John Henry Kirby, obituary c. November 1940
[New York Times]
  Source: "John Henry Kirby, Texas Lumberman", New York Times, November 11, 1940, p. 19.

Built $10,000,000 Business in State, Lost in Depression
Stricken in Houston, 80.


Former Lawyer and Legislator Had Provided Many College Educations for Youths


HOUSTON, Texas, Nov. 10 (AP) -- John Henry Kirby, who built one of the largest lumber businesses in the United States, died last night. He would have been 80 years old next Saturday.

Backed by Eastern capital, he acquired timberlands, logged them and built a business which grew into the Kirby Lumber Company, with capital stock of $10,000,000 and reputed assets of more than $40,000,000. The depression of the early thirties struck him, and on May 9, 1933, he filed a bankruptcy petition, listing assets of $12,995,360, against $12,276,171 in liabilities. He specified in a statement that only his personal affairs and fortune were involved. A funeral service will be held here at 3 P.M. tomorrow.

Mr. Kirby was born in Peach Tree Village, Tyler County, Texas, Nov. 16, 1860. In 1883 he married Miss Lelia Wynne Stewart of Woodville.

He made many gifts to charity and to institutions of learning and provided the funds that enabled scores of boys and girls to go to college. The latter was one of his favorite benefactions. That sort of help for others appealed to him because as a young man lack of funds compelled him to give up the idea of a college education. He had entered Southwestern University at Georgetown, Texas, but after three months found it necessary to seek means of livelihood and left the school.

After serving as clerk of the Texas Legislature and a brief period of employment in the office the Tyler County tax collector, he began to read law in the office of his friend, State Senator Sam Bronson Cooper of Woodville. He was admitted to the bar in 1885 and after practicing for three years turned his attention to the lumber business, in which he accumulated his wealth and rose to prominence.

Although he never sought public office, Mr. Kirby twice was virtually conscripted as a candidate and elected to the lower house of the Texas Legislature. He thwarted movements to put his name forward as a Democratic candidate for United States Senator from Texas and also for Vice President. The Manufacturers Record, an influential trade publication, went even further and sought to include his name in the field of candidates for President of the United States.

In 1935 and 1936 Mr. Kirby led the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution, a group of Democrats who disapproved of the New Deal and sought to prevent Mr. Roosevelt’s nomination for a second term. Mr. Kirby declared in September, 1935: “The vital issue today is defense of the Constitution, and any man who defies it as openly as President Roosevelt has done cannot hope to be elected President of the United States.

Early in his career, after concluding that the opportunities of a country lawyer were limited, Mr. Kirby surveyed the great virgin forests in the eastern part of Texas. He visioned their transformation into great camps for the production and distribution of lumber.

Interesting Eastern capital, largely from Boston, he was able to acquire large tracts of timber lands. With subsequent expansion he moved the headquarters of the business to Houston and organized the Kirby Lumber Company, with himself as president. He became one of the wealthiest men in Texas.

Mr. Kirby built a railroad, the Gulf, Beaumont & Kansas City, which he sold in 1900 to the Santa Fe.

During the World War he served as a member of the Council of National Defense and represented the Emergency Fleet Corporation as lumber administrator for the South. In 1903 he served by appointment of Governor Sawyer as president of the Texas World’s Fair Commission. President Harding named him a member of the President’s Unemployment Conference in 1921 and appointed him one of the commissioners to represent the United States at the Brazilian Centennial Exposition.

Mr. Kirby had served as president of the Trans-Mississippi Commercial Congress; was an organizer of the Texas Five Million Club, the purpose of which was to attract desirable immigration to the State; was an organizer and vice president and later president of the Southern Pine Association, and for several years was president of the National Lumber Manufacturers Association.

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