The J. Gibson McIlvain Company has its roots in Colonial America. The McIlvain family first established itself in 1740, and a lumber dynasty was born prior to the American Revolution.
In 1798, Hugh McIlvain took a risk and established his new lumber business just outside Philadelphia on the banks of the Schuylkill River, far from the established “board yards” along the Delaware. As the city of Philadelphia began to grow and expand westward, this location became key, as the McIlvain Company was right in the heart of the expansion. In fact, because of their more “remote” location, the McIlvains’ primary business was supplying the domestic growth and westward expansion of the greater Philadelphia area. Coupled with their proximity to the Baltimore road and the newly constructed bridges over the Schuykill River, the McIlvain business continued to grow, and this growth progressed despite international trade embargoes enacted by Thomas Jefferson in response to the Napoleonic conquest of Europe. As exporters began to falter and declare bankruptcy, McIlvain Lumber prospered. Today, one will find that many of our nation’s historical private residences and public buildings, including the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court, and Smithsonian contain lumber supplied by the J. Gibson McIlvain Company.
Over the next 150 years, the company prospered as the country grew, and demand for more materials grew with it. During this period, the McIlvain company became more of a specialist in hardwoods, servicing cabinetmakers and growing industrial producers for the railroad, shipping, and automotive industries.
In 1960, in an attempt to improve service to the Maryland, DC, and Virginia customers, a small warehouse was established along the railroad just north of Baltimore in White Marsh, MD. Our headquarters still exists here today because this prime location proved to be an excellent hub for our growing company. With the port of Baltimore so close by, it was inevitable that the McIlvains would make the leap into importing lumber from across the globe. So in the early 1970s, as more domestic sawmills began to sell directly to the consumer, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company began to develop international partnerships with saw mills in South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Today the J. Gibson McIlvain company specializes in high quality imported exotic hardwoods, but we still maintain a strong domestic hardwood, softwood, plywood, and even millwork operation. In 1980, our Danielson, Connecticut yard was opened to further increase in-stock inventory and our ability to ship out products quickly.
The company is still run by the McIlvain family with J. Gibson McIlvain III as the president. Our international purchaser is Caroline McIlvain, the 7th generation of McIlvains to work for the company. From the outset, the company has thrived by recognizing emerging markets and materials and then becoming experts in those markets. This ideal remains core to our business, and we continue to examine new products and sources always with an eye on environmental sustainability and maintaining our high lumber quality standards.
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