John Henry Kirby, biography c. 1905
[from A History of Texas and Texans]
  Source: Johnson, Frank W. A History of Texas and Texans. Vol. III, pgs 1067-1068. Chicago: American Historical Association, 1914.

JOHN HENRY KIRBY. Of the family of the late John T. Kirby and wife, it has been given to one to reach unique distinction in the commercial and industrial life, not only of Texas, but of the nation. Governor O. B. Colquitt recently expressed his judgment of John Henry Kirby, as "one of the greatest citizens of the United States, and one of the most loyal and true friends any man was ever privileged to possess." It has been well said that no other individual has attempted and achieved so much, on such a large scale in the organization of the industrial interests and the exploitations of the principal natural resources of east Texas as John H. Kirby. He is often referred to as the greatest financier of the south, and is without doubt one of the most capable organizers of capital and industry on a large scale in the United States at this time. For many years he has been one of the largest producers of actual wealth in this country, and his name stands high in the list of Amencan managers of railway, manufacturers, and other productive enterprise.

John Henry Kirby was born at the old Kirby home, Peach Tree Village, in Tyler county, November 16, 1860. He grew up in the wholesome atmosphere of outdoor life, and to his mother he owes his early training and instruction in reading and writing and encouragement to seek the wider fields of knowledge and opportunity. When he was nineteen his father sent him to school for one year, and then by teaching and working as a clerk he earned the money by which he continued - his education in the Southwestern University at Georgetown. As a boy he was noted in Tyler county as one of the most diligent and retentive readers, and read about all the books which at that time could be found in the neighborhood. While clerk in the Texas legislature, during 1882-84, he had access to libraries and opportunities for study, and in 1885 continued in the law office of Hon. Samuel Bronson Cooper, Woodville. In December of the latter year he was admitted to the bar. Mr. Kirby knows what privations are like, since during those early years he had to earn a living as well as opportunity to study. It is said that his first case as a lawyer concerned some land, and his clients were Boston people, who were so pleased with his handling of the case that he thus gained the confidence of eastern capitalists. In 1886 he became interested in pine timber lands in Eastern Texas, and secured large investments in that territory from bankers and other capitalists in Boston. The local management of the properties was entrusted to his hands. Before he was thirty years of age he was at the head of two of the largest timber companies in southeastern Texas, and his interests in lumber development have gone on increasing through all the subsequent years. Since 1890 Mr. Kirby has had his home in the city of Houston. One of his great enterprises was the construction of a railroad in the heart of the pine district, which up to that time was practically isolated from lack of transportation. In 1893 he began the construction of the Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City Railroad, which he successfully completed in spite of the fear of hard times, and extended from Beaumont about seventy-five miles into the pine forest of Jasper County, and vicinity. This road was sold to the Santa Fe System in 1900. The building of that railroad was the first step in the organization of the lumber interests of Texas into one great corporation.

While others were content to operate small independent mills, it became the ambition of Mr. Kirby to buy up the best timber properties, and secure sufficient capital to manufacture it in any quantities desired. This ambition may be said to have been practically realized in the organization in 1901 of the Kirby Lumber Company, with a capital of ten million dollars. This company soon acquired milling properties that had been previously operated by fourteen different companies. Its original ownership comprised 10,000,000,000 feet of standing timber, and it has since manufactured about 300,000,000 feet of lumber every year. The complete success of the ambitious plans formulated by Mr. Kirby required in 1901 the organization of the Houston Oil Company, which was chartered with a capital stock of $30,000,000, an amount twice as great as any other Texas corporation had up to that time been assigned. The Houston Oil Company became a holding company, for the various enterprises conducted by the Kirby Lumber Company, and was also chartered for the development and production of oil. The organization of these two companies necessarily brought Mr. Kirby into intimate relations with the financial centers of America, and his success proved him one of the ablest financiers of his time. The secret of his success has been explained as consisting in his belief that what man has done man can do, and that in the field where his experience has developed his power he is able to cope successfully with all the difficulties that may oppose. Besides his presidency of a $40,000,000 Texas corporation, Mr. Kirby has a number of other important interests and relations with business concerns, in Texas and elsewhere.

In 1912 Mr. Kirby was elected a representative in the Texas Legislature, and has been very active in the performance of his duty. He is chairman of the Committee on Commerce and Manufacturing, and has membership in the Committee on Appropriations, the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, the Committee on Agriculture, the Committee on Revenue and Taxation and others. In Masonry he stands high, having taken thirty-two degrees of the Scottish Rite, is a Knight Templar, and a past master and past high priest and belongs to the Mystic Shrine. He has always been prominently identified with the Elks and is exalted ruler of Lodge No. 151 at Houston, and for two years was president of the Texas State Association of Elks. Mr. Kirby has been honored as "Snark of the Universe" of the Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoos, the highest office in that lumber organization. He is also a member of the Knights of Pythias, the Woodmen of the World, the Loyal Order of Moose, and has many social memberships including the Houston Club, the Turn Verein of Houston, the Houston Country Club, the Thalian Club of Houston, the Manhattan Club of New York, and the Southern Society of New York and is a life member of the Press Club of Chicago. In 1904 Mr. Kirby was president of the Texas World's Fair Commission, and in the same year was president of the Trans-Mississippi Commercial Congress.

At Woodville, Texas, November 14, 1883, Mr. Kirby married Miss Lelia Stewart, a daughter of John W. Stewart. They have one daughter, Bessie. The Kirby home in Houston is at 2006 Smith Street.

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.