Thomas S. Foster
Rising from an unimportant position in a retail lumber yard to the active management of one of the largest manufacturing yellow pine concerns in the Southwest is, in brief, the career of Thomas S. Foster, of Houston, Texas. His success has come through his power of commercial creation and his executive ability, combined with the foresight which has enabled him to take advantage of opportunities.
Thomas Sampson Foster comes of a family of lumbermen, his father, John Foster, having been prominent in the industry for many years, while several brothers are today engaged in manufacturing lumber in the southwestern section of the country. He came by his predilection for lumbering naturally, though his advancement was not made by one jump, but has been step by step, from a comparatively simple and unimportant position. His whole life has been spent in the lumber business and his efforts have not been in vain, for he now is vice president of the Foster Lumber Company, of Kansas City, Missouri, and has interests in two score other operations, in all of which he has a more or less active part to play. He is the oldest son of John Foster and Letitia L. (Sampson) Foster, his brothers being Ben B. Foster, Samuel A. Foster, James N. Foster and George W. Foster. He was born February 16, 1861, at Leavenworth, Kansas, where his father at that time was running a lumber business. In this thriving and prosperous city, even at that day, he was reared with all possible care and attention by his parents. When he reached the age at which he could enter the public schools he proved himself a willing pupil, so that he had an excellent education when he left school at the age of eighteen years.
Mr. Foster, Senior, was anxious to have his son learn the lumber business, which he himself followed so successfully. His wish was to have the young man lighten some of his burdens in the management of his business. So young Thomas was sent to Irving, Kansas, in 1880, to begin his training in the yard of John Foster & Son, located at that point. The retail business was but a step in his training, yet it was one that Mr. Foster looks upon as being of considerable importance in the shaping of his career. The Irving yard was a busy one, catering to the needs of a large agricultural community. The young employee, despite his family connection with the owners of the yard, was given no privileges not enjoyed by his coworkers. He tallied lumber, learned to grade and inspect, entered the office and mastered its details and, lastly, looked after the trade, as a salesman.
After a residence at Irving of several years Mr. Foster was transferred by his father, John Foster, head of the household and pioneer in the business, to Randolph and subsequently to Leonardville, both in Kansas, in each instance taking charge of the yards at those points. All the while he was gaining in experience and demonstrating his capabilities of managing a business of greater magnitude than those with which he thus far had been entrusted. As Kansas was becoming more settled each year, the prospects of doing a larger volume of business became evident and Mr. Foster began the establishment of yards in some of the growing pioneer towns in western Kansas, for John Foster & Son. He put in yards at Almena, Norton, Colby, Goodland, Oberlin, Scott City, Leoti and Manchester. Placing efficient and trusted men in charge of these yards, Mr. Foster became auditor for the entire system of yards conducted by the concern, and looked after the business of all of them, about fifteen in number at that time.
About 1890 Mr. Foster was sent into the South country by his father to look after the interests of John Foster & Son and to give special attention to the firm's growing business. Up to this time his experience had been mainly that of retailing, though on a broad scale, but in the South he had much to do with the buying of lumber for the yards of the concern and was brought in contact with the mills, which gave him an opportunity to study manufacturing methods. Nine years after his entry into the South he began the buying of timber, and his purchases, up to January 1, 1906, had reached a total of 140,000 acres of yellow pine, all of which, with the exception of 18,000 acres, was virgin timber.
These timber purchases were made for the Foster Lumber Company, which was organized in 1896, as the successor to the firm of John Foster & Son. A mill was built at Clinesburg, Texas, in 1894, which has a daily cutting capacity of 150,000 feet, dry kiln capacity for the mill cut, and a shed that will hold 600,000 feet of lumber. Backing up this mill is a timber supply of approximately 500,000,000 feet.
When the Walker County Lumber Company was organized in July, 1902, Mr. Foster was chosen president of the concern, the other officers being M. L. Womack, Junior, vice president, and W. B. Clint, secretary, treasurer and general manager. A mill with a daily capacity of 80,000 feet was built at Elmina, Texas, the company taking its name from the county in which the plant is located. The mill is connected by a railroad with tracts of timber, owned by the company and estimated to contain 350,000,000 feet. This road is owned by the Elmina & Eastern Transportation Company, which in 1906 had about twenty-four miles of road already laid and four miles under construction. Mr. Foster is president of the Elmina & Eastern company, which has a separate organization from the lumber business. Another large manufacturing operation with which Mr. Foster is connected is the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company, of Willard, Texas, of which he is vice president. He is interested, as well, in the Gebert Shingle Company, Limited, of New Iberia, Louisiana, which turns out 250,000 cypress shingles a day, and of which W.H. Norris, of Houston, is president. The Foster Lumber Company owns a one-half interest in the shingle concern. In addition to the concerns already enumerated, Mr. Foster has other interests. He is a director of the American National Bank, of Houston; vice president of the Clarendon Lumber Company, of Clarendon, Texas; vice president of the Fraser-Johnson Brick Company, of Emory, Texas, and a director of the Fort Worth Telegram, a daily newspaper published at Fort Worth.
Mr. Foster has never interested himself in politics, for the reason that he has been busily engaged in managing the affairs of the various enterprises with which he is connected, and his diversified interests are widely scattered. He has been enthusiastic in the work of the Yellow Pine Manufacturers' Association, as all of his direct interests are in wood represented by that body. He is an Elk and a member of the Thalian Club and the Houston Golf Club, of Houston. It can hardly be said that Mr. Foster has any recreation which may be called a hobby with him. He has busied himself in the buying of timber lands and has found health and pleasure in going through the woods and estimating and examining these tracts.
Mr. Foster was twice married, his first wife having been Miss Addie Miller, of Leonardville, Kansas, whom he married November 17, 1889, and who left a daughter, Letitia J. Foster. The second wife was Mrs. Florence Wilson, formerly of Minneapolis, whom he married December 22, 1897. Mr. Foster and Mrs. Wilson had been sweethearts during their school days, but had separated and both had married.