Samuel Thomas Swinford, 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. 393-396. Original courtesy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Texas Transportation Archive

Samuel T. Swinford.

In reviewing the careers of men who have reached prominent positions, to discover the secret springs of their lives, it is often found that a man had an initial advantage, perhaps in the way of inherited capital, or, perhaps, in a business already established. When such is not the case, however, but when a man starts with no capital except that furnished by nature in his own personality, the secret of his success must be conceded to lie within the man himself. Such is the case with Samuel Thomas Swinford, of Houston, Texas, and, in considering his life, the most dominating characteristic of the man is found to be strength of purpose. The force of the man himself and not of happy circumstance has brought about what measure of success he has achieved.

He was born December 11, 1856, at Pleasanthill, Cass County, Missouri, being the only child of Dr. Samuel Swinford and Henrietta S. (Thomas) Swinford. If there is anything in heredity and environment, young Swinford certainly started out in life under the most favorable circumstances. His father, in addition to being a doctor of medicine, was an ordained minister of the Christian Church, and his mother came from the good old State of Kentucky, which takes more pride in its women than in all its other products combined. She was essentially of a strong character, strong in her religious convictions and energetic in carrying out her ideas. She lived her cleanly, Christian life to the ripe age of seventy-two years, dying in the Swinford home, in Missouri, in 1897. The year that Samuel was born Dr. Swinford moved his family to Independence, Missouri, though the father himself died three years later of Asiatic cholera at Lonejack, Missouri.

The widow and her son continued to live at Independence until 1861, Samuel being sent to the public schools of that town, where he secured the rudimentary part of his education. In the winter of 1869, when he was but eighteen years of age, he began teaching in a country school about six miles east of Independence. He was dissatisfied with his own education and during the winter of 1871-2 he attended the University of Missouri, at Columbia, entering the normal class at that institution. While there he made many friends among the students, among them Eugene Field, who later became famous as a poet and humorist. After another winter at the University he took a school at Lees Summit, Missouri, as it had always been his plan to be a teacher and he had educated himself with this end in view. He continued teaching at this school and others in the State practically all the time from 1872 to 1878.

In February, 1878, Samuel Swinford said a final farewell to Missouri and moved to Orange, Texas. Shortly after his arrival he connected himself with the firm of Moore & Swinford, which concern at that time owned a lumber mill on the Sabine River, facing Orange. Later, he entered the employ of F. W. Stewart & Co., adding here to his lumber education. The knowledge of lumber and lumbering methods he gained with these two concerns brought him in good interest when he shortly afterward became associated with the late Judge D. R. Wingate, of Orange. He applied himself to the building up of the Wingate business with all the energy which has marked his every venture, and was instrumental in greatly improving its condition.

In 1890 Mr. Swinford, John Henry Kirby and Henry J. Lutcher appeared before the committee on commerce at Washington and succeeded, largely through Mr. Swinford's eloquence, in impressing the congressmen with the possibilities of Sabine Pass and the necessity for its improvement. This had very much to do with the subsequent action of the Government, which has done so much for western Texas. It was said of Mr. Swinford that he laid before the congressional committee facts, figures and conditions which were self-explanatory and not to be controverted. Their object was to secure an appropriation to deepen Sabine Pass and to make it a deep water harbor, an immense aid to the commerce of that great and partially undeveloped section of the country.

During the twelve years he had been in Texas, Mr. Swinford had not only made himself thoroughly acquainted with the conditions then prevailing in that section of the United States, but he also had made himself a master in his knowledge of the lumber business in all its details, and, besides, had raised himself from the status of an unknown man and a stranger to a most enviable social and business standing.

The same year that he urged the Sabine Pass project before the commerce committee Mr. Swinford moved his family from Orange to Houston, Texas. He was now fairly launched in the lumber trade and during the next nine years he conducted a lumber commission business in Houston. It is said of him that he did a good business and that with every board he sold he made a friend, which, if it is true, is evidence indeed that he did a good business in more senses than one. In 1896 he was made president of the Texas Lumbermen's Association, and was continued in that post until 1899. Mr. Swinford always has been a prime mover in the affairs of the association as they relate to the lumber industry.

In the autumn of 1899 Mr. Swinford gave up his commission business to become associated with the Foster Lumber Company and the Southwestern Lumber Company, both of Houston, in the business of exploiting and operating a mill business on the " Trinity Tap." This business afterward was sold to the Kirby Lumber Company, of Houston. Two years later, in October, 1901, Mr. Swinford became general sales agent of the Kirby company.

Having assisted in the building up of enterprises headed by other men and having gone out of his way on every occasion upon which his good office and advantages could be of benefit to his neighbors, Mr. Swinford finally embarked upon the sea of commerce with a corporation of his own. Resigning his position with the Kirby Lumber Company, September 1, 1903, he organized, in October, the S. T. Swinford Company, with a general office at Dallas and another office at Houston. The company is a wholesale lumber concern, and since its organization has done a remarkably large business. What has done more than all else to insure the success of this concern has been the personal force back of it the force of the man who made his way step by step over every obstacle in his path, utterly refusing to recognize the possibility of failure.

Mr. Swinford always has been a prime mover in the affairs of Texas associations as they relate to the lumber industry. He has made it a point closely to follow freight matters, such as rates, long or short hauls, car service and demurrage. He recognizes the fact that more can be done by cooperation than by any other means and he has probably done more practical work in bringing about amicable relations between the lumber producers of the Lone Star State and the railways of that commonwealth than has any other one man, and in this, as in all other undertakings, he has set the stamp of his individuality and the coercive influence of effort not made to fail.

Mr. Swinford married Miss Mary E. Smith, at Pleasanthill, Missouri, May 21, 1874. The couple has four children, all stalwart sons and having the forcefulness of their father. They are Jerome, Samuel T., H. G., and Eberle Swinford. All of the four boys inherit their father's energetic temperament and all are engaged in active pursuits. Jerome is a practical lumberman and a member of the firm of Beatty & Swinford, of Houston, Texas.

Mr. Swinford is considered a good after-dinner speaker and has a convincing personal magnetism which has had much to do with his well-merited success.

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