Born of Yankee stock on January 31, 1864 and raised on his father’s farm near Fulton, NY, Edward Vose Babcock inherited habits of thrift, hard work and personal discipline. Summers where full of outdoor labor and in the winters he trudged through miles of snow to attend rural schools near his homestead.
There were few leisure hours, but he grabbed those that he could and spent them roaming the countryside, eagerly investigating the many forests and woods in the area. From those impressionable years, the knowledge of timber, which his quick mind absorbed, was to influence his entire life.
Edward Vose Babcock was only 21 when he went to Detroit and began work with the Robinson Brothers Lumber Co. as a lumber hustler. There he spent long, backbreaking days and what was lacking in pay was made up by the opportunity to learn.In less than two years, E.V. became a lumber inspector and White Pine shipper for Harry Stephens & Co. of St. Helena, Michigan.
When he came to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1887, E. V. rounded off his training as a lumber salesman by trading on an individual basis and by 1889, the ambitious 25-year old had established E.V. Babcock and Company, along with his brother, Fred R. Babcock.
While the two young Babcock's struggled to put their infant lumber business on sound footing, Indian wars raged in Colorado and Thomas A. Edison announced that he had invented a machine which would reproduce sound. Pittsburgh was fast becoming an industrial center. It was here only a year before that President Grover Cleveland had viewed natural gas for the first time and remarked: “an uncanny picture, a super spectacle!”
Soon the E.V. Babcock and Company was attracting attention throughout the lumber industry. In 1897, 6,900 acres of land and choice hardwood timber was purchased in Ashtola, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. To develop this project, in association with his two brothers Fred R. (known as F.R.) and Oscar H. (known as O.H.), E.V. incorporated the Babcock Lumber Company on November 11, 1897 and it still operates under that name today.
As the country edged closer to the turn of the century, significant events occurred. The Pittsburgh Reduction Co. (now known as Alcoa) was founded. Cable cars now took Babcock employees to work and fare for this new mode of transportation increased from 3˘ to 5˘. The Interstate Commerce Commission was created by an Act of Congress and telephone service between Pittsburgh and New York was commenced.
Locally, Mary Schenley gave the city of Pittsburgh 300 acres for a park. Phipps Conservatory, Carnegie Library, The Children’s Hospital and Highland Park all opened.
The nation was stunned by one of its greatest tragedies when a dam broke above Johnstown, Pennsylvania. And within 15 minutes, seven towns were washed out of existence. During this time, the Babcock Lumber Company began years of rapid progress and quickly became one of the leading lumber companies in the United States.
Less than 10 years would go by before the Babcock Lumber Company would be acclaimed the foremost hardwood producer in the world. In fact, soon after the first gasoline automobile, operated by its inventor C.A. Duryea, made its appearance, Babcock plunged in to the business of supplying the fine hardwood used then by the automobile industry, including the material for spoke wooden wheels so treasured by antique car collectors today.
To gain and hold their dominant position, the Babcock brothers pressed forward relentlessly into the industry.
A standard gauge railroad was constructed and each year it was extended farther into the timberland. Logging camps were put into operation, and the hum of saws continued night and day, year in and year out.
New purchases of timberlands fed millions of feet of stumpage in to the Babcock sawmills. An entire town, Arrow, and the band mill of John Curry and Sons was purchased outright. Another mill and lumber resource of the Cambria Lumber Co., Foustwell, PA was acquired at the same time.
Moving into the new century annual production amounted to one hundred million feet; principally famous Pennsylvania hardwoods. With this efficient network of mills, the Babcock Lumber Company produced 400,000 feet of hardwood lumber daily.
In 1901, 30,000 acres of virgin long-leaf Yellow Pine was added near Bainbridge, Georgia where the first completely integrated Yellow Pine plant was constructed in Miller County. This mill had a capacity of producing more than twenty-five million feet annually, making rift-sawn pine flooring as its specialty. An entirely new town named Babcock was established. At about this time the company headquarters was moved to the new Frick Building, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Babcock Lumber & Boom Co. in Davis, West Virgina began operation and the Tellico River Lumber Co. at Tellico Plains, Tennesee was formed in 1905. These plants, together with the Babcock Lumber and Land Company (formed in 1907 in Maryville, Tennesee) operated more than one-quarter million acres in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. The Maryville plant was considered the most modern of its kind and lumberman from all over the world came to see it and declare it a model operation. Later, much of this land was deeded to the United States Government and became a major share of the Great Smokey National Park.
