The great forestlands of the Northwest offered what appeared to be limitless opportunity to the settlers and business owners of the day. Farmers cleared the land to grow crops. Railroads opened new territory for cities and towns. And timbermen worked to provide lumber the country needed. Rugged loggers and business-suited entrepreneurs alike poured into the Northwest looking to make their fortunes.
First Lumber Sale
Frederick Weyerhaeuser came to America from Germany at the age of 18. Working hard and saving money, he made his way west to Rock Island, Illinois, where he was hired as night watchman at a sawmill. One evening at dinnertime, some customers arrived wanting to buy lumber, but no one else was around to wait on them. Frederick made the sale for $60 in gold, then worried that he had acted rashly. Instead, his ambition and initiative delighted the mill owner, and before long he put Frederick in charge of lumber sales. "My wages were raised from time to time. The secret of this lay simply in my readiness to work. I never counted the hours, or knocked off until I had finished what I had in mind." — Frederick Weyerhaeuser
Success in the Midwest
When the mill fell into bankruptcy, Frederick leased its lumberyard for a promissory note and rented the adjacent sawmill. This was 1858, a year of financial panic, and he had to be resourceful to maintain a steady supply of logs and keep up with his payments. "I went around among the farmers exchanging lumber for horses, oxen, hogs, eggs, anything they had, which I then traded to the raftsmen for logs.
"He convinced F. C. A. Denkmann, his wife Sarah's brother-in-law, to go into partnership with him. Pooling most of their assets, they purchased the sawmill for $3,500. To ensure their ongoing success, they needed a steady supply of logs for their mill — Frederick looked upstream on the Mississippi.
The Spirit of Cooperation
Frederick followed the logs to their source, traveling by boat, by sleigh and on foot, building business relationships along the way. It was said of him: "Here is a man you can trust. Here is a man true to his word."
Frederick's reputation for combining business savvy with integrity soon attracted additional partners. Applying what he called "intelligent courage" to a series of investments, the group became a major force in the Midwest timber and lumber industries. By the end of the 19th century, Frederick Weyerhaeuser began to look to the Northwest, to one of the greatest stands of timber on Earth.