John H. Berkshire
The character of an individual rather than any particular opportunity he may have, makes for his prosperity. The success which John Henry Berkshire, of Winona, Missouri, has won for himself in the West and Southwest will be attributed by those who read the story of his career more to the elements within the man than to any exterior influences. Circumstances that a less determined man would have considered serious obstacles were regarded by him as the very tools with which he must carve out success. He has always acted upon the belief that man is the maker, not the creature, of circumstances.
Mr. Berkshire was born in the town of Sweetland, Muscatine county, Iowa, July 27, 1841. The elder Berkshire, a merchant tailor in Muscatine, gave his son John opportunity to acquire such education as the public schools of the time afforded. The first work the boy engaged in was that of water boy for a gang of men on the old Mississippi & Missouri railway. At the age of thirteen he entered the employ of Joseph Bennett in a flour mill at Muscatine. While engaged in the mill in various ways he was much attracted by the operation of the engine. He sought the friendship of Charles Chaplin, the engineer of the mill, who, pleased at the boy's interest in the machinery, taught him so much about the engine that he was soon able to run it during the night shift. Having a liking for the river and the steam craft plying thereon he soon secured a position as engineer on a ferry boat. This started him on a career as a steamboat man which continued for several years.
In 1858 he became the assistant engineer on the packet Northerner which plied between St. Louis and St. Paul. His river experiences included positions as engineer on the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri rivers. He was with Charles Chaplin as second engineer on a boat that did much service for the government during the Civil War. Young Berkshire forged ahead fast in his vocation for one so young. In fact, when twenty years old he was raised to the rank of chief engineer, an unusual promotion for a youth.
After he had reached that height of his youthful ambition and had seen much service he returned to Muscatine on a visit, and while there was offered by Benjamin Hershey the position of chief engineer in his mill at a salary of $2,000 a year and board. This temptation Mr. Berkshire could not resist and he accepted the offer. The relations thus begun with the Hershey interests have continued for many years, resulting in satisfaction and profit to all concerned. Mr. Berkshire became successively foreman, superintendent and manager of the Hershey Lumber Company's mills at Muscatine, retaining the management until 1894. During the time he was employed with the Hershey Lumber Company at Muscatine he had acquired stock in that corporation, thus becoming financially identified with it.
In 1891 Mr. Hershey sent Mr. Berkshire to Missouri to look over a plant in which he was largely interested, belonging to the Hershey Land & Lumber Company, which owned lands in Shannon, Texas, Oregon and Carter counties. Here Mr. Berkshire found that, owing to the location, it would be advisable, in order to get the best results from the timber holdings, to buy the Ozark Lumber Company's plant at Winona, Missouri.
In 1892 Mr. Hershey again sent Mr. Berkshire to Missouri with instructions to purchase the Ozark Lumber Company, which he did, taking an interest in it himself and being appointed to its vice presidency and management at that time.
In May, 1895, the capital stock of the Ozark Lumber Company was increased to $200,000, and this company and the Hershey Land & Lumber Company, of Sargent, Missouri, were consolidated under the name of the Ozark Land & Lumber Company, with a capital stock of $500,000, all paid in. Mira Hershey was made president and treasurer, J. H. Berkshire, vice president and manager, and A. B. Brown, of Muscatine, secretary. The mill capacity of the Ozark Land & Lumber Company is 140,000 feet daily, the annual output being over 36,000,000 feet.
The Ozark Land & Lumber Company is associated with a group of companies well known throughout the country as manufacturers of yellow pine in the Southwest, with mills at Grandin, Winona and Birch Tree, Missouri, and Victoria, Fisher and Clarks, Louisiana, the total annual cut of which mills reaches about 215,000,000 feet. This immense product is marketed through the Missouri Lumber & Land Exchange Company, with headquarters at Kansas City, of which Mr. Berkshire is president.
Mr. Berkshire's inventive mind wrought out several improvements in mill machinery which were extensively adopted in practice. At first several of these were put into use without protection by patent, but several others have been patented.
Among his inventions are a feed water filter; a device to put on a steam pump to keep an even pressure on the water main; and the "Niagara" hydrant, now in general use.
Mr. Berkshire is prominent in several important corporations as well as being the head of the Ozark Land & Lumber Company. He is president of the Current River Lumber Company, of Kansas City; president of the Missouri Lumber & Land Exchange Company; vice president for Missouri of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers' Association; president of the Church Mercantile Company, of Winona; vice-president of the J. J. C. Mining Company, of Boise, Idaho; vice-president of the Barry Manufacturing Company, of Muscatine, Iowa; vice president of the Victoria, Fisher & Western Railroad Company; president of the Eminence Land & Mining Company, of Eminence, Missouri; vice president of the Slater Copper Mining Company, of Eminence; a stockholder and director in the Louisiana Long Leaf Lumber Company, of Fisher, Louisiana, and the Louisiana Central Lumber Company, of Clarks, Louisiana.
Mr. Berkshire married Miss Georgia Abbott at Weston, Missouri, November 1, 1866. They have one daughter, Hattie Bell, and one son, Ben H. The daughter married Robert Cherry and resides at Mason City, Iowa. The son is the active manager of the Current River Lumber Company, at Southwest boulevard and Thirty-first street, Kansas City.
Mr. Berkshire is high in Masonic circles, being a member of Iowa Lodge No. 2, A. F. & A. M., Washington Chapter No. 4, R. A. M., De Molay Commandery No. 1, K.T., in Muscatine, and of Ararat Temple of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, of Kansas City. He is also a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen.
In his business ventures Mr. Berkshire has had for many years the advice and cooperation of his wife, who is a woman of great business ability. As an evidence of this it is stated that Mrs. Berkshire is really manager of the mercantile part of the extensive business of the Ozark Land & Lumber Company, at Winona, Missouri.
In the evolution of his company from the condition of an infant industry to the present corporation of large resources and extensive operations Mr. Berkshire has always been the principal factor. He has learned the lumber business as he did engineering thoroughly. He familiarized himself with its peculiarities and its intricacies by experience, and made each new experience count.