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Frederick Weyerhaeuser and the American West.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser and the American West, by Judith Koll Healey. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2013. xvii, 265 pp. $27.95 US (paper).

Frederick Weyerhaeuser was one of the giants of American industry and commerce in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in the same league as figures such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie. As such, Weyerhaeuser interests have been the subject of several major historical studies, the most notable being the extensive business history, Timber and Men: The Weyerhaeuser Story, by Ralph W. Hidy, Frank Ernest Hill, and Allan Nevins (New York, 1963). In 1937 Frederick Edward Weyerhaeuser compiled an extensive memoir of his father for the family, and in 1940 Louise Lindeke Weyerhaeuser wrote a privately published book about her father-in-law. Frederick W. Kohlmeyer, one of the research associates for Timber and Men, also produced a portrait of Frederick Weyerhaeuser that was privately printed in 1967. Charles E. Twining wrote about the third generation brothers, Phil and F.K. Weyerhaeuser, and prepared a limited circulation book on the Weyerhaeusers, A Bundle of Sticks: The Story of a Family (St. Paul, 1987). Several books have been written about aspects of the Weyerhaeuser enterprises, mostly on the west coast, but as Twining observed as late as 1994, it was surprising that there was no serious work, publicly available, on the life of Frederick Weyerhaeuser.

With the help and encouragement of members of the Weyerhaeuser family, Judith Koll Healey has produced a study of Frederick Weyerhaeuser the man. Naturally the history of the lumber industry is a major part of the book, but Healey very consciously begins by placing Weyerhaeuser in the immigrant tradition. He was born in Niedersaulheim, near the Rhine in Germany, into a comfortable farming family. Unfortunately his father died when the boy was not yet twelve years old, bringing his education to an early end and creating problems in managing the farm. Encouraged by "America letters" from an older sister, the family sold the farm and immigrated to the United States in 1852, settling near Erie, Pennsylvania, where young, eighteen-year-old, Weyerhaeuser found a number of odd jobs. In 1856 he moved west to Rock Island, Illinois at the encouragement of his father's cousin living nearby. Weyerhaeuser also made contact with family of a young woman he met in Pennsylvania who came originally from Niedersaulheim as well. Frederick and Sarah Bloedel were married the following spring. Frederick's new brother-in-law, F.C.A. Denkmann, would become Weyerhaeuser's first business partner.

Although Frederick may have moved to Rock Island to begin farming, he soon found work in a sawmill and lumberyard where he learned the basics of the lumber business. When the sawmill got into financial difficulties in 1858, Weyerhaeuser was able to operate the business for the receiver and eventually buy the mill in partnership with his brother-in-law. Healey shows Weyerhaeuser to be part of the immigrant pattern of migration, settlement, family networking, and entrepreneurship.

Weyerhaeuser's responsibility for the Rock Island sawmill brought out what Healey and others see as his business genius--the ability to form partnerships and consortiums that worked for the mutual benefit of all of the participants. Weyerhaeuser found competing interests and rivalries when he tried to obtain a supply of logs from the pine forests along the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. His solution was to create a consortium to manage the movement of logs down the river to the Mississippi in a process that was efficient and profitable for all the partners. When the timber reserves along the Wisconsin rivers diminished, Weyerhaeuser and various combinations of partners extended operations into Minnesota. Once again, through partnerships, both risks and rivalries were minimized, with the result being that enterprises in which Weyerhaeuser was involved tended to be successful. By the end of the nineteenth century he began looking for new forest resources. Healey focuses on the bold decision to purchase the timberlands of the Northern Pacific Railroad land grant from James J. Hill. In 1900 the northwestern American states were still very sparsely populated, but Weyerhaeuser anticipated growth in the future and negotiated a favourable freight rate with Hill to ship lumber back to the markets of the middle west. In Healey's judgement, Weyerhaeuser, by this huge investment, encouraged western settlement and business enterprise.

Healey also shows the extent to which Frederick Weyerhaeuser created a climate that drew all four of his sons and numerous grandchildren into the business, and retained the participation of a remarkable number of those lumbermen with whom he had worked in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This has kept the Weyerhaeuser Timber Corporation and many of the subsidiary companies in the hands of the original families for several generations. Yet as Healey shows, although rich and successful, Weyerhaeuser remained something of the immigrant boy.

Letters recently made available, recount several trips back to Germany and the re-establishment of connections with childhood friends. For all of Weyerhaeuser's wealth and position, Healey characterizes him as a modest, down to earth, family man who is a bit shy, embarrassed by his German accent and lack of schooling, and devoted to his sons and daughters and grandchildren. She quotes the "muckraking" journalist Lincoln Steffens's generous observation after a morning of conversation with Weyerhaeuser: "how much better a man can be than he thinks he is" (p. 175).

Francis M. Carroll

St. John's College

University of Manitoba
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Author:Carroll, Francis M.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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