With the simultaneous operation of these mills, Babcock Lumber Company was producing and shipping in excess of 1,000 carloads of hardwood per month. Numerous branch sales offices where established in principal cities throughout the country to market this vast production.
Inevitably, however, the company’s timber resources began to diminish and the era of marketing its own production began to wane.
But before the mills could fade entirely, the Babcock Lumber Company looked to new fields of operation. With a ready made and trained sales organization, the company now shifted its attention to the sale and distribution of products from other manufacturers. It was at this time the Babcock wholesale business was born.
Nevertheless, its own production was not completely abandoned, for in 1918 the Babcock interests purchased the largest single tract of virgin long leaf Yellow Pine in the United States, located in Charlotte and Lee Counties, Florida. Two new saw mills were started, a large hardwood mill at Landisburg, West Virginia; and a second mill at nearby Glade, West Virginia.
During this period the Babcock Lumber and Boom Company in Davis, WV was still going full tilt as was the Babcock Coal and Coke Company, near the same location. The hard, black fuel was being mined below ground to feed coke ovens producing the highest grade metallurgical coke obtainable in the world, while at the same time, timber was moved above ground.
It was in this period from 1915 to 1935 that sources of supply and production of lumber changed almost entirely. After the turn of the century, many of the pioneer lumbermen followed the old principle of “cut out and get out”. Except for the southern states, the sources of timber were going dry, and the industry migration to the West Coast was underway.
Babcock did not go west but met the situation head on by organizing The Babcock-Angell Lumber Company early in 1922, specifically to operate a fleet of lumber vessels that would bring western lumber to the eastern seaboard. This move marked the beginning of the company shift from a producer, to primarily a distributor and sales organization.
These mills operated until their timber sources were depleted, and the NRA depression era regulations in 1933 all but stopped production. Even so, during the postwar boom of the twenties, the Babcock Lumber Company prospered and continued to grow.
Then, during a six-year period, E. V. Babcock was staggered with two tremendous blows. One brother, F. R., passed away in 1927. A few years later, as depression problems began to nag the Company, the second brother, O.H., died at his desk in the Babcock Lumber Company office in 1933. While E. V. was to exert influence over the direction of the company for fifteen more years, his son, Fred Courtney Babcock, still a student at Dartmouth College at the time of his Uncle Oscar’s death, began immediately to assume a heavier load of management.
This vigorous team of E. V. Babcock and Fred, created new growth for the Babcock Lumber Company and they maintained the association until E.V. died “with his boots on” in the midst of his eighty-fifth year.
The leading Pittsburgh newspaper headline read:
THE MIGHTY OAK HAS FALLEN---E.V. BABCOCK IS DEAD!
This drawing appeared on the front page of the morning Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on September 4, 1948:
An extract from the minutes of the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pittsburgh held on September 21, 1948 reveals:
“Edward Vose Babcock’s initial interest in the political life of the city was accidental. In 1911, things had come to such a pass that governor John K. Tener appointed a Council of Nine to take over the affairs of the city, and Mr. Babcock was one of Governor Tener’s appointees. In 1913 he resigned from the Council and in 1917 was elected Mayor of the city. In 1925 he was unanimously elected County Commissioner to fill an un-expired term, and was returned by the electorate for an additional term. It was during this period that he purchased, largely out of his own resources, the land that is now the North and South Parks of Pittsburgh, perhaps the supreme and most far-reaching of all his undertakings.
“In his political life, which at times was not easy, he maintained in all high relations, an unspoiled simplicity and the soul of integrity. He was elected to the Board of Trustees of the University in 1909…. contributed generously to the erection of the Cathedral of Learning. The Board of Trustees will long hold him in remembrance and will miss the sterling quality of his influence.”
The second Babcock to head the burgeoning lumber empire was Fred Courtney Babcock, who succeeded E. V. as President in 1948.
Fred was born on his father’s Vosemary Farms in Valencia, Pennsylvania on August 11, 1913. As a little boy, he literally “teethed” on raw lumber. As a child, he trudged around one of his father’s sawmills lugging pails of cool, spring drinking water to the hot, dusty workmen.
His tenth birthday was celebrated in one of the Babcock Lumber yards. At eleven, Fred began to get sawdust in his hair by spending his summers working in the company's sawmill and logging operations.
Before he was 15, he served as a deckhand on the S. S. Willbabco, owned by the Babcock-Angell Lumber Company. During one exciting trip, the vessel was caught in the Great 1928 Florida Hurricane.
