Robert David Inman, 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, Third Series. Chicago: American Lumberman, 1906. pp. 45-48. Original courtesy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Texas Transportation Archive
Robert D. Inman

All departments of a lumber concern must stand or fall together, but upon the character of manufacture depend the reputation and continued business standing of any institution which combines the manufacture of lumber with its sale. In this industry those to whom the greatest success has come invariably have diligently made one branch a specialty, though, of necessity, having an intimate acquaintance with all branches. The ideal organization pursuing a manufacturing business combines those who have had experience in each line. A man who is a specialist in manufacture and who has won his success with other specialists is Robert David Inman, of Portland, Oregon.

He is president of Inman, Poulsen & Co., a corporation, and has charge of its manufacturing operations. He has gained a wide reputation on the Pacific Coast as a leader in lumber mechanics. For thirty-five years Mr. Inman has been a resident of Portland and busily at work in the section of which that city is the commercial center.

Robert D. Inman is the son of Asa Inman and Lucindia Kendel. He was born in Miami County, Ohio, August 11, 1853. Shortly after his birth his parents moved to Marshall County, Iowa, and, through the death of the father in the Civil War, the family was disrupted and the boy Robert was thrown upon his own resources. Perhaps the fact that he had to make his own way in the world and fight his own battles against adversity has made him a stronger and better man. He had no opportunity of gaining an education; it is doubtful whether the importance of a mental training then occurred to him. With no one to guide him, young Inman, with the love of adventure of a boy of twelve years, in 1865 joined a party of emigrants bound for the Pacific Coast. The company left Marshalltown, Iowa, May 21, and began the long, weary journey across the plains and mountains toward Portland, which was not reached until November 1. He had a varied experience on this trip, the emigrants being attacked several times by bands of Indians, and several of the outfitters belonging to the caravan were lost in the sanguinary fights.

Little there was for a boy of Robert Inman's age to do in Oregon, then a land about which practically nothing was known. He managed to eke out an existence for himself for a year and a half and then began a nomadic life as a member of a circus. He followed this life for two years before he tired of it and realized that there was more in life than he had thought. His first knowledge of the sawmill business was acquired in connection with the Willamette steam sawmill in Portland, where he began his lumber career in 1868. Seven years he remained in the mill, rising from the position of a common laborer to the more responsible one of foreman of the planing mill department. All this time he studied the several phases of manufacture, never losing sight of the fact that he was there to learn. He was energetic, industrious and thrifty, so that in the years that he was with the Willamette mill he had saved a snug sum of money, which enabled him to assist, with L. Therkelsen, N. Vessteeg and L.P.W. Quinby, in the organization of the North Pacific Lumber Company, which built the North Pacific mill in Portland. Mr. Inman operated the mill until 1889, when he sold his interest in the company and joined fortunes with Johann Poulsen, with whom he is today associated. Mr. Poulsen had been a stockholder in the North Pacific Lumber Company and previously had been identified with the Willamette mill, acting in the capacity of secretary.

Mr. Inman and Mr. Poulsen organized the business of Inman, Poulsen & Co. in 1889, and a year later it was incorporated. A mill was built and operated successfully until fire swept the plant in November, 1896. The two partners were undaunted by the disaster and within ninety days the damaged mill had been replaced by a more modern plant and was running and cutting 100,000 feet of lumber a day. Improvements have been made in the plant from time to time within the last ten years until today the capacity and output is 500,000 feet daily. Outside of the local business done by the company, the output is sold to the California trade, to the ever increasing number of eastern customers, as well as to the railroads and for export shipment.

Mr. Inman is the mechanical head of the company's operations, which he has brought up to a most successful point of effectiveness. The mill cuts practically nothing but fir timber, buying its logs delivered in the river. In the mill is a quadruple circular, a gang, two band resaws with special devices for running cants, a Pacific Coast edger, a flitch machine and the necessary complement of trimmers, slashers, cross transfers, live rollers and lumber sorters. The lath mill is considered one of the best and most efficient upon the Pacific Coast, having specially heavy and fast machinery turning out 50,000 to 60,000 lath a day, with six men. The equipment of the planing department consists of a 20 by 30-inch timber planer with five fast feed matchers. There also are two special ceiling machines and one band resaw with an eight-inch saw. The filing room is complete, much of the machinery being automatic. Heavy exhaust fans carry away the shavings from the machinery. The present mill of Inman, Poulsen & Co. is erected upon the east bank of the Willamette River, in South Portland, across and farther up stream from the center of the city.

Mr. Inman married Miss Frances L. Guild, a daughter of Peter Guild, one of the Portland pioneers. May 2, 1875. Of this union have been born two daughters, Minnie Myrtle and Ivy Frances.

Mr. Inman is one of those self-sacrificing business men who will, in addition to giving perfectly faithful service to the individual interests of those of the company with which he is allied, devote careful attention to public matters. He has added to the wealth of the State and Nation by his political work. He is a prominent Democrat and has been a standard bearer of the party. Recently he was spoken of for United States senator, though he declined to entertain the thought and wishes of his friends. He always has done herculean service for his party and when a choice of plums is to be had his appreciative friends mention his name for office. He has been a member of the water committee of the city council, a member of the Chamber of Commerce and of the Board of Trade of Portland. He also has served as a member of the State Senate, having been elected on the Democratic ticket in a district which gave a large Republican majority for congressman. His first election to a State office was as a member of the Lower House of the Oregon Legislature eight years ago, being the only Democrat who had been elected from Multnomah County in twenty years. Later, he served a term as State senator. In 1894 he was a candidate for the office of mayor of Portland. He is a director of the Merchants' National Bank, of Portland.

Personally, Mr. Inman is one of the most unassuming of men. He always has been, and still is, a worker and he never has felt it beneath him to hammer a saw or set up a planer or do anything by which his hand might facilitate operations in an emergency. His position in the company keeps him closely in touch with every man in its employ, for he is practically his own superintendent; and, though he has risen above the rank and file, he is still a member of the industrial army and has permitted no diminution of his sympathy with the man who works by the day in the humblest capacity.

Mr. Inman is a stalwart Hoo-Hoo and has shown an unvarying interest in the order since its inception. He was vicegerent for his State, later a member of the supreme nine and in 1895, when the Hoo-Hoo annual was held in Portland, a graceful tribute was paid to the Coast and to the individual himself by the choice of Robert David Inman for snark of the universe.

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.