Evening Post, October 21, 2016

 

 

William Martin was a man who knew his times.  While the green hills of West Virginia in his day looked to almost everyone else as just green hills, he saw them as warehouses of inestimable treasure.  In nineteen-eleven, when he completed his business degree at the Wharton school in Philadelphia, the forests of West Virginia were still largely virgin timber.  There were acres upon acres of white oaks with trunks twenty feet thick and mountainsides of walnut and cherry and chestnut and towering poplar.  Enough to provide the civilized world with the finest furniture; enough to build the cities and towns that would grow and flourish in the region for the next fifty years.  No one else around had an inkling of the value of these common plants that surrounded them, that were as much a part of the scenery as the clouds and the sky.  In fact, standing alone, the forests there were only firewood or logs for chinked cabins in the mountains.  What William Martin brought to the table was not only his sense of the worth of the resources around him; he brought the wisdom and the will to spin it all into gold.  He borrowed money on the names of his United States Senator father and his Wall Street banker brother and built a series of locks and breaks along thirty miles of the Walhonde and Pocahontas Rivers so that all the timber in a three-county area could be felled and floated downstream to the sawmill he built above Raccoon Falls on the B line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.

There was simply no end to his raw material.  Landowners to whom the forests were simply impediments to the plow sold to him without negotiating.  Labor, consisting of the young men who wanted to leave the farms, was plentiful and willing and the market for his product insatiable.

His profits were immediate.  He sold to markets in New York and Philadelphia, Columbus and Cincinnati and found that he could double his prices and not lose a single customer.  He expanded his sawmill and tripled production.  Still the stacks of fine logs on his lots grew and still demand for lumber increased.  In ten years his debts were all satisfied and his coffers so full of money from every quarter that he could scarcely count it all.

At the age of 35 and at the invitation of an Austrian nobleman who has visited his works in West Virginia, William Martin sailed on the RMS Andania from New York to London and traveled by rail to the mountain hometown of Count von Waldburg and there surveyed the forests of eastern Europe and gave the Count advice for establishing his own lumber mills.  The Count was a generous man and more than a little impressed with the energy and ingenuity of this American businessman and introduced William Martin to his second cousin, Princess Dorothea von Bayern.

William Miller not only knew his times.  He knew his own heart and mind and he knew that there would never be another like this princess and he stayed in Austria, learning the language and customs and attending concerts and balls with the nobility while his business in the new world continued to grow and prosper.

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