Although very young at the time, Fred was aware of the ongoing change in the source of supply and production of lumber. He knew that the lost production from New England, Great Lakes, and the Appalachian belt was more than offset by the growing output from Western sawmills.
The Babcock-Angell Lumber Company was headquartered in New York City, to be near its giant lumber dock in Brooklyn, where five million foot cargoes arrived regularly from the west coast. This venture thrived through the 20’s, until the Depression of the 30’s erased the demand for such large-sized lumber shipments.
With his early exposure and under the watchful eye of his father, Fred made a fast start in the lumber business. He was carefully schooled in all phases of the industry, not only working in the mills and as a buyer, but also in sales and in an executive capacity. He was elected Vice-President of the company before he was twenty-five.
It was only a couple of years after he had joined the company that Fred startled his father with a phone call in April of 1937 stating that he had just purchased the plant, lumber yard and timber resources of Cooper and Wicker Lumber Company, in Sanford, North Carolina.
This put the Babcock's back into the production of lumber, and in 1941 the lumber plant of A. W. Goldston Lumber Company at Angier, North Carolina was also acquired. The plant and facilities of the Frye-Fielder Lumber Company in Colquitt, Georgia and other pine mills were also purchased. The combined production of these plants gave the Babcock Lumber Company an important role in furnishing lumber for the Armed Forces in World War II.
When Fred took over the Babcock Lumber Company, he was well aware of the administrative problems he faced in the changing world of business. Sources of supply of American produced lumber now turned from New England and the Great Lakes Region to the West Coast. Many products such as veneer, plywood, particleboard, composition board and others, which were unheard of in E.V.’s time, were now coming into being. Fred also understood that the lumber shortages and restrictions which existed during World War II, had brought about new customer buying habits. Retail lumber dealers had grown accustomed to buying in smaller quantities than the solid carloads purchased previously.
Along with the changes in the industry, the Babcock lumber plants in North Carolina (which principally produced Yellow Pine) were phase out, while at the same time sales contacts with the best of Western and Canadian Lumber manufacturers were being established.
Fred had earlier anticipated that customer needs could best be served by the distribution of a variety of products from wholesale lumber warehouses. The first step in this direction was the purchase of the Edward Eiler Lumber Company in 1951. This gave the company a lumber distribution warehouse in the Pittsburgh area.
Another Pittsburgh firm, The Diamond Hardwood Lumber Co. was acquired in 1955, making it possible to supply customers with a high quality domestic and imported hardwood.
In 1956, distribution facilities in western New York State were opened and the Babcock Buffalo Lumber Corp. was founded. A huge lumber warehouse and sales office was built just outside of Buffalo, in Lancaster, N.Y.
In order to keep reserve lumber inventories constantly moving and also to make them available to Babcock customers in other regions, a wholesale lumber distribution yard was established in Altoona, PA in 1957.
A continuous series of expansions at the Eiler warehouse in Swissvale began immediately, and in 1959 the Babcock Lumber Company moved its principal office to Swissvale from the Frick Building in downtown Pittsburgh. Since the company had been the first and the oldest tenant in the Frick Building, the move was considered historic.
While the building material sales and distribution portion of the business constantly grew, 1960 marked the year of Babcock Lumber Company's return to the production of hardwood. Acreage was acquired for the development of a hardwood concentration yard at Champion, PA. Since then, more land has been added and the erection of finish mill work facilities, automatic stacking and 600,000 feet of dry kiln capacity have developed this yard into its current output of over 20,000,000 feet of hardwood processed per year.
During this period, Fred began to surround himself with a group of young people, rich in experience, vigorous, knowledgeable not only in lumber and millwork fields, but also in other areas of business management and promotion. Little by little, these men were welded into a management team. In 1963, a third generation Babcock, Gordon Fisher III, grandson of E.V., became President and Fred became Chairman of the Board.
In order to keep materials readily available to a wider geographic area, an additional yard was established in Cumberland, MD in 1965.
In 1967, the company increased its hardwood sales by the acquisition of Bruce Wise Lumber Company in Ebensburg, PA, which doubled the former kiln capacity. This location is in the center of a prime producing area, with much of its production being absorbed by fine furniture manufacturers in the south and southeast. Small regional sawmill operators welcomed the return of Babcock as a buyer of their product since many of the old-timers remembered the happy association of earlier years.
Continuing to expand its geographical reach, an additional distribution facility was established in Hubbard, OH, near Youngstown, in 1970.
