Knapp-Stout Co.--perfect combination

John Holly Knapp

H. L. Stout

Andrew Tainter

William Wilson

"It was the greatest lumber corporation in the world: that in 1873 on the Red Cedar and Chippewa Rivers owned 115,000 acres of pine lands and had in its employ 1,200 men." -- writer of Wisconsin Historical Society Collections.

As Knapp, Stout & Co. expanded, so did its facilities according to this 1890 photograph. The huge sawmill in the center was added along with a new company headquarters for building. The firm at one time was among the largest in the world and even during business depressions which forced others to close, Knapp, Stout was able to continue operations.

     What made Knapp, Stout & Co., Company one of the greatest in the world, in retrospect, was an almost perfect combination of personnel and a strong, well-organized approach to doing business.
     Also, the company never had great financial problems that faced many of the smaller owners.

Covered all areas

     H. L. Stout took care of marketing along the Mississippi, William Wilson rafting of lumber to market, John H. Knapp supervision of the mills and company interests and Andrew Tainter procuring of timber and getting logs to the mills. Stout never lived in Menomonie.
     Also, geographic location of the company's interest on the Red Cedar and its tributaries lent itself to building of dams and mills. In addition, company officials had the foresight early in the industry to construct their own stores and had a number of their own farms.
     The farms were important in providing hay, grain, and meat for the lumbering crews and livestock because of the nearly, prohibitive costs of obtaining foodstuffs for the workers and hay and grain for the animals.

First residents employes

     The first residents were its employes, followed by immigrants who worked in the firm's mills and camps. The first businessmen were those who tended company stores and financial interests. Thus, money paid out by the company was turned over and over again within its own framework.
     That Stout and Knapp were the area's first financiers and Wilson and Tainter were remarkable opportunists, provided the right working relationship.
     William Wilson came from Pennsylvania to Illinois as a railroad contractor. He heard about the great pineries of the Chippewa, made a trip into the Red Cedar valley and returned to Iowa where he interested a young man, John Holly Knapp, and a David Black in investing in a mill on Wilson Creek originally started by John Rollette and James Lockwood. Wilson and Knapp gained control in 1846 when Black died. However, court fights plagued the two men for years.
     Knapp and Wilson built several mills and the company continued to expand.

Tainter comes on scene

     About the same time, in 1847, Andrew Tainter purchased a small mill three miles downstream from Wilson Creek. Tainter was already an experienced woodsman, having started logging high on the Red Cedar in Barron County as early as 1845.
     Some reports say Tainter was taken into the company in 1850 when he sold logs to Wilson and Knapp and they owed him considerable money; nonetheless, the official date for Tainter joining the partnership was Aug. 20, 1853 when the books showed a half interest in the name of John H. Knapp (which included half part for William Wilson), a fourth for Andrew Tainter, a fifth for Henry L. Stout and a smaller shares for B. B. Downs and John H. Douglis. The company was formed as "Knapp, Stout & Co., Company."
     Valuation of the business about the time of incorporation was $78,317.21

Made small start

     The company at the time had hardly made any inroads into the pinery. For instance, in 1846, Wilson sawed just 60,000 board feet of lumber and 21,000 shingles. The following year, the partners divided $2,829 in profits, a far cry from the huge returns they earned from 1870 through the 1890s.
     In the early 1850s the company built a large dam at Menomonie and erected a new mill 60 by 100 feet. A band saw was put in operation. For most of the partnership, the firm led the way in innovations in the lumbering industry, partially because of its willingness to plow much of the profits back into the operation.
     Fire destroyed the mill in 1856 but a new and larger one was built. It continued until the firm ceased operations in 1901. It was washed away by flooding in 1905.

Expanded with capital

     With added capital, the company continued to acquire land, purchased government lands and made a large purchase from a Civil War general, C. C. Washburn, later a Wisconsin governor.
     Washburn had owned a mill and other facilities near Waubeek.
     The firm in later years gained rights to a log boom on the Chippewa River near Beef Slough, developed an interest at Read's Landing and purchased thousands of acres of timberland in Barron County.
     Knapp, Stout & Co., Company was among the first to use a steamboat on the lower Chippewa to assist in rafting lumber. Tainter himself operated it for a number of years.
     As noted, the company controlled all areas related to lumbering, building stores, shops and wood-working plants. Other interests included bringing in doctors and lawyers and even the start of two newspapers, the "Dunn County Lumberman" and later the "Dunn County News."
     Later the company started a newspaper in Rice Lake.

Assets increase

     By 1862 the company listed its assets at $722,000 and each of the four major partners gained $15,000 as their share of the profits.
     In that season the firm produced 15,000,000 board feet of lumber. Still bigger years were ahead.
     For the first 41 years the partners put back into the purchase of uncut pine land as much as they could, perceiving that at no far distant day the value of these lands would become greatly enhanced.

Company controlled the river

     When the 1870s rolled around the company had camps on almost every stream leading to the Red Cedar. It controlled the river, flooding dams, stopping places, had built roads, had large, well-stocked stores, owned several farms and had finishing mills on the Mississippi River. Because of its control, it was able to manufacture lumber at general market prices and make a profit while lumbermen on other rivers could not, at the same prices, get back the cost of production.
     By 1887, the company sawed 87,000,000 board feet of lumber and sawed nearly 90,000,000 board feet for a number of years.
     Later the firm had to head further upstream to procure timber and ran into competition from other lumbermen, including the vast Frederick Weyerhaeuser holdings.

Founders fade from scene

     About the same time the pine was running out, company officials also started to fade from the scene.
     In 1886 John H. Knapp, because of failing health, resigned as president and Henry L. Stout became president. Knapp died in 1888.
     Capt. William Wilson died in 1892 at the age of 85. His son, T. B. Wilson, who devoted nearly all his life to the company, died in 1898. Andrew Tainter died in 1899 and Henry L. Stout in 1900.
     Historians noted that almost to the day of Stout's death, the end of the last drive from the Rice Lake area had begun. At about the same time James Brackin, one of the best known Knapp Stout & Co., Company foremen and an early mayor of Rice Lake, died July 26, 1900.
     Crews going into the woods in late 1899 knew it was the last time for the company.

Last raft in 1901

     The last raft of lumber from the Knapp, Stout & Co., Company went down the Red Cedar on Aug. 12, 1901.
     Mills at Cedar Falls and Downsville had closed the preceding year and the three at Menomonie closed in 1901, marking the end to a story of this pioneer industry which brought the first settlement of this part of the state.
     The company had paid over $1 million in taxes, brought in settlers, cleared much of the rich farm land in Barron County and provided jobs by which families earned money to build businesses and buy homes and farmland.

-- Arnie Hoffman

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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