At the Heart of Kansas City's History

Long and the Lumber Industry

  Long stood in 1930 before a mock-up of the first office of his lumber business, which had started in Columbus, Kan., 55 years earlier.

Long stood in 1930 before a mock-up of the first office of his lumber business, which had started in Columbus, Kan., 55 years earlier.

“Kansas Citys role as a major lumber center was hardly a fluke, since the frontier pushing west of the Mississippi River [followed] rail lines across the prairie. By 1900 Kansas City was shipping 4,000 railcars of finished lumber annually. Kansas Citys dominance in the trade was due to Robert Long. His portfolio included more than 50 lumberyards by 1892.

Long vertically integrated Long-Bell, the companys slogan being: ‘From tree to trade.’  Long controlled the forests where the trees were produced, the mills where logs were trimmed to lumber, the wholesale distributors, as well as the retail yards. This was aided by diffused distribution made possible by the growing railroad network. Long-Bell produced lumber and fence posts; the company acquired a coal mine, (coal was distributed by lumberyards.) The company mills in Lake Charles, Longville, and Bonami, Louisiana, and Lufkin, Texas, manufactured window sashes, doors and doorframes, and veneers. In 1914, Long-Bell harvested 590 million feet of timber a year.

After 1910, Southern yellow pine began to wane. Lumber demand dropped with slowing rural settlement. Cities expanded with concrete and steel. Long-Bell sold Southern holdings and launched in the Pacific Northwest. In the 1920s, a cash flow crisis forced Long-Bell to go public. In 1956, the once-powerful Long-Bell Lumber Company merged into its rival, the International Paper Company.” (Kansas City Museum, “The Long Family”)

Horsing Around: The Longs’ Equestrian Legacy

“Robert and his daughter Loula shared a passion for horses. Loula focused her attention on the stables from an early age and quickly became a skilled horsewoman. When he made his millions, Long was able to indulge his daughter’s desire. Her fascination outdistanced her fathers and became an avocation from which she never veered. Loula began her show career at Fairmount Park near Kansas City in 1896 at the age of fifteen. She won a blue ribbon in the ladies horsemanship class and was hooked. She became one of the most celebrated figures of the show ring. Her vibrant personality, exceptional horses, formal gowns and large hats made her a crowd favorite. Barnum and Bailey even asked her to go on tour with their circus show. Loula also broke sex barriers competing in competitions conventionally entered only by men. She continued competing into her 80s, and in 1967 was one of two persons inducted, for equine sports, in Madison Square Garden’s Hall of Fame.

Horses were a hobby befitting Long’s position among Gilded Age elite. The Long family often faced the Vanderbilts and DuPonts in the show ring. While visiting a kings stable on their European tour, a guide bragged about a pair of horses recently purchased for $5,000. Loula frankly replied, ‘Hm, that isnt such a high price. Daddy gave me a pair last year that cost $9,000.’ By 1907, the Longsstables were too small. According to Loula, ‘...a new stable had to be built; and since we were going to have a new stable, Daddy decided that we might as well build a new house, too.’ The first blueprints produced were for the carriage house and stable. The Carriage House had room for twelve carriages and living quarters for five grooms; ten box stalls; four tie stalls; tack room; trophy room; tiled washroom. The interior was finished with hardwood, oriental rugs and fine paintings. The nearby gatehouse was a home for trainer Dave Smith and his family.

At Londons 1910 Olympia Show, a London newspaper stated that ‘Great interest is being taken in Kansas City and throughout the Missouri valley in the fortunes of Miss Long, who will exhibit her prize winning gelding, The King.’ Loula and the King won first place. The next day the London Times ran the headline, ‘Girl From The Wild West Takes Roadster Class at Olympia.’” (Kansas City Museum, “The Long Family”)

R. A. Long: Civic Pioneer

“Robert Long was strongly influenced by the civic examples of Andrew Carnegie and fellow industrialist John D. Rockefeller. Carnegie had libraries, Rockefeller foundations. Long had Kansas City and dedicated time and money to its betterment. Longs work transcended his own self-interest. Whether from ‘noblesse oblige’, his religious convictions or a mixture of both, he was vocal about it.

Longs first major public project was Kansas Citys first skyscraper, the 14 story R.A. Long Building. Thereafter much of his benevolence was directed towards the Christian Church. He gave significantly toward building Independence Avenue Christian Church; he funded a majority of the cost of a hospital run by the denomination; he was also a strong supporter of church projects outside of Kansas City.

When the expansive and experimental Longview Farm was under construction, he established a tent village where hundreds of inner-city families enjoyed rural vacations. He also promoted the construction of ‘a water works system that will care for the future as well as the present.’ During the same period he agitated to make Kansas City a nationally prominent center for the arts.

A 1934 newspaper credited Robert Long as ‘the real father’ of the Civilian Conservation Corps. President Theodore Roosevelt invited him to the first federal conference on natural resource conservation. Long made it a personal and business goal to replace every tree cut by Long-Bell. Today, this is standard practice and it is easy to underplay the radical nature of the changes espoused by Long.

His most prominent project was Liberty Memorial, which is now the official United States monument to the First World War. He led an ambitious fundraising drive that collected in only ten days $50,000 more than its $2 million goal.” (Kansas City Museum, “The Long Family”)