While the direct carload shipment of all species of lumber continued to be an important facet of Babcock’s business, the company also concentrated heavily on providing the retail yard with a much expanded and diversified inventory. The goal was to offer the average customer “one stop service” from his neighborhood lumber dealer who in turn could meet the need from a nearby Babcock Lumber Company distribution center.
In addition, the company became the distributor for such famous name brands as Armstrong Building Products and Ceiling Tile, Masonite, Homasote, Bruce Flooring and Bruce Prefinished Paneling, Formica Laminates and Dierks Insulation Board.
The best of the Western and Canadian sawmills selected Babcock Lumber Company to market such products as door jambs and frames, mouldings, treads, paneling and other millwork items. Although the company’s sales range from $1.00 for a single piece of moulding to $25,000 for a carload of mouldings, all transactions receive the same attention to detail, courtesy and interest.
The growth and diversification called for more and more sophisticated bookkeeping. This need lead Babcock Lumber Company to becoming a pioneer in computer based accounting systems within the wholesale lumber industry.
Softwood sales included White Fir from California and Oregon; Yellow Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Idaho Pine, and Spruce from Western and Eastern Canada; Redwood from California; and Cedar shingles and Pine mouldings.
Hardwoods included such romantic woods as African Teak from Ghana and the Ivory Coast; domestic Ash, Basswood, Cherry, Red Oak, White Oak, Poplar, Cedar, Cypress, Chestnut, Walnut and Willow; along with African Mahogany and Mahogany from both Honduras and the Philippines; plus African Walnut, Rosewood from Brazil, and Teak from Thailand.
It could be a saw handle, part of a kitchen cabinet, a hospital handrail, an artificial limb, a truck floor or it might be a baseball bat, a pair of skies, a dartboard, a bowling alley or a hunting bow…. But they could easily have had one thing in common: the fine hardwood they were made from came from Babcock.
As Chairman of the Board, Fred continued to prod the Babcock Lumber Company steadily forward. But at the same time, he also had bulldozers working around the clock in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, converting idle cutover timberlands into productive pastures, farmlands and tree farms.
Herds of beef cattle were soon grazing on these newly developed pastures which once bore stands of Babcock timber. Large farming operations were growing corn, peanuts, cotton and tobacco. A feed mill was operated at Colquitt, GA by the Babcock Georgia Company, to convert grains of corn and other products grown on the lands, into beef. In this manner, a cattle empire was created by Fred in a few short years, raising cattle from North Carolina to Florida, and selling the beef products from Miami to New York.1973
Additional expansion of the company's hardwood processing capabilities was undertaken with the acquiring of kilns and millworking operations in St. Marys, PA.
Continuing to respond to demand for its product lines, Babcock established its first distribution facility and reload center in the state of West Virginia in 1974, centrally located in the town of Gassaway.
Continuing to capitalize on opportunities for growth, the Company opened it second distribution facility and reload center in the state of New York in 1980, in the town of Farmington, near Rochester.
In order to augment its supply of quality Appalachian hardwoods being delivered to its hardwood processing centers in Champion and St Marys, PA, Babcock Lumber Company aquired a sawmill in Belington, WV. The sawmill contributes some of the world's finest hardwoods, such as red and white oak, poplar and soft maple, into the production stream at the processing centers.
In July of 1984, two years of survey work was completed and a hardwood distribution yard was opened in Largo, Florida. Then, in February of 1988, Largo was integrated into a company owned distribution center in Ruskin, Florida.
The Hardwood Division saw significant change during the 1990's. A new Dimension Mill at the Champion location opened in 1991. A hardwood warehouse facility in McLean, Illinois was purchased in 1998, and a second Dimension Mill as acquired in Hayleyville, Alabama. The addition of these operations positioned Babcock as a prominent producer of finished hardwood products with strategically placed distribution, to assure our products reach their markets. In 1991 a Countertop manufacturing facility was opened in the Diamond location. This Countertop fabrication facility was moved to the Swissvale (Pittsburgh) warehouse in 1995. Engineered Wood products began to emerge in many of the traditional commodity lumber and building products markets during the decade.
2000 - The new millenium and beyond...
As it marks its 120th Anniversary year, the Babcock Lumber Company continues to seek new markets and constantly examines the output of scientific research for the finest and newest products to serve its customers. The company is proud of the continuity of its family of employees as well as its continuity of leadership.
By dedication and persistence, through optimism and far sightedness, with integrity, honest and fair dealing, both inside and outside of the industry, the Babcock Lumber Company has indeed carved its initials on the trunk of the lumber industry throughout the world.