Benjamin F. Bonner
Productive in the way of big enterprises, the great Southwest has been productive also of men of brawn and brains to manage them. And as these enterprises have grown and expanded so have the men in charge kept pace and maintained their position of able commandership. A general in executive force in field and office is Benjamin F. Bonner, of Houston, Texas, who is honored as a lumberman and as a man.
Mr. Bonner is, perhaps, best known by reason of his participation in the direction of the affairs of the Kirby Lumber Company, of Houston, but his training in the industry has been from boyhood, as he was born and reared within sound of the woodsman's ax. His earlier commercial career, after leaving the piny woods of eastern Texas, was devoted for several years to the production of oil and the development of the great oil fields of Texas. A native of that Commonwealth, his main interests are centered in the Lone Star State, and he is a loyal son of the Southwest.
Benjamin Franklin Bonner was born April 14, 1869, at Lufkin, Angelina County, Texas. His father was William Henry Bonner, and his mother Malinda (Blackburn) Bonner, who came of a family well known in the annals of the Lone Star State. Benjamin was but three years old when his father moved to a point on the Neches River and established a ferry, called Bonner's Ferry, connecting by this simple means of transportation Angelina and Trinity counties, Texas. In the Neches bottoms, eight miles west of Lufkin, the elder Bonner cleared his plantation and built a rough home of logs. In that crude section Benjamin was reared. It was a restricted life, for communication with distant points was slow and awkward, the nearest railroad stations being Crockett, Texas, fifty miles away, and Shreveport, Louisiana, 100 miles away.
The first schooling obtained by the lad was at Wallace Chapel, in the piny woods country. It was not much of an education, but it served to stimulate his wish for a better training. When he was ten years old Frank kept the ferry, collecting toll from those who crossed the stream. He was eleven years old before he saw a railroad track or a locomotive. His schooling was extended in the winter of 1884-5 by a five months' course at Homer, Angelina County, after finishing which he entered the employ of his brother, W.H. Bonner, who had opened a small store at Lufkin, which ultimately grew into a large mercantile, banking and lumber business at that point. The untutored youth had much to learn of business methods when he began his work in the store, but his inherited intelligence quickened his grasp on commercial affairs, and from a humble clerk he developed into a broadminded, serious and capable young business man in the eight years he remained at Lufkin.
Going to Houston, Mr. Bonner joined the force of the Joe W. Davis Oil Company, working in the various departments and exerting his knowledge and control of men. He took up the distribution of oil to the manufacturers of all lines in Texas territory and demonstrated his commercial fitness to handle large affairs. The Davis concern was not incorporated, and upon the death of Mr. Davis, in October, 1896, Mr. Bonner conducted the business for a year for the widow of Mr. Davis. Subsequently, he bought the business and conducted it as the Southwestern Oil Company. Mr. Bonner built the first oil refinery in Houston and, at that time, the only lubricating oil plant in the South. Since that time the oil business established by Mr. Bonner has grown and prospered beyond his most sanguine expectations, under the management of his brother, John S. Bonner, until today the operations of the Bonner Oil Company, of Houston, are extensive within the limits of the State and extend into adjacent states.
Mr. Bonner soon became identified with other enterprises, becoming a member of the Cotton Exchange, president of the Houston Business League, a member of the Houston Manufacturing Association and of the Houston Lumber Exchange. Subsequently, he was elected second vice president of the Planters' & Mechanics' National Bank, of Houston; first vice president of the Houston Freight Bureau, and secretary and treasurer of the Ed H. Harrell Lumber Company. He is largely interested financially in the Texas & Louisiana Lumber Company and the Central Lumber Company, which do an immense business.
In 1901 Mr. Bonner became more closely identified with the lumber industry. At that time he was chosen the active assistant of John H. Kirby in the conduct of the affairs of the Kirby Lumber Company. In this position Mr. Bonner was given the opportunity of demonstrating his unusual executive ability. The interests of the big corporation, extending over a large section of Texas, required a man of force and broad ability for their successful management. Mr. Bonner proved to be the man for the situation, and he has been Mr. Kirby's chief lieutenant through the succeeding years. The Kirby Lumber Company is, all things considered, the largest lumber organization in the United States. It controls much more than a million acres of stumpage, principally yellow pine; dozens of sawmills and planing mills; hundreds of miles of railroads and tramroads; gives employment to thousands of men, and in it are invested millions of dollars.
The confidence imposed in Mr. Bonner by his business associates, and by capitalists and large corporations with whom he had business dealings, was exemplified when he was selected as general manager of the Kirby Lumber Company upon the concern passing into the hands of receivers. This turn in the history of the company was brought about during a period of internal financial disturbance, when the company, by reason of an unusual situation thereby created, was unable to meet certain obligations in the cutting and marketing of timber it controlled. The large interests involved were unanimously in favor of Mr. Bonner's choice as general manager of the company under the receivership, a position giving him wider scope than before and in which he has acquitted himself with remarkable ability, as shown by the marked success attending the work of the receivership.
Mr. Bonner has a delightful home in Houston, where he resides with his wife and two daughters. Mrs. Bonner was Miss Annie E. Wier, of Bunkie, Louisiana, their wedding having been celebrated April 21, 1891. The children are Garland, aged twelve years, and Annie Wier Bonner, aged seven years.
M. Bonner has always taken a decided interest in the politics of Texas, particularly in local affairs. In 1902 he managed the mayoralty campaign of O.T. Holt, of Houston, and, by the successful conclusion of the campaign, overthrew a political ring that had held the municipal offices of Houston for more than ten years. Since then he has taken an active part in all municipal elections, having successfully managed the last campaign, which resulted in the election of Hon. H.B. Rice as mayor.
Mr. Bonner is a quick thinker, with sound judgment and a faculty of reasoning to a thorough and safe conclusion. His many good qualities are known to hundreds who are proud to claim his friendship and who recognize in him every quality of a man. Perhaps the highest tribute which can be paid to him is the manner in which he abandoned his private interests in the oil business to devote his time to the rehabilitation of the business affairs of the Kirby Lumber Company. He brought his talents to bear in the colossal undertaking, and has accomplished great results where but little was expected. He completed a working organization sufficient to justify the founder's expectations of what could be done in the handling of a dozen large mills under one management. The severe work has told upon the robust constitution of the man and the silver streaks in his hair tell of the strain of his stewardship.