Robert A. Long.
A biography of Robert Alexander Long should mean more to the world at large than a general record of statistical facts pertaining to the life of the successful man of business.
The presumption that the life of the average "captain of industry" is ruled by the purely practical alone does not hold good in the case of Mr. Long. While standards of honor and probity may stand behind the architects of great industrial enterprises and the organizers of far-reaching corporations, and must do so if permanent success is to be assured, still it is the exception rather than the rule that idealism figures to any material extent in these far-reaching institutions. When such an element does vitalize the existence of a businessman it indicates an unusual personality, and must necessarily find expression beyond the threshold of his home. So it is with Mr. Long. He, matching his own clear, comprehensive intelligence against men as able as he, has won his spurs fairly and at the same time retained that great something over and beyond mere moneyed success which we call the ideal. He makes this felt not only among his friends and acquaintances, but also in that broad, almost limitless territory known as the world of business. There is an ethical value in so building up a great business beyond its measure in dollars and cents.
"Knowledge is an asset." One of the great factors in the lumber history of America made this assertion before the Southern Lumber Manufacturers' Association in January, 1902. A Greek philosopher came to the same conclusion long before and said, "Knowledge is power." To the ancient man of thought as well as to the modern man of action knowledge was the greatest asset in the stock account.
Robert Alexander Long gained his knowledge of the lumber business in the great school of experience. He was born in Shelby county, Kentucky, in 1850. For seventeen years he lived on a farm and went to school. He then decided that farming was not to be his business in life, and for a year or two drifted about in an effort to find the right opening for his future career. For a short time he was a clerk in a country store, but he soon came to the conclusion that the opportunities presented by his home community to a young man of ambition and determination were not particularly inviting.
In 1873 Mr. Long went to Kansas City, where lived an uncle, C. J. White, who was at that time cashier in the National Bank of Commerce. Here Mr. Long bought a meat shop. However, the future successful businessman was not to be a butcher; fate had marked out for him something else.
Another business venture now claimed his attention. Upon the advice of his uncle, who thought that his boyhood farm experiences might be of value, Mr. Long entered into a partnership with Victor B. Bell in which he contracted to put up hay near Columbus, Kansas. The venture was not a success and the enterprise at the end of the season showed only much hard work and no money. Among the assets when the deal closed, however, was a carload of lumber from Kansas City, which had been shipped down to cover the hay. It was sold locally for as much as it had cost. This circumstance was an incentive to larger operations in lumber, and on April 30, 1875, the new firm of R. A. Long & Co. started in the retail lumber business at Columbus, Cherokee county, Kansas. The firm consisted of Robert A. Long, Victor B. Bell and Robert White. There was neither money nor experience back of the firm, but there were instead unlimited American pluck and the credit which capital is always ready to extend to the honest, persevering young man of brains.
Mr. Long became general manager of this retail yard. So little did he know of the practical, technical side of the lumber business that when the first invoice came to be checked the items "dimension" and "SIS&E" familiar to the veriest tyro in the lumber business were not understood by him. It was in this yard Mr. Long learned his lesson, " Knowledge is an asset," and so well did he learn it that thirty years afterward we find him addressing a representative body of lumbermen and giving what has been declared to be the most definite statistical information extant on the subject of yellow pine stumpage. Later another address before the National Wholesale Lumber Dealers' Association on monetary affairs placed him in the foremost rank of lumber financiers in the whole country.
At the end of the first year's business there was $800 to be distributed among the members of the firm. The next year evinced an increase in lumber knowledge on the part of the manager, for the books showed that $2,000 had been earned. Then it was determined to branch out and, although the first venture, at Empire, Kansas, was not a paying one, the firm of R. A. Long & Co. continued to expand, and in 1880, five years after its organization, six retail yards in six flourishing Kansas towns bore its sign. At the end of 1883 fourteen new yards in different places attested to the success of the firm, which in 1884 was incorporated as the Long-Bell Lumber Company, with $300,000 capital stock, and with Mr. Long still general manager. In 1891 the company became a manufacturer of lumber through the purchase of a lumber plant at Van Buren, Arkansas, and a year later it actively entered the wholesale trade. The following year it moved its headquarters from Columbus, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1902 the retail yards of the Long-Bell Lumber Company numbered fifty, the working force of men had grown to 1,600 and the fine manufacturing plants were all furnished with modern equipment. Important branches established at St. Louis, Texarkana and Tacoma, Washington, and a capital stock of $1,250,000 attested the success of the man behind the executive desk.
Today Mr. Long is president of the Long-Bell Lumber Company, of Kansas City; the Rapides Lumber Company, Limited, of Woodworth, Louisiana; the King-Ryder Lumber Company, of Bonami, Louisiana; the Hudson River Lumber Company, of De Ridder, Louisiana; the Globe Lumber Company, Limited, of Yellow Pine, Louisiana; the Minnetonka Lumber Company; the Fidelity Land & Improvement Company; the Fidelity Fuel Company and the Long-Bell railway system. Mr. Long is also a heavy stockholder in the Weed Lumber Company, of Weed, Siskiyou county, California.
America is said to be the land of the dollar and its people are often taunted with their fondness for reducing everything to figures; but certainly the facts that in 1903 the Long-Bell Lumber Company and affiliated interests made sales amounting to $7,199,237.25, paid freight amounting to $1,927,509.71, shipped 23,488 cars of material, had on its pay-roll 3,713 men and lost by bad accounts only $6,189.24, are impressive. To one who looks beyond the monetary value of these figures they are also impressive, as they show what can be done by a man who counts knowledge as an asset.
In this recapitulation is encouragement for the timid and instruction for the unknowing, and young men of every temperament and inclination must surely ponder on the moral taught by the life and achievements of the originator and guiding spirit of the Long-Bell Lumber Company Robert Alexander Long.