Frank E. Sheldon
In the days when life was a much simpler thing than it now is, when the avenues of human industry had not ramified into the innumerable crossroads and bypaths which now exist, it was a comparatively easy matter for the youth on the threshold of life to choose his occupation and to go through the apprenticeship necessary to fit him for that occupation. But, with the increasing complexity of business, it has come to be rather the one who has the adaptability to follow the line of least resistance who has won success. Frank Ellsworth Sheldon, of St. Louis, Missouri, is of the latter class.
He was born in the old Massachusetts town of Billerica, which was named after the still more ancient English village of Billericay. Among the earliest settlers in the Massachusetts town were two brothers by the name of Sheldon, and their descendants are now numerous. One Oren Sheldon married Jane Wight, the latter of New Hampshire stock which runs back to the English Isle of Wight, and to these two was born July 15, 1861, a son who received the baptismal name of Frank Ellsworth. This boy was educated in the public schools of Billerica and in a private school at Lowell known as McCoy's School. Outside of school hours his tasks were those of the ordinary New England boy work upon the little farm where he was born, odd jobs of carpentering, the making of dry goods boxes, painting and other work of the sort.
Opportunities in New England were not what this lad desired, and, at the age of eighteen years, he started west, eventually reaching St. Paul, Minnesota, then almost the western frontier. Even in this city, young and thriving as it was, there were scanty opportunities for choice of occupation awaiting the New England lad. His capital was not large, so he made himself useful for a time in a printing office; then for a short while he earned a moderate salary in a lawyer's office, by thrift increasing, rather than diminishing, his original cash assets. In the spring of 1880 he heard of the survey on the Northern Pacific road, and secured a position on a surveying party under Colonel Dodge, chief engineer on the Yellowstone division. He became a chainman and later a delver into the technique of engineering. By hard study he fitted himself for an engineer's position under General Rosser, on the extension of the Canadian Pacific, and a little later became a member of the first exploration survey, under Major Rogers. This party discovered Kicking Horse Pass, and the following winter young Sheldon traveled with a party overland, on foot and with wagon train, covering about 1,200 miles and enduring many hardships. When, in the spring of 1882, the construction crews and the lines of steel began to creep forward on the right of way which the explorers had mapped out the previous summer, Mr. Sheldon became an engineer in charge of construction, and spent five years in arduous railroad work.
With the completion of the Canadian Pacific work, Mr. Sheldon's original capital of $35 had been greatly enhanced. Returning to St. Paul in 1887, he entered into partnership with an old friend, George E. Snell, and established a wholesale lumber business and a retail yard under the name of George E. Snell & Co. Desiring to try the manufacturing end of the business, at the beginning of 1892, Mr. Sheldon, together with a brother, W.O. Sheldon, started the Lawrence County Lumber Company, at Summertown, Tennessee. Soon after Mr. Sheldon and his brother began business there came the hardtimes period of 1892, which tarried, an unwelcome visitor, for a considerable time, and which had a material influence upon the prosperity of the Lawrence County Lumber Company, although the concern struggled on for two or three years before the business was closed out.
Mr. Sheldon had had the marketing of the company's product, and in this capacity made the acquaintance of lumber buyers in the middle Mississippi River district. It was in this way that he became acquainted with T. H. Garrett, of St. Louis, then, as now, a well known lumberman of that city. He sold to Mr. Garrett an occasional carload of lumber, and this acquaintanceship ripened into a mutual desire, as these men came to know each other more intimately, for closer business relationships, which desire, on March 1, 1895, was realized in a partnership under the name of the T.H. Garrett Lumber Company. The partnership between these two gentlemen continues to this day and is one of the most successful and prosperous of St. Louis lumber enterprises.
Mr. Sheldon and Mr. Garrett, with others, in 1901 organized the Grant Lumber Company, Limited, of Selma, Louisiana, of which Mr. Sheldon became secretary and treasurer, as he did also of the allied Louisiana Railway Company, also with headquarters at Selma; and this manufacturing enterprise was operated in this way until its sale, early in 1905, to the William Buchanan interests, now known as the Grant Land & Lumber Company, of Texarkana, Arkansas. Mr. Sheldon is interested in the Keystone Mills Company, of Waukegon, Texas; the E. W. Gates Lumber Company, Yellow Pine, Alabama; the Enterprise Lumber Company, Limited, Alexandria, Louisiana, and is also a director or otherwise connected with several other lumber and timber companies, as well as having other business interests.
In connection with this brief list of the things material which Mr. Sheldon has accomplished it should be noted that they have been achieved not so much through the expenditure of great vital energy as through the concentrated application of attention to the thing actually in hand. Not a strong man physically, he has developed to a remarkable degree the important faculty of concentration. He has been interested in the cultivation of strength as well as in its conservation, which is exemplified by the fact that practically his only club affiliation is with the Missouri Athletic Club. He is fond of outdoor sports and has a wholesome amount of interest in good horseflesh.
The year 1892 is recalled by Mr. Sheldon not so much on account of the business panic which began in its summer months as because of the happier fact that September 29 of that year he married Miss Jennine Maude Hammett, of St. Louis.
Politically, Mr. Sheldon is a worker for the election of good local officials upon the platform of local political issues, and of a president and national legislators upon the principles which, in his mind, are associated with the Republican party. Socially, he is a good fellow, though it takes time to become acquainted with him as is often true of the acquaintances that are most worth having. A book and a quiet corner have attractions for him, and the influence of his early experiences may still be seen in his predilection for abstruse and scientific subjects, although he indulges also in the cream skimmed discriminately from what is known as "current literature."