From The Dalles to the Sea
COLUMBIA RIVER VALLEY
ROBERT DAVID INMAN
A master builder, Robert David Inman created in Portland a lumber business of world-wide scope and importance and also influenced the progress of the city and state of his adoption through his activities in the field of public service. Strong and purposeful, he hewed his way through a forest of difficulties and was accorded the admiration and respect which mankind ever yields to superior ability. He lived a long and useful life and left behind him the imperishable monument of splendid dreams realized.
Mr. Inman was horn August 11,1852, Near Piqua, in Miami county, Ohio, and came of English stock transplanted to the Vermont hills in the seventeenth century. For generations members of the family had been tillers of the soil and some of his forbears fought in 'the Revolutionary war, thus aiding in winning American independence. The grandfather, Asa Inman, of Vermont, established an enviable reputation as a building contractor and from him Robert D. Inman inherited much of his constructive genius. His parents, Asa and Lucinda (Kendall) Inman, migrated from Vermont to Ohio and thence to Iowa, settling in Marshall county. Among the first men to enlist at Marshalltown was Asa Inman, who served under General Grant and sacrificed his life for the Union at the battle of Shiloh in April, 1862.
After the father's death the mother took her children back to the old home in Ohio and so desperate were the circumstances of the family that Robert Inman, then a child of nine, obtained a position as a towboy on the old Ohio canal, thus aiding in the struggle for an existence. At the age of twelve he started for the Pacific coast, joining an emigrant train led by William Davidson, and was five months and eleven days in making the journey to Oregon. For a time he worked on a farm and then began cutting ties for the Oregon & California Railroad Company. He was afterward a brakeman for the road and later was made a fireman. For two years he was with the John Wilson circus and in 1875 obtained employment in the Willamette steam sawmill in Portland. Mr. Inman soon became an expert machinist and was steadily promoted. He was placed at the head of the manufacturing department and remained in the mill for seven years. In 1882, at the time of the organization of the Northern Pacific Lumber Company. the first export lumber business in Portland, Mr. Inman was a leading spirit in the undertaking and his associates were L. Therkelsen, N. Versteeg and L. W. P. Kuimby. Mr. Inman was elected a director of the company, in which he held a quarter of the stock, and he planned the new mill. He superintended its construction and for several years had charge of the manufacturing end of the business, doing much to stimulate its growth.
Mr. Inman entered upon his real life work in 1890. when with Johan Poulsen, he organized the Inman-Poulsen Lumber Company, of which he became president. He planned its original mill on the Willamette and this plant. which had a daily output of thirty-five thousand feet. was destroyed by fire in November, 1896 The work of rebuilding was started at once and within sixty days the new mill with an annual capacity of approximately two hundred million feet of lumber was ready for operation The machinery in this plant was the marvel of all lumbermen in the Pacific northwest, and it enabled the company to develop a world-wide business. About two years before his death Mr. Inman reconstructed the mill, which was completely electrified, and this constituted the crowning achievement of his career. This sawmill is a notable institution and holds the world's record for cutting. It is