A thoroughly practical knowledge of the lumber industry, combined with a conservative judgment, is one of the main attributes of success, few failures having been scored by those who are so endowed. Contributing to a well-rounded business equipment must needs be an ability to solve the complex questions that arise and upon the correct solution of which may depend heavy losses or great gains. Business men well know that the building up of an extensive trade in any branch of industry or commerce is not the result of an accident, but is predicated upon a central directing force which is equipped to formulate a plan and to carry it to a successful termination after it has been mapped out. This directing force is characteristic of Maxwell Sondheimer, of Memphis, Tennessee.
He is the directing head of one of the largest manufacturing and wholesale hardwood lumber concerns in the United States. Only about a decade ago the operations of the company which he now directs were confined to local deliveries in a metropolitan market. With each succeeding year after he took the management the operations extended more widely north and south; the name rapidly became more familiar to hardwood buyers and users throughout this country and abroad, until now none is better known or stands higher in the estimation of the lumber public; nor is there a house in the country dealing exclusively in hardwoods which enjoys a more extended distribution or handles a larger volume of lumber.
Maxwell Sondheimer is a product of a section of the country where nature has produced big things. He was born September 30, 1859, in Healdsburg, California, and is the oldest of a family of seven children. His father, Emanuel Sondheimer, who died December 25, 1901, was in the mercantile business at Healdsburg, but in 1865 moved with his family to Cincinnati. The mother of Mr. Sondheimer was Sali (Lowy) Sondheimer. Max went to the public schools in Cincinnati until his parents took up their residence in Chicago in 1875. Here he resumed his studies and graduated from the South Division High School in 1877. During his last year in school he developed a pronounced literary inclination and with a classmate, the late lamented Justice W. T. Hall, he edited and published a weekly paper which attracted much attention, especially from the school professors, who seriously objected to the too pungent articles.
After getting his sheepskin young Sondheimer, in July, 1877, essayed the hardwood lumber business, his father having begun operations and handling walnut lumber exclusively. With the exception of a year or so, when he was engaged in the coal business, he has followed this honorable vocation ever since. In May, 1881, he accepted a position with a Government surveying party and for some time thereafter he traveled through the West, leading the life of a plainsman on the frontier and otherwise enjoying the open air life and gaining health and strength.
In the fall of 1885, his father having meanwhile formed a partnership with W. O. King, Mr. Sondheimer assumed a connection with this firm and devoted himself to the buying of walnut. Upon the dissolution of the firm, in 1886, he acquired an interest in the business, which was thereafter conducted under the style of E. Sondheimer & Co. The yard was then located on Loomis Street, but in 1891 was moved to Blue Island Avenue, near Wood Street. The same year Moses Katz, who was then engaged in the lumber business at Wausau, Wisconsin, was admitted to partnership, and, until the removal of the headquarters of the concern to Memphis, in 1905, he looked after the northern buying, making his headquarters at Wausau. Mr. Sondheimer, Senior, was in charge of the financial end of the business, while the son assumed the office and sales management. In 1893 the firm secured a new yard occupying the entire block between Wood and Lincoln streets, north of the Burlington tracks. Late in 1902 another yard and several hundred feet of dockage were secured at the foot of Robey Street. For a year or two both yards were operated, but in 1904 the Wood Street yard was vacated and the offices of the company located in a downtown office building.
In May, 1900, the partnership of E. Sondheimer & Co. was changed to a corporation and capitalized at $150,000, with E. Sondheimer as president and treasurer; Moses Katz, vice president, and Max Sondheimer, secretary and manager. Other stockholders and directors included Henry and Rudolph Sondheimer, younger brothers of Mr. Sondheimer. After the death of the senior Sondheimer, the company was reorganized and a considerable quantity of stock owned by the deceased was acquired by a son-in-law, Moritz Glauber, of Cripple Creek, Colorado, and the following officers were elected: President and general manager, Maxwell Sondheimer; vice president, Moses Katz; secretary and treasurer, Moritz Glauber; assistant managers, Henry Sondheimer and Rudolph Sondheimer.
An important step in the company's progress was taken May 1, 1905, when the main offices were moved from Chicago to Memphis. This project had been in contemplation for some time, and the decision was reached only after the most careful investigation of the situation, especially from a hardwood manufacturing standpoint. The primary reason for this step was the decadence of northern hardwood operations and the corresponding enhancement of the southern fields. With its large interests wholly concentrated in the South, the change of location was the logical outcome of the altered conditions. A Chicago office is maintained in the Stock Exchange Building and is in charge of Henry Sondheimer.
The company operates large yards at Memphis, Tennessee; Cairo, Illinois, and Caruthersville, Missouri, assembling at those points southern hardwoods of all kinds, which are received by rail and water for distribution over the country by rail. The company has extensive manufacturing interests at Cairo and other points in neighboring states.
Mr. Sondheimer has always been an active participant in the affairs of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, and for several years served as one of its vice presidents. At the annual meeting of the association at Indianapolis, in 1903, he came within one vote of being chosen its president. He was a pillar of the Chicago Hardwood Lumber Exchange and held the office of treasurer for two terms. He is a veteran Hoo-Hoo and has served as vicegerent snark for Illinois. In the station of junior Hoo-Hoo he has a reputation for unique and interesting work that extends all over the country and is said to have no equal in this position. He is a good speaker, witty and resourceful, and is the life of association meetings and other gatherings which he attends. Among clubs and societies he is a member of the Chicago Press Club, the Standard Club, the Masonic order, the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and the Knights of Pythias. Since taking up his residence in Memphis he has taken much interest in the social and commercial life of that city, and is interested in several enterprises. In politics he is a Republican. Mr. Sondheimer married Miss Josephine Levy, of New York City, in 1897.