Our pride in Alexander Lumber is based on two things: where we are today as a company, and where we began.
Our rich history as a family-owned company is why we can proudly say we have been serving public and commercial customers for over 100 years.
Coming to America
Taylorville, IL - Circa 1924
Alexander’s lumber history stretches far back into the 1870s, when, according to present company President Walter Alexander, the Alexander ancestors arrived to Wisconsin from Scotland. First to arrive was the sister and brother-in-law of John Alexander, Walter’s grandfather. They saved up money in order to bring additional brothers and sisters over to America. John was the youngest of the Alexander immigrants.
The Alexander family’s livelihood was tied to the sawmill business – nearly everyone in the family was somehow involved in the industry. In those days, the vast virgin forests of Wisconsin and the upper Midwest were being cut. The birth of lumber retailing came in the 1880s once the Stewart family of Wausau, Wisconsin, which also had some lumber holdings in Illinois, decided to expand into that state.
The first Alexander Lumber
Grandfather John Alexander was sent to Aurora, Illinois, to open a yard, and he was given a piece of the action as an opportunity to make it a success. He was a diligent, hard worker and under his management, the yard prospered. He dreamed of the day he could own his own business.
In 1891, with the aid of two partners, Tom Brittingham and Joe Hixon, and a loan of $5,000 from the Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago, John's dream as a lumberyard owner came true. The firm was incorporated as Alexander Lumber Co., though it probably carried that name prior to incorporation. With the Aurora yard well established, John sought to expand his lumber operation. The railroads were reaching out toward the west, and this provided him with his opportunity. John was able to negotiate a series of land leases with the railroads along the expanding right-of-way, setting up a lumberyard at relatively close intervals along the line. By the late 1920s, he operated well over 100 so-called "line yards".
Back in those days, lumberyards were a far cry from what we see today. All that was required to establish a business was a one-room office and some storage space. Inventory was not an issue with the quantity of fresh Midwest pine lumber coming in by rail, and because of the proximity of the yards were distanced along the tracks, even a farmer in between two yards could drive his team into town, conduct business, and get back home in the same day.
Alexander Lumber Grows
John Alexander’s entrepreneurial spirit never failed, and it is exactly that which carried the company into the next century. By 1929, he had bought out all of his partners in addition to acquiring the Brittingham and Hixon Lumber Co. yards in Wisconsin (which Alexander Lumber Co. still owns and operates under the same name, as a wholly-owned subsidiary.) During the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the advent of motorized transportation, there was some reduction in the number of yards. But prior to that, there was also some expansion by acquisition. Fifteen yards in McLean County were purchased from John's cousin, who had no heirs interested in the business. Also acquired were a group of yards from W.E. Terry, an early associate of John Alexander.
The Loss of a Leader
In 1944, company founder John Alexander died. At that time, full management responsibility fell to Walter's father, John Alexander Jr. John Jr. had worked for the Alexander Lumber Co. since finishing college, and had become president of the company in 1932. By 1940, a large part of the day-to-day management function of the company had been delegated to a very capable associate, Otto Unteed, a vice-president of the company until his retirement in 1966. Otto was described as a very good administrator, many of whose policies are still enforced today. As consumer trade began to grow in the late 40s and early 50s, Otto built showrooms around 1200 square feet, where paint, builders' hardware, and other products were displayed. Prime emphasis of the company at that time, and still is, on serving the contractor and the builder, but now, some large new stores recognize the importance of the consumer trade.
John Alexander’s grandson, Walter Alexander
The company's current president, Walter Alexander, learned the lumber business from the ground up from his father and grandfather. He worked his summers in company yards in the 1950s before joining the Army for a stint. After military service, he got additional on-the-job experience working behind the sales counter in several different yards. With Otto wanting to retire, Walter came to Aurora in 1964 as a management understudy. Following Otto's death shortly after retirement, Walter was given the responsibility of the day-to-day company management by his father. He presently holds the position of president, but delegates many management functions to a group of four district managers, each of whom is responsible for a group of company yards. Tom Hodgson is the Executive Vice-President and Ed Winkless has joined Alexander Lumber Co. as its new Chief Financial Officer.
Alexander Lumber Co. currently operates a total of 20 retail yards; 17 in Illinois and 3 in Wisconsin, truss plants in Cortland and Leroy, Illinois, and a show room/sales office in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.