John McCullough Foster, biography c. 1901
[from Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri]
  Source: Conard, Howard L., ed., Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, A Compendium of History and Biography for Ready Reference, Vol. II, pp. 496-499. New York: The Southern History Company, 1901.

Foster, John McCullough, for many years, an active business man of Kansas City, and prominently identified with its material development, was descended from Protestant Irish stock, a type of character in which industry, resolution and integrity are marked characteristics. In 1793, Alexander Foster, then twenty years of age, landed at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, coming from County Londonderry, Ireland, On the same vessel were Samuel Davis and family. About 1800 Alexander Foster married Sarah, daughter of Samuel Davis, and they made a home seven miles from Pittsburg. Of eleven children born to them, Samuel D. Foster was the second; he was reared upon the home farm, and while a young man was engaged for a few years in the United States arsenal at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He married Martha McCullough, also of Irish decent, and they made their home on a farm near McKeesport, Pennsylvania, which he cultivated, and whereon he mined coal. He was a ruling elder in the United Presbyterian Church, and a most exemplary man. Of the nine children born to Samuel D., and Martha (McCullough) Foster, John McCullough Foster was the oldest son, and the second children. He was born January 5, 1832, in  Belleville, Washington County, Pennsylvania, and received a common school education at the old home place, hear McKeesport, Pennsylvania. When sixteen years of age he left home to serve an apprenticeship of three years with an until, David Foster, a contractor and carpenter, at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. His annual wage was $30. Upon the expiration of his apprenticeship he accompanied his uncle in his removal to St. Paul, Minnesota, and there followed carpentering and contracting until 1854. Returning to Pennsylvania, he was similarly occupied in Pittsburg and McKeesport until 1856, and then spent the summer in Dubuque, Iowa, again returning to Pennsylvania. In March, 1857, he went to Leavenworth, Kansas, and from thence to Nebraska City, Nebraska. In all his journeyings he industriously following his calling as a carpenter and contractor. Late in 1857, he again moved to Leavenworth, where he built a small home in which he lived for many years. He was engaged in contracting until 1870, when he formed a partnership in the lumber business with A.J. Angell; this continued until 1875, when he sold out and removed to a farm which he had purchased on Big Stranger Creek, ten miles west of Leavenworth. He had invested all his available means in real estate in Leavenworth, and in the era of depreciation following the war period he became financially embarrassed. Holding to principles of unbending integrity he set himself to the task of discharging his obligations, and in so doing sacrificed practically all his property, including his home, which cost him $15,000, and yielded but $4,000. On a final summing up he found himself possessed of but one unencumbered piece of property, a farm worth $2,500, near Defiance, Ohio; his remaining indebtedness amounted to $4,200, more than the value of his holdings. In March, 1879, accompanied by his son, Benjamin, he made a journey by wagon into Kansas, seeking for a location for a lumber business. Randolph was decided upon, and here father and son opened a yard, April 22, 1879, with a capital of $1,200, derived from mortgage of the farm in Ohio. Mr. Foster, however, had been provided with cordial recommendations by the first business men in Leavenworth, and these gained him the confidence and esteem of Jay Coatsworth, of the lumber firm of Henry, Barker & Coatsworth, who furnished him with a stock worth $5,000. The business was successful, and another yard was opened at Irving, which was placed in charge of Thomas, the second son of Mr. Foster. January 1, 1880, Mr. Foster had retrieved his fortunes to such an extent that he was enabled to liquidate a considerable portion of his old indebtedness. The following year the Kansas Central Railway was  extended, and another yard was opened at Olsburg, under the management of Mr. Foster’s son, Benjamin B. Foster. Later, the same year, a yard at Leonardville was bought, and Samuel, another son of Mr. Foster, relinquished an engagement in dry goods house in Leavenworth to take charge of it. The latter venture was very remunerative, and the elder Foster credited it with being the principal foundation of the successes which afterward attended the family. In 1884 the remainder of Mr. Foster’s old indebtedness was liquidated, including that upon the mortgaged farm; and the family entered upon a more comfortable manner of living, no longer obliged to continue the former deprivation and rigid economy. January 1, 1885, the three sons, Samuel, Thomas and Benjamin, were each given a credit of $5,000 upon the books of the business, and one-half interest in the profits; at the same time the style of the firm became John Foster & Sons. About three years afterward Samuel withdrew to engage in business upon his own account, the father and his other sons continuing in business as before. In 1887, a new yard was opened at Colby, and later the same year established yards at ten other points in Kansas were purchased from the Howell Lumber Company. In 1888 the business at Olsburg was sold, and at the instance of Benjamin, the younger of the brothers, on February 22, 1889, general offices were opened at Kansas City, Missouri, in the Keith & Petty Building, for the conduct of a wholesale trade, and from which to supply the country yards.

The enterprise was successful from the outset, and operations were extended until yards were in operation at some twenty different points. In 1890 Mr. Foster set up a planing mill in Texas, forty miles north of Houston, and his son Thomas bought another at a point not far removed; both are still in operation. June 2, 1897, an office was opened in Houston, Texas, for wholesaling lumber in Mexico, Texas and the central States. That year the company contracted the cuts of ten mills, producing more than 40,000,000 feet of lumber per annum. In 1899 the business had increased to such an extent as to require the output of as many more mills. In 1899 the company purchased a 20,0000-acre tract of pine land, which is capable of a large yield. In January, 1896, the business was incorporated under the name of the Foster Lumber Company, with $200,000 capital, fully paid up, the stock being divided among the members of the family in a manner satisfactory to all. The stock is now worth three times its par value, and is all owned by the Foster family. January 6, 1900, a residence at the corner of Twenty-eighth Street and Troost Avenue, was purchased, which is the family home. At the first directors’ meeting of the company, John M. Foster was elected president; Thomas Foster, the second son, vice president; Benjamin B. Foster, the third son, secretary and general manager; and George W. Foster, the fifth son, treasurer. This organization was maintained until the death of the parent Foster, when Thomas S. Foster succeeded to the presidency, the vice presidency bring left vacant, and the remaining officers continuing in their former positions. John M. Foster was married October 18, 1855 to Miss Letitia Sampson, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Nine children were born of this marriage, all in Leavenworth, Kansas, except the firstborn, at Dubuque, Iowa; all were educated in Leavenworth, except Mary and Martha, who attended school in Cincinnati, Ohio, for two years. Anna Martha Foster, who was born July 20, 1856, is unmarried and lives at home in Kansas City, devoting her life to domestic, church and charitable duties. Samuel Alexander Foster, born September 18, 1858, was brought up in the lumber business; in 1888 he withdrew from connection with his father and brothers, and entered upon business for himself, first at Leonardville and Greene, Kansas, and afterward at Lincoln, Nebraska; he is now senior member of the Foster & Smith Lumber Company, with offices in that city, operating fifteen retail yards in Nebraska and shingle mill in the State of Washington. He was  married November 24, 1885, to Miss Nellie E. Combs, of Leavenworth, Kansas; two children were born of this marriage, John Earl, aged fourteen years, and Lucille, aged five years. Thomas Sampson Foster, born February 16, 1861, is in charge of the office of the Foster Lumber Company at Houston, Texas; he has been twice married; first in 1882, to Miss Adie Miller, of Wayne County, Pennsylvania, who died in 1894 leaving one child,  Letitia Jane, aged ten years. He was again married to Florence Wilson, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 22, 1897. Benjamin Butler Foster, born April 4, 1863, began in the lumber business when sixteen years of age; he is general manager of the Foster Lumber Company having charge of all the yards in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma;  he is unmarried and lives at home with his mother. Mary Evans Foster, born July 8, 1865, is the wife of William Craig, a railway man; of four children born of this marriage, three are living, Gladys, aged nine years; Robert B., aged seven years, and John Foster, aged five years. Martha McCulllough Foster, born November 28, 1867, is the wife of Whitsed Laming, a banker at Tonganoxie, Kansas; two children have been born of this marriage, Edith, and Foster. Ione Russel Foster, born February 28, 1870, is unmarried and lives at home. James Neel Foster, born January 24, 1873, has charge of a yard for the Foster Lumber Company in Kansas City; he is married to Miss Sadie Ross, of Pine Valley, Wisconsin; to them has been born a daughter, Anna. George Woodward Foster, born August 20, 1874, has charge of the financial department and the banking business of the Foster Lumber Company; he was married to Miss Annie Ford, of Ayr, Canada; a daughter, Marguerite, has been born of this marriage. June 6, 1899, the children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law and grandchildren of Mr., and Mrs. John M. Foster assembled at their home in Kansas City, upon the occasion of Mrs. Foster’s sixty-sixth birthday. This happy even was soon followed by the death of Mr. Foster, On December 22, 1899. Until shortly before his death he had maintained active connection with the great business of which he was head. During 1898 and 1899 he had given much of his leisure time to the preparation of a genealogical history of Alexander Foster, founder of the Foster family in America, and of his descendants to the present time. This work was prepared for publication, and the last entry made by the author, dated October 1, 1899, directs that fifteen copies be printed, one for each of his children, and the remainder to be distributed among his brothers and sisters. During his life Mr. Foster reared a noble monument to his own name, in a reputation for indefatigable industry, unconquerable resolution and unsullied integrity, in face of adverse circumstances which would have overwhelmed one of less heroic mold. While his ultimate success brought to him a large personal fortune, his life work was one of great usefulness to his fellows in the upbuilding of the many communities in which his effort and means were used. He was exemplary as a Christian man and citizen. He was a modest, burden-bearing member of the Presbyterian Church, and his benefactions for its purposes and other worthy and charitable objects were made liberally and without ostentation. The heritage of his good name is treasured by a family inheriting his own noble qualities, and is honored in a community which held him in affectionate esteem while he lived.

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