John McCullough Foster, 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, 1906. pp. 341-344.

Texas Transportation Archive
John McCullough Foster.

Equipped with an invincible will, an unfaltering ambition and a tireless physique, any man is well prepared for the battles of life. He can accept defeat in one quarter without dismay, he can concentrate his forces at another point, and he can continue the struggle until victory is won. Such an equipment had John McCullough Foster, of Kansas City, Missouri, whose career was ended by death December 22, 1899. ^ n his youth he was apprenticed as a carpenter, and as a young man he engaged in the contracting business. Subsequently he turned his attention to the retail lumber trade, in which he made a success. Overtaken by adversity after he had retired, he pluckily reentered the business and built up a trade that made his name a familiar one in the commercial circles of Missouri, and later he and his sons became widely known as wholesalers and manufacturers.

John McCullough Foster was born in Beallsville, Pennsylvania, January 5, 1832. He lived on a farm, two and one-half miles east of McKeesport, with his parents until he was sixteen years old. On November 16, 1848, he was apprenticed, as was the custom in those early days, to David Foster, an uncle, who was a carpenter, living in Pittsburg. He served three years, learning the use of tools and acquiring a superficial knowledge of lumber. During these years he was paid but $2.50 a month.

Starting with another uncle on March 16, 1852, he went on a steamboat down the Ohio River and up the broad Mississippi until St. Paul, Minnesota, was reached, where he followed carpentering and contracting until 1 854. Returning to Pittsburg in that year, he worked in a carpenter shop during the winter. The next spring he took a contract for the erection of several houses in McKeesport. The summer of 1856 he spent at Dubuque, Iowa, returning to McKeesport for the winter.

Believing that the West offered greater prospects for success, Mr. Foster on March 4, 1857, went to Kansas, locating at Leavenworth and spending the first summer working at his trade as carpenter near Nebraska City, Nebraska. He followed the contracting business in and about Leavenworth until 1870, in which year he entered into partnership with A. J. Angell, in the retail lumber business, buying out the yard of Thomas Cutts. This yard was run for five years, and at the end of this period he sold his interest to Mr. Angell and retired from the lumber business, moving to a farm ten miles west of Leavenworth.

During these active years, Mr. Foster had invested the greater portion of his savings in real estate in addition to the farm, on which he settled in 1875, and the home place in Leavenworth, which was improved in 1867 by the building of a $15,000 brick residence. Much of this real estate had been purchased before the depression in values, caused by the Civil War, which condition prevailed for many years after the close of hostilities. Liquidation finally became necessary and the $15,000 homestead in Leavenworth went for $4,000. The other property followed piece by piece, including the farm upon which he was living, and there was an indebtedness which amounted to about $4,000 above the value of that piece of property.

These were dark days for Mr. Foster, but he did not waver in his determination to succeed again. He raised a cash capital of $1,200 by placing a mortgage on his Ohio farm, and with this and many excellent letters of recommendation from the principal business men of Leavenworth he went to Kansas City, where he purchased a stock of lumber valued at about $5,000. With this stock, which was shipped to Randolph, Kansas, and the borrowed capital, he began the lumber business at Randolph on April 22, 1879. From the start, almost, the yard was a success. In the fall of the same year another yard was opened at Irving, and Mr. Foster wrote to his second son, Thomas S., who was then in Montana on a cattle ranch, to return and take charge of the latter yard. The business at Irving prospered and, by the first of the following year, 1880, Mr. Foster was able to begin to pay off his old debts. The following spring still another step was taken in the yard line business by establishing a yard at Olsburg, Kansas, and again Mr. Foster found a yard manager among his family of sturdy boys in the person of Benjamin B. Foster.

A fourth yard was opened in the fall of that year at Leonardville, and another son, Samuel A., was called upon to take the management. This yard proved even more profitable than the other three, and within the next two or three years the profits of the four yards paid off all the old debts and the mortgage which had furnished the initial capital of the business. January 1, 1885, an interest of $5,000 was given to each of the three boys, with a joint half interest among them in the profits of the business, which at that time was conducted under the name of John Foster & Sons. So the business continued until 1888, when Samuel Foster, the eldest son, married and desired to engage in business for himself.

Benjamin and Thomas Foster, however, remained with their father and the firm of John Foster & Sons prospered. A fifth yard was opened in 1887 at Colby, and later five yards were bought from the Howell Lumber Company. This purchase proved to be a profitable enterprise, also. Yards at Garrison and Blaine were purchased and new yards were opened at Fostoria and at Westmoreland. Soon after the withdrawal of Samuel Foster from the firm, in 1888, the business at Olsburg was sold and a plan which Benjamin Foster had suggested, that of establishing a wholesale business at Kansas City, was put into effect February 22, 1889. The following June the family moved from Leavenworth to Kansas City. The wholesale business was successful, as the management of the line yards continued to be, constant changes in the latter being made until the firm had nearly thirty yards at different points. The question of supplies became an important one, and in 1890 John Foster went to Texas to make purchases for the wholesale trade. He located a planing mill upon the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe road north of Houston, and in 1892 bought a sawmill at Clinesburg, on the same road.

In January, 1896, the Foster Lumber Company was incorporated, with $200,000 capital, divided among the father and sons. John Foster was made president; Thomas Foster, vice president; Benjamin B. Foster, secretary and general manager, and George W. Foster, treasurer. The sawmill at Clinesburg still was in operation, and on June 2, 1897, a wholesale office was opened at Houston, Texas, which proved very successful. During the same year the company contracted for the cut of eight or ten mills, amounting to more than 40,000,000 feet; but the business doubled and trebled and in 1899, aside from its own output, the product of eight or nine other mills was required to supply the demands of the company. In the spring of 1899 20,000 acres of valuable pine timber was bought.

Mr. Foster married Miss Letitia Sampson, of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, October 18, 1855. To them were born nine children Anna Martha, Samuel Alexander, Thomas Sampson, Benjamin Butler, Mary Evans, Martha McCullough, lone Russell, James Neel and George Woodward Foster.

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.