Charles S. Keith.
The man and his work hang together. As is the man, so is the thing he does or makes. That impression we get from observing the man and what he does, separately or in conjunction, constitutes our estimate of his character. As to the man, we find it in his face, his attitude, his manner and what expression he gives to that which lies within. As to his work, we judge it by good ends accomplished, by its order and systematic progress and, if it be a work which involves financial matters, we judge of it by the profits accruing. A man who, in his own personality and in the work he has done, is worthy of a place in this volume is Charles S. Keith, of Kansas City, Missouri.
He is the executive head of one of the largest lumber and coal producing and distributing organizations in the United States the Central Coal & Coke Company, a corporation favorably known in business circles in nearly every state in the Union. This great company is not the creation of Mr. Keith, for it is older, in fact, than he is, but so long has he been at its head that what it is today very largely represents his constructive and directive ability.
Charles Smith Keith was born January 28, 1873, in Kansas City, Missouri, which city he has always made his home and whose welfare he has at heart. His father, the late Colonel Richard H. Keith, made Kansas City his home upon the close of the Civil War, in which he had served with honor in the army of the Confederacy. He had come out of the conflict a strong man, mentally and physically, and, in addition to possessing the traits of industry and perseverance, he was inured to hardship, so that when he began a modest coal business he was prepared to carry it on despite any obstacles he might encounter. The outgrowth of the yard established by Colonel Keith on Buff Street, Kansas City, in 1871, is the now great Central Coal & Coke Company.
In Charles S. Keith's boyhood days there was nothing particularly to mark his individuality beyond that of other lads of his period, unless it might have been the special energy and enthusiasm with which he played the games of youth during the years he studied in the various grades of the public schools. Subsequently, he entered St. Mary's College, at St. Mary's, Kansas, and completed his education with a course at Fordham University, Fordham, New York. All these years his father had been planning for the young man's future, anxiously awaiting the day when he might begin his active training for a business career.
Young Keith was ready to begin his commercial life at the age of eighteen years. In 1891 he entered the service of the Central Coal & Coke Company, of which concern his father was president, and was assigned to a clerkship in the auditor's office at Kansas City. He was accorded no privileges or shown any preference over his fellow employees, his father being determined that the young man should make his own way up the ladder of success by his own ability and pluckiness. Nine months' work in the Kansas City office qualified Mr. Keith for duty at the mines in Missouri and Kansas, where he devoted one year to studying mining and practicing engineering. While nominally a clerk, he took advantage of every opportunity to learn the practical side of the business by entering the mines and studying every phase of the operations that came under his observation. All the time he was fitting himself for more responsible duties which would devolve upon him when he should prove capable of discharging them.
The first promotion came to Mr. Keith after he had spent a half year in Missouri. He was made traveling sales agent of the company, in which capacity he familiarized himself with the industrial conditions of the Southwest. At the end of three years he was again advanced, this time to the position of general sales agent of the coal department. During this period the Central Coal & Coke Company had been acquiring title to thousands of acres of yellow pine timber lands in Arkansas and Texas. Mr. Keith took particular interest in this branch of the business. With his usual care he studied the field closely, learned the methods of milling and reached the conclusion that the lumber industry held almost unlimited possibilities of development. So thoroughly did he grasp the details of the lumber business that, in 1896, he was appointed general sales agent of the lumber department in addition to holding the same relative position in the coal department.
Five years later Mr. Keith was made assistant general manager and general sales agent. He was well equipped to assume these duties, the eleven years spent in the service of the company having given him ample experience. In 1902 the company lifted part of the load carried for so many years by Colonel Keith as general manager, by appointing his son to that position. Upon the death of his father, in 1906, Mr. Keith became vice president of the company, continuing in the capacity of general manager as well.
Three sawmills are operated by the Central Coal & Coke Company, these being located respectively at Carson, Calcasieu Parish, and Neame, formerly Keith, Vernon Parish, Louisiana, and at Kennard, Houston County, Texas. The latter mill is operated by the Louisiana & Texas Lumber Company, which is officered practically the same as is the Central Coal & Coke Company. It is on the Eastern Texas Railroad, thirty miles west of Lufkin, and in what is conceded to be the finest shortleaf yellow pine timber belt in the Lone Star State. The mill has a daily capacity of 250,000 feet, and is cutting on 170,000 acres of timber owned by the company. The two Louisiana plants are in the famous Calcasieu longleaf yellow pine district. The Carson mill is equipped with a band, circular and fifty-two-inch gang saws, giving a daily capacity of 180,000 feet. The mill is on the Missouri & Louisiana Railroad, which connects with the Kansas City Southern Railway. The other plant has the same railroad connections.
At Neame is operated a double band mill, with an output of 115,000 feet a day. Because of the character of the logs supplied that mill, most of the railroad timber produced by the company is cut there. It is a model plant in every way, as are the others, having every mechanical facility for the best service. In addition to the output of these mills the company buys heavily of stocks of other mills in the shortleaf and longleaf pine districts, which are disposed of through the sales department.
Mr. Keith has been married twice. His first wife was Miss Jane Gregg, of Independence, Missouri, whom he wedded April 25, 1895. She died January 18, 1897. His second wife before her marriage was Miss Lucile Hill, of Keytesville, Missouri, whom he married June 12, 1900. One child has been born to the couple Richard William Keith, about three years of age.
Mr. Keith is a member of the Kansas City Club, Country Club, Driving Club, Railroad Club and Elm Ridge Club, of Kansas City, and of the Mercantile Club, of St. Louis. He is a member of the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, also. His chief recreation is motoring and he takes much pleasure in driving an automobile over the fine boulevards of Kansas City.
Mr. Keith is possessed of a pleasing manner, a native friendliness and has a winning manner which he has displayed to good advantage in association work. He has applied common sense principles to the business of the company as well as to the organizations among the trade, and his personality and methods are reflected by the sales force of the company.