Frederick C. A. Denkmann
If there be any influence exerted upon a life by the often decried elements of foreign birth and early hardship it would seem to be in the line of increasing rather than diminishing the chances of winning success, for certain it is that these apparent misfortunes inspire the man of native ambition to harder effort and often to greater achievement. One who rose from these conditions, whose only wealth consisted of valuable experience gained in struggling with adverse circumstances, to that of one of the most successful business men in his line in the whole United States was Frederick C.A. Denkmann, of Rock Island, Illinois, who died March 2, 1905.
He was the youngest son of Diedrich Denkmann, and was born at Salzwedel, Prussia, the ancient capital of that State, April 8, 1822. His father had been a successful manufacturer, but lost his estate in the Napoleonic wars which devastated much of Europe. The elder Denkmann was unable to recover his position and died when F.C.A. Denkmann was of a tender age. The lad was left to the care of his mother, who gave him the best education that it was possible for her to give, but which, owing to her limited means, was extended only to his fourteenth year, when he was obliged to go out into the world as a breadwinner. To accomplish this end he became an apprentice to the machinist's trade, which he learned so thoroughly that in after years he often was paid the same wages as his foreman by discriminating employers.
During the troublous days of 1848 his thoughts, in common with those of thousands of his countrymen, turned to the great American Republic as a place where there were good prospects of reaping a just reward for earnest and faithful endeavor. He embarked for the United States, ultimately arriving at Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1849. An entire stranger, with but little money, he settled down and worked at his trade. Two years later Mr. Denkmann moved to Rock Island, Illinois, near which place, at Walcott, Iowa, lived a brother. For a time he lived at Moline, but finally located at Rock Island and engaged there at his trade.
Indomitable energy and a strong desire for success were always marked characteristics of Mr. Denkmann. These qualities were particularly conspicuous at one time when he was engaged in the grocery business. He would visit the farming districts, securing his country produce so early that, after having traveled many miles, he would return to the city in time for a fair day's business.
Mr. Denkmann and his brother-in-law, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, in 1860, entered into a partnership whose interests eventually grew to such mammoth proportions that its influence has been felt by the entire lumber industry. In the equation of this partnership money was an unknown quantity, but by means of the known quantities of ability and perseverance the equation was solved in a remarkably short time. The sawmill property now known as the "lower mill" was acquired by the new firm, and Mr. Denkmann acted as superintendent. As another example of the tireless energy of this man it may be stated that he often ran the mill all day and then worked half sometimes all the night getting ready for the next day's work. As a result of his efforts the daily output of the mill was increased from 6,000 to 15,000 feet the first season. This end was accomplished in the face of the fact that facilities for repairing and improving sawmills were very meager in those days, it being necessary to use material at hand instead of applying to well-equipped machine shops, as is possible now.
The capital employed by the firm was very modest in amount, being principally the savings from the daily earnings of the partners. By practicing the strictest economy and by being always ready to take advantage of improvements in sawmill machinery Mr. Denkmann was enabled to increase the output of the mill gradually until it was considered one of the best on the Mississippi River. Mr. Weyerhaeuser was located at Coal Valley, Illinois, attending to the marketing of the lumber produced by this mill. Coal Valley at that time was the retail lumber market for a large section of country, teams coming for lumber from as far as Galesburg.
The next venture of Messrs. Denkmann and Weyerhaeuser was the acquisition of the Skinner mill, also located at Rock Island, built by a Mr. Barnes in 1850, and located in the east end of the town on the site of the present roundhouse of the Rock Island System. In this enterprise they were joined by Anawalt, Gray and Cropper and the firm was known as Anawait, Denkmann & Co. Afterward this mill was moved and consolidated with the plant of Keator, Wilson & Co., the new concern being known as the Rock Island Lumber & Manufacturing Company. Mr. Denkmann became president of this institution, a position which he held up to the time of his death. The Rock Island Lumber & Manufacturing Company developed a sash and door plant which later became a separate concern known as the Rock Island Sash & Door Works, of which company also Mr. Denkmann was the president.
The third and last of the home operations of Mr. Denkmann was a mill located at Davenport, Iowa, across the Mississippi from the parent mill. It had been built in 1854-5 by William Renwick and was purchased by Mr. Denkmann and his partner in 1888. It was converted into a double band and gang mill and operated by Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann until July 25, 1901, when it was destroyed by fire. This was the first serious loss sustained by the firm in a period covering more than forty years. The mill was not rebuilt. At present the firm is operating a retail yard upon its site.
The output of the four mills of Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann reached large proportions, the product for one year being 117,000,000 feet of white pine and the average for a number of years amounting to over 100,000,000 feet. At Rock Island the lower mill continued to be operated until January 8, 1903, when it was turned over to a corporation known as the Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann Company, of which Mr. Denkmann was president.
The first timber purchase made by Weyerhaeuser & Denkmann was consummated four years after the formation of the partnership, and it was the beginning of transactions that since have been carried on with such magnitude that today the members of this firm and their associates are acknowledged to be the largest timber owners in the United States. The first purchase made was in the white pine district of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Later, timber holdings were acquired in the South, where they are heavy operators. They also own enormous quantities of timber in the West, one purchase alone comprising 1,000,000 acres in the State of Washington. An enumeration of all the timber holdings in which Mr. Denkmann was interested would make an almost endless array of figures.
Mr. Denkmann continued to take an active interest in his business affairs, being relieved of much detail by his sons, F.C. and E.P. Denkmann, up to within a few weeks of his death, although his life had extended over eighty-two years.
He married Miss Catherine Bloedel, of Erie, Pennsylvania, December 9, 1849. He is survived by his widow, and by five daughters and two sons: Mrs. John J. Reimers, Mrs. Thomas B. Davis, Frederick C. Denkmann, Mrs. William H. Marshall, Mrs. Edward S. Wentworth, Edward P. Denkmann and Susanne C. Denkmann.
Mr. Denkmann was a remarkable man in many ways. He was essentially a worker; a home man; a modest man, yet one who did much more than will ever be known for his city and for those who were less fortunate than he. He was not given to the promiscuous making of friends, but those who knew him fully understood and appreciated the high character of the man.