty percent. The six major Eau Claire firms who joined the “pool” included the Empire Lumber Company (O. H. Ingram), the Valley Lumber Company (William Carson), Eau Claire Lumber Company (William A. Rust), the Northwestern Lumber Company (Delos R. Moon and Sumner T. McKnight), Daniel Shaw Lumber Company, and the Badger State Lumber Company (Samuel Chinn) (78). The men whose names are included in parentheses became close personal associates of Frederick Weyerhaeuser. Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 71-8.

[37] Lincoln Steffens, Autobiography, in Richard Gordon Lillard, “Timber King,” Pacific Spectator 1, no. 1 (Winter 1947), MHS. See also, Peter Hartshorn, I Have Seen the Future: A Life of Lincoln Steffens (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 2011), 95-6.

[38] For more on the strikes at Big Mill and Frederick Weyerhaeuser’s response, see the record of Frederick E. Weyerhaeuser as well as the Laird, Norton Company and the Chippewa Logging & Boom Company Papers at the MHS. Frederick Weyerhaeuser, in Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 87.

[39] More than anything else, Roosevelt sought to make Weyerhaeuser and other lumbermen in the West his allies against the misuse of the forests. He wrote to Weyerhaeuser in 1903, “I earnestly desire that the movement for the preservation of the forests shall come from the lumbermen themselves.” Theodore Roosevelt to Frederick Weyerhaeuser, March 5, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt Papers, Library of Congress, Theodore Roosevelt Center Digital Library, Dickinson State University (Accessed July 10, 2014). For more on the conservationist movement among Progressives and its impact on Weyerhaeuser’s companies, see Hidy, Hill, and Nevins, Timber and Men, 125-35.

[40] George, Enterprising Minnesotans, 21.

[41] Working alongside John Weyerhaeuser at the Rock Island Lumber & Manufacturing Company was also F. C. Denkmann, Weyerhaeuser’s nephew. By 1905, F. C. Denkmann owned 125 shares of the Rock Island Lumber & Manufacturing Company; John Weyerhaeuser, the President, owned one share; and Frederick Weyerhaeuser had a controlling interest of 999 shares (1,125 shares in total). Although the mill effectively ceased operations after 1905, the annual report from 1902 indicated that the mill still processed and sold 9,406,444 ft. of lumber, 4,013,750 ft. of shingles, and 2,988,200 ft. of lath. Rock Island Lumber and Manufacturing Company, “Sales for Year,” 1902, Rock Island Lumber and Manufacturing Company Records, Box 1, MHS.

[42] In 1890, the entire population of the state of Minnesota was 1,310,283. George, Enterprising Minnesotans, 22.

[43] Weyerhaeuser served as a director (ca. 1894) and later as a vice-president of the National German American Bank in St. Paul, where he also kept his main office. See official correspondence: Joseph Lockey, St. Paul, MN, to F. Weyerhaeuser, January 9, 1894, the Weyerhaeuser Family Papers, File 1, Box 1, Folder 16.

[44] Klepper and Gunther, The Wealthy 100, viii.

[45] David Seideman, Showdown at Opal Creek: The Battle for America’s Last Wilderness (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1993), 50.

[46] Hill, St. Paul, to A. L. Mohler, April 2, 1890, James Jerome Hill Letterbook, p. 422, MHS; Hill, St. Paul, to Hon. John Leary, Seattle, September 18, 1895, James Jerome Hill Letterbook, p. 454, MHS.

[47] For more on the deal between Hill and Weyerhaeuser, see Movers and Shakers, 349; and William Dietrich, The Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 126.

[48] Original partners in the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company included Thomas Irvine, William H. Laird, Artemus Lamb, Sumner T. Knight, Robert L. McCormick, William Carson, Charles H. Ingram, and Arthur F. Albertson. “Articles of Incorporation of Weyerhaeuser Timber Company,” June 1900, St. Paul, Minnesota, Weyerhaeuser Family Records, Box 15, MHS. The executive committee and stockholders were to meet in St. Paul. “By-Laws: Weyerhaeuser Timber Company,” June 1900, the Weyerhaeuser Family Records, Box 27, MHS.

[49] Daughter Appolonia married S.S. Davis of Rock Island, an associate of Weyerhaeuser’s; Margaret married J. R. Jewett, a professor Semitic languages at Harvard University; and Elise married Dr. William Bancroft Hill, a professor at Vassar College.

[50] Hill, Weyerhaeuser, and Weyerhaeuser, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Pioneer Lumberman, 9.

[51] He received special tutoring from one Herr Kuelnick, who F. K. believed was a personal representative of Kaiser Wilhelm. In one letter, he described his tutor from Germany thus: “very German, and his shoes end in long points like a clown’s.”

[52] Twining, F.K. Weyerhaeuser: A Biography, 24, 50. See also Frederick King Weyerhaeuser and James J. Hudson, “Frederick K. Weyerhaeuser’s Air War in Italy, 1918,” Cross & Cockade Journal 23, no. 4 (Winter 1982), MHS

[53] Weyerhaeuser’s remains were buried in Chippiannock Cemetery, in Rock Island, Illinois. “Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Born November 21, 1834-Died April 4, 1914,” Lumber World Review, April 10, 1914 (Chicago): 25-9, MHS.

[54] See “Announcing Weyerhaeuser Forest Products Advertising Campaign,” 1920, F. Weyerhaeuser and Company Records, 231, MHS; and Through 68 Years of Lumber History: Weyerhaeuser Forest Products (Spokane, WA: Weyerhaeuser Sales Co., 1926), MHS.

[55] George H. Weyerhaeuser, “‘Forests for the Future’: The Weyerhaeuser Story,” Newcomen Address (New York: The Newcomen Society in North America, 1981).

[56] For more on the history of the Weyerhaeuser Company through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, see their official website (Accessed July 11, 2014).

[57] See for example “Weyerhaeuser is ahead,” Eau Claire Leader, December 23, 1906, p. 9; and Albuquerque Citizen, December 20, 1906, p. 6.

[58] Richard Gordon Lillard, “Timber King,” Pacific Spectator 1, no. 1 (Winter 1947), 14, MHS.

[59] “Lumber King Is On His Annual Visit: F. Weyerhaeuser of St. Paul and Part of Friends Arrive in Seattle in Private Car,” ca. 1900, Newspaper Clipping, James R. and Margaret Weyerhaeuser Jewett Papers, Box 1, MHS.

[60] Hill, Weyerhaeuser, and Weyerhaeuser, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Pioneer Lumberman, 49, MHS.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Frederick Weyerhaeuser
  • Coverage 1834-1914
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 29, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018