The 4th of July is upon us. I can smell the BBQ already. Tomorrow thousands of people will be sipping cool drinks on decks made from McIlvain Ipe and Cumaru. They will be seeking respite from the sun under Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir pergolas made from McIlvain lumber. Naps will be taken in Teak lawn chairs made from McIlvain Teak. Fish will be caught in Teak fighting chairs, landed on Teak boat decks, etc, etc. You get the point. Despite all of the space age polymers and metals in products today, the lumber industry is alive and well. What many forget is the volume of lumber used in the production of other products. From packing crates, to patterns, and forms for molds, hardwoods and softwoods are every where in today’s manufacturers.
The J. Gibson McIlvain company has been around for 214 years and as our country celebrates her 236th birthday, I can’t help but reflect on what a vital role the lumber industry has played in her growth. Unfortunately a huge fire on March 28th, 1906 devastated our entire lumber yard and all our business records so much of our sales history literally went up in smoke. What remains however is a verbal history and lasting customer relationships that predate the fire to give back some of the historical record. The J. Gibson McIlvain company supplied lumber to many industries during the industrial revolution. We helped build the new seat of government when our capital was moved to Washington D.C. In fact, the Capitol, Smithsonian, White House, and Library of Congress are all still customers today. Walk the halls of many of the buildings in DC and you are looking at McIlvain mouldings, panels, and floors.
During both World War I and II, J. Gibson McIlvain supplied enormous amounts of lumber to the US military for building planes and ships. In fact, more than 1,000,000 board feet were using in the construction of a WWII era battleship, more even than is needed to construct a 3 masted schooner. As the steel industry boomed, McIlvain lumber was a huge part of that. In 1930, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation reported that they were using approximately $2.5 million dollars of lumber annually to run 4 steel mills.
Today, little has changed. We still supply many manufacturers who make products that are a far cry from wood as well as the ones with products made from wood. But it is these customers who specialize in other products where our centuries of wood expertise is so useful. It is this partnership mentality that means we also supply lumber to many of the same customers we have had for decades. The lumber trade has been through many changes since we loaded up a horse drawn cart with lumber for the Pullman Car Company. Intimately understanding how wood moves and reacts to various environments and what species do best is key. Maintaining a vigilant watch over quality to ensure our customers can build great products is also necessary. But it goes much farther upstream too. Environmental sustainability is very much at the core of what we do and being constantly aware of responsible harvest practices and global supply and demand.
So as you enjoy the 4th of July, reflect on the huge role lumber has played in making this nation so great. We feel fortunate to have serviced the needs of the country for more than 2 centuries with so many industries and companies and look forward to the next 200.