Dallas Historian

Willamette Industries, Inc. - Timeline

Key Dates:

1906: Willamette Valley Lumber Company is formed in Dallas, Oregon.
1954: Willamette and Santiam Lumber Company establish the Western Kraft Corporation.
1967: Merger creates Willamette Industries, Inc.
1973: Western Kraft merges with Willamette.
1983: Willamette reaches annual sales of more than $1 billion.
1996: Company acquires Cavenham timberlands for $950 million and also expands overseas in Ireland.
2000: In November Weyerhaeuser publicly announced its attempt at a hostile takeover of Willamette Industries
2002: The sale became official in March.


Willamette Industries, Inc., was first organized in 1906 in Dallas, Oregon, as the Willamette Valley Lumber Company. The company consisted of a sawmill, a small railroad, some logging equipment, and 1,200 acres of timberland. A pair of entrepreneurs, Louis and George Gerlinger, father and son, were two of the partners in the original corporation. The Gerlinger family would retain an interest in Willamette into the 1990s when the company’s chief executive officer and president was William Swindells, grandson of George Gerlinger.

The original corporation, including timberland, mill, and equipment, had been founded with $50,000. The company grew enormously in its first 15 years. In 1920 a half-interest in the company was offered for sale for $375,000. Net assets of the company were valued at $1.5 million at that time. The original sawmill had been expanded and improved, and the Gerlingers had built a planning mill and drying kilns. The company owned more than 11,000 acres of timberland, containing more than 334 million board feet of timber.

Some of the company’s early prosperity, like that of other lumber companies in the Pacific Northwest, was due to a tremendous demand for timber following the States’ entry into World War I. The army needed spruce to build military aircraft, Pacific Northwest lumber companies were able to sell as much spruce as they could cut. Willamette benefitted, however, the company also suffered from the labor agitation same as most of the northwest lumber companies.

Oregon, Washington, and Idaho lumbermen showed strong support of the labor union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). With much of the work force off to war and lumber production running at full capacity, many longstanding labor grievances were brought to a head in 1917. Long hours, low pay, and unhealthy working conditions were the main points of contention.

In the late 1920s, the Pacific Northwest clearly had more mill capacity than the market could sustain. Imaginative and efficient use of its resources enabled the Willamette Valley Lumber Company to keep two shifts, each working forty-eight hours a week as the Depression set in. The company introduced innovations such as using hemlock, previously considered a worthless tree, to manufacture a variety of products, selling leftover hemlock chips for papermaking, and burning the rest for power. Ironically, the Lumber Code of the National Industrial Recovery Act forced the company to cut to a single thirty-hours-a-week shift in 1933. In an effort to avoid more layoffs and to rehire those laid off, the company announced it was adding a new mill.

In 1930, William Swindells, a civil engineer and married to Gerlinger's daughter Irene, joined the company. William Swindells learned the industry and Gerlinger began purchasing timberland to meet the capacity of their mills. Concerns about the timber supply led Gerlinger and other members of the
Board of Forestry in 1940 to promote the Oregon Conservation Act. 

Willamette Valley Lumber Company continued its growth, spurred by the demands of World War II. Gerlinger and Swindells joined with the Louis W. Hill family of Minnesota to incorporate the separate Willamette National Lumber Company in 1946.

After Gerlinger's death in 1948, Swindells continued to buy interests in other Oregon timber companies and to develop the company's commitment to sustainable forestry. Output expanded to include plywood, veneer, particle board, paper, linerboard, and corrugated containers. 

In 1957, Willamette National merged into Willamette Valley Lumber Company, initiating a process that saw the consolidation of a number of companies to form Willamette Industries 1967.

Beginning in 1968, Willamette Industries' stock was publicly traded. During subsequent years, the company expanded with acquisitions in seventeen states and William Swindells retired in1976.

In 1984, William Swindells Jr. became chair of the board, president, and chief executive officer. As changes in the management of the national forests and the protection of old growth forests challenged the company, its accomplishments were recognized by Forbes magazine in 1992.

In 1997, Willamette Industries CEO Steve Rogel resigned his position and became the CEO of
Weyerhaeuser Company.

In November 2000, Weyerhaeuser publicly announced its attempt at a hostile takeover of Willamette Industries. For fourteen months, the Willamette Industries board resisted until Weyerhaeuser gained the three seats necessary to change the balance of power on
the board.

The sale became official in March 2002. Dallas, Oregon lost its main source of employment and city revenue. 


The above was taken from Barbara Mahoney

Her Sources

Making the Most of the Best: A History of Willamette Industries, Dunn, Catherine Baldwin. Making the Most of the Best: A History of Willamette Industries, Inc. Portland: Willamette Industries, 1994

Robbins, William G. Oregon, This Storied Land. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 2005.Robbins, William G. Oregon, This Storied Land. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 2005.

Oregon Encyclopedia


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