David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Simon Benson: Northwest Lumber King. By Alice Benson Allen (Portland, Oregon, Binfords & Mort Publishers, 1971). Illustrations. 144 pages. $8.95.
Reviewed by Edwin T. Coman, Jr., Director Stanford Graduate School of Business Library and Assistant Professor of Business History, 1936-1950. Mr. Coman is the author of Time, Tide and Timber. The 100 Year History of Pope & Talbot, Inc., Stanford University Press, 1949, and Sources of Business Information, Berkeley, Ca., University of California Press, 1964. He has written articles for numerous historical publications including “Sidelights on the Investment Policies of Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker,” published in the Buletin of the Business History Society, November, 1942. He now resides in La Jolla, Ca., and continues to write on business history and library topics.
This is a story that was typical of many men in the Pacific Northwest. Simon Benson, a poor Norwegian boy, came to the United States at the age of 16. After a few years in Wisconsin, he came to Oregon and set himself up as a storekeeper only to be wiped out by a fire. He then turned to logging.
Benson was one of the first, and perhaps the first to successfully adopt new methods to logging, replacing oxen donkey engines for ground and high lead logging and railroads to transport the logs to the rollways on the rivers. The excellent and profuse illustrations depict the evolution of logging methods and almost could be called an historical record of logging equipment.
Of interest to San Diegans is the chapter on log rafts and the Benson Lumber Company Mill. Benson was determined to reduce shipping costs to Southern California and to do so decided to raft his logs to San Diego. He was successful in reducing his costs $2.50 per thousand board feet. Mrs. Allen has included a complete pictorial record of this operation.
Simon Benson was remarkable in that he never took advantage of the lax enforcement of the homestead laws in the purchases of his timeber lands. He was also a member of a rather large group of lumbermen in the Pacific Northwest who turned their energies to civic improvements. However, few of them matched his generosity in buying land for parks along the Columbia River Highway and providing funds for the establishment of the Benson Polytechnic School.
This book tantalizes a business historian in that the author gives bits of information on land and timber purchases, equipment additions and from time to time figures on profits. It would be of interest to know the capitalization, timber purchases, costs of mills and equipment number of employees and profits over the years. A few tables could supply this data. However, Mrs. Allen set out to write a biography of her father and she has been successful in her endeavor.