William H. Bradley, biography c. 1906
[American Lumberman magazine]
Source: American Lumberman. The Personal History and Public and Business Achievements of One Hundred Eminent Lumbermen of the United States, Second Series. Chicago: American Lumberman, 1905-1906. pp. 141-144. Original courtesy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Texas Transportation Archive
William H. Bradley

With a character as strong and rugged as the granite ribbed hills of his native State, William H. Bradley accomplished things that will live much longer than the span of his own life, which was closed by death January 7, 1903. He was one of the strongest and most original personages in the great Northwest, where he drew from nature's storehouse substantial wealth, only to dispense it generously for the upbuilding of the State. Of commanding physique and imperious temperament he yet possessed a kindliness that won for him honor and respect from friends and enemies for a man of his character must of necessity have both.

To no efforts but his own could Mr. Bradley's success be ascribed. As the son of a family of lumbermen of the Maine woods, his knowledge of the forests was inbred. But he chose not the fields of his forefathers in which to labor, but rather a section of the country that in his young manhood days was practically new. And in these scenes he wrought what a man of brains and honesty could in making the history of the lumber industry.

In Bangor, Maine, that old, typical lumber town, where lumbering has been followed for more than a century, William H. Bradley was born, February 25, 1838. Like many of the lads of that section he developed shrewdness and a desire to succeed along with the knowledge gained at the country schools. Though his father was largely interested on the Penobscot, Aroostook and other lumber streams, the young man was not satisfied to enter into the business there, but determined to strike out for himself. He was seventeen years old when he announced his purpose of going west to seek employment. With funds provided by his father the youth journeyed alone to Iowa, a trip of weeks in those days, and found work as a common laborer on a farm. It was not an alluring life and the pay was small $i a day and board but the Maine youth did not give up, working on for three years before returning home for a vacation.

A desire, that almost amounted to a passion in his case, to make his own living took young Bradley west again, and he worked at various lines at Dubuque, Iowa, and Janesville, Wisconsin, going over to the Au Sable River in Michigan in the winter time. Later he returned to Janesville, and, in turn, went to St. Cloud, Minnesota; Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Harvard, Illinois, and at the latter place ran a retail lumber yard. About 1860 he began to invest in Wisconsin timber lands, especially along the tributaries of the Wolf River above Oshkosh. In 1862 he gave up the retail business in Illinois, moved to Oshkosh, and with others built a sawmill. This plant was disposed of ten years later. In the same year Mr. Bradley became associated with O. P. Pillsbury, the firm of O. P. Pillsbury & Co. was formed and a mill put up at Muskegon, Michigan. In 1867 he built a mill at Manistee in connection with Wheeler, Hopkins & Co.

During the running of the Muskegon mill Mr. Bradley operated on the Muskegon, Manistee and Pere Marquette rivers. The venture was a profitable one, and, although he had but a modest accumulation of his own, he did not lack for credit, as the men with whom he was associated appreciated his executive qualities and his ability successfully to conduct an operation. In 1877 he removed to Milwaukee, and until 1886 operated chiefly along the Chippewa River under the style of Bradley Bros. & Co., and also did business as the State Lumber Company.

Mr. Bradley's name will be most lastingly known in connection with the Land, Log & Lumber Company, and the city of Tomahawk, which he founded. It is related of him that he was passing up the Wisconsin River in company with the late E.A. Foster when, looking over the broad expanse of water, he suddenly announced to his companion his determination to build a town, and indicated with his finger a pretty stretch of water front which became the site of his projected municipality. He added that he would call the town Tomahawk. And, later, he carried out his word. He proceeded to organize the Land, Log & Lumber Company, which was incorporated March 5, 1883, with himself, Oliver P. Pillsbury and Edward Bradley as the incorporates.

A wide scope of business transactions in timber lands and lumber was authorized in the articles of incorporation, and at its inception Mr. Bradley and his associates bought large tracts of timber in Wisconsin and in other states of the Northwest. The original capital was placed at $500,000, divided into 5,000 shares, but the business assumed such proportions from the start that on November 6, of the same year, the charter was amended to permit increasing the capital to $2,000,000, fully paid in. This was further increased to $2,500,000 July 9, 1890. Oliver P. Pillsbury was the first president of the company and Edward Bradley its first secretary. Though the concern under its charter could do a lumber manufacturing business, but little in this line was attempted, the general policy being to contract its timber, accepting in payment a certain percentage of the net selling price of the lumber. In this manner the company shared with the manufacturers with whom business was done the profits of operation, bearing its share of price declines.

Enormous timber resources of his own outside those of the company were acquired by Mr. Bradley, these holdings being mainly on the upper Wisconsin above Tomahawk. Logging and milling operations were conducted on a large scale at this point, under the style of the Bradley Company, no less than four mills having been run at one time. In later years only two mills were operated, with a production of 50,000,000 feet of lumber annually. To oversee these extended interests required a man of unusual activity, but Mr. Bradley was equal to the task and kept in close touch with his interests up to the time of his fatal illness.

Tomahawk, the town which he founded, was his pet and pride. It is situated in the midst of many small streams and lakes, as well as being on the Wisconsin River, and is best described as a "sawmill Venice." During late years the sawmill business has witnessed a decline, but the population, on the other hand, is increasing, through the establishment of other industrial enterprises and the development of the surrounding country for agricultural purposes.

Mr. Bradley was the leader in everything that added to the welfare of the town. He was liberal in his expenditures, building schools for the children, churches for the moral training of the citizens and excellent hotels for the entertainment of travelers. He also established a big general store with branches at other points, and was responsible for the publication of a newspaper. While he did not lavish his money on philanthropic projects brought before him for financial support, there were very few worthy objects that did not receive substantial aid from him. He was constantly striving to better the condition of the citizens of the section, and along this line he inaugurated and equipped small circulating libraries which were passed from town to town.

In furthering the lumber operations at Tomahawk and the interests of the city itself, Mr. Bradley built the Marinette, Tomahawk & Western road, sixty-two miles in length, with several prosperous towns along it.

He was a director of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul and of the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie roads. He was interested in the Marine Bank of Milwaukee and had other diverse interests, including Pacific Coast timber holdings.

Mr. Bradley left an adopted son, William I. Bradley, and a widow. The latter was Miss Marie Hannemyer, who had been his private secretary for twenty years, and whom he married a few days preceding his death.

Text and images were digitized and proofread from the original source documents by Murry Hammond. Contact Murry for all corrections and contributions of new material.