John Lewis Thompson, biography c. 1910
[from American Lumberman magazine]
  Source: “Lone Star Pine”, American Lumberman, September 26, 1908. Chicago, 1908. pp. 67-150.
  John Lewis Thompson.  

It is a fact as easy to demonstrate as any theorem of geometry that if J. Lewis Thompson had his way about it this exploitation of the business and personal history of the oldest lumber manufacturing family in Texas would be finished without containing above ten lines of type concerning himself.

If ever the mantle of one man fell upon another, that of John Martin Thompson has descended to the shoulders of his eighth son, J. Lewis Thompson. Their mental coloring was undoubtedly much the same.

J. Lewis Thompson was brought up under the personal influence of John Martin Thompson and especially imbibed great drafts of that pioneer's philosophical conclusions that what is worth doing is worth doing well; that all happenings are for the best; that to do as we wish to be done by is not only a gospel truth but business equity; that no man is valuable for what may seem to be high class expert knowledge unless the principles upon which he founds his life are correct; that a departmental man may come and go as he likes in the delivery of results—that necessary sum total of all intelligent effort—but that a man who works with one eye on the clock dial is not worth while and should be dismissed.

If J. Lewis Thompson had not already secured his papers as a financial pilot he certainly would now be entitled to them after having successfully guided his many commercial crafts through the high running and troublesome business seas of the last twelve months.

Mr. Thompson is a good loser and not an arrogant winner. He is a good trader, but fair, and it can be said of him as it was said of a certain king of ancient Egypt that he "hath defrauded no man; hath not oppressed the widow; hath not borne false witness; hath not been slothful; hath not broken faith with his brethren; hath not taken ill gotten gain; hath not given short measure of corn; hath not tampered with the scales; hath not encroached upon his neighbor's fields; hath not cut off the running water from its lawful source."

Of course we have passed out of the days of the shield and buckler and the clank of spur and rattle of scabbarded swords, and most of us believe that in business there is no sentiment; nevertheless, wrapped up in the mental processes of this plain man of affairs are all of the attributes that have been related here, although he himself would find difficulty "in classifying and detailing those qualities which have placed him, in the thirty-fourth year of his life, at the head of such business affairs as the Thompson lumbering interests.

He would tell, if one were very intimate with him and pressed him hard, that his success has been only a part of the general plan of things; that he stands where he does today largely on account of the circumstances of the death of two of his older brothers; that if it should so be that for any reason he had to step aside other members of the family would fill the places which his going out of the business would create in the ranks below.

In this business attitude J. Lewis Thompson does not assume a pose but relates, rather, the general Thompson plan of the organization of their business, which always has and surely in great measure always will take care of their affairs. The business of the Thompson interests is especially strong in the fact that it is so organized that its policies from the very beginning have remained intact, and so the close corporations of the several Thompson companies in harmony with these policies have thus worked out the very highest type of business organization.

John Lewis Thompson was born February 14, 1875, in the second John Martin Thompson home, the old Thompson mansion four and one-half miles from Kilgore, Tex, He first went to school under the now venerable I. Alexander, of Kilgore. With the exception of a year at Austin College and a business course he got his schooling at the Alexander institute.

He entered Austin College in the autumn of 1890 and left in the spring of 1891, and it certainly must have been a fine preparatory education given the young man, for he was enabled to enter the junior class of Austin college, which, considering the high class and very thorough curriculum of that institution, was a remarkable fact.

Mr. Thompson quit school because his brother, B. F. Thompson, wanted him and needed him, and left on the promise that he might return again in two years. The promise to J. Lewis was made in good faith but circumstances made it utterly impossible for him to take advantage of the promise.

He made a place for himself in the business at once when he went to Willard and when someone was found to fill the place in a measure he made for himself always another place higher up.

While his career at Willard, historically, began in 1891, he had really nearly all his life made a study of the business, coming to Willard while a boy during vacations. He dates his active connection with the business from August 4, 1891.

He was early in his business career very strenuously importuned to leave the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company and go to work for other people in the same line. When the position at Willard was paying him $900 a year he had to have the strength of character to refuse a position with a Kansas City company which very much wished to start him in at $3,000 a year.

It seems he has been permeated from the very beginning of his lumber career with the idea of making his business affairs a family affair, by keeping together under one business roof as many as possible of the children of John Martin Thompson, thus emulating the example patriarchal which has seemed to control the action of this particular branch of the Thompson family throughout its history.

After he had served over five years, or about that length of time, with the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company at Willard the management of the business concluded he should have some rest and recreation, and they gave him. leave of absence and a well filled purse and asked him to travel and study the habits of men and to see the exteriors and interiors of the great cities of the country, and this was his chance. Like a homing pigeon which turns to the spot whence it came, and where it most desires to be, he went immediately back to school, but, realizing that the college course was out of the question, he went to Poughkeepsie, N. Y., and took the general course at Eastman's Business College.

Today J. Lewis Thompson is president of the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company, Thompson Bros. Lumber Company and the Thompson & Ford Lumber Company, and is vice president of the J. M. Thompson Lumber Company, and he is one of the organizers of the Merchants National bank at Houston.

Mr. Thompson married June 21, 1898, Miss Helen Kerr, of Sherman, Tex., in which city the ceremony was celebrated. July 10, 1902, their first son, John Lewis Thompson, jr., was born and June 20, 1903, their younger son, Benjamin Franklin Thompson.

While Mr. Thompson is a forceful man of business, occupying practically all his waking moments in the executive control of all the affairs that transpire in his department, he devotes only six of the seven days of the week to such matters. He is a well known Sunday school worker, a member of the First Presbyterian church of Houston and an elder therein. He is a member of the board of trustees of Austin College, and although not a graduate of that school is so beloved by its alumni that he has been president of the Alumni Association of Austin College for the last four years.

J. Lewis Thompson's benefactions to the needy student who is worthy, to the missionary who desires to carry on Christian work in foreign lands, to the upbuilding of Austin College, to the Young Men's Christian Association of Houston, which has been his especial care and consideration, can only be referred to here, with the hope of opportunity in another department of this story to give these matters a little wider representation, as examples in goodness and love of humanity.

J. Lewis Thompson was the first young man to attract the attention of the old heads in the Yellow Pine Lumber Manufacturers' Association, and although a youngster among these associates his advice and judgment are sought in that greatest of saw mill organizations from all departments of its management. Mr. Thompson has contributed many papers of great value to this association at its annual and semiannual meetings, and always has some message of optimism and good cheer to give.

Recently Mr. Thompson, at the invitation of the organization, read a remarkable paper on forestry matters to the Farmers' Congress of Texas at its annual meeting held at College Station, that state. In this paper he advised the establishment of a forestry commission to look after the forestry affairs of Texas. The document was printed in many papers north and south and was considered of great value.

Mr. Thompson is especially interested in the work of the Yale Forest School and had much to do with the establishment of the chair of practical lumbering in that school. He has invited the school to utilize the Thompson forests during the spring term of 1909 and is looking forward with great pleasure to a possible acceptance of that invitation.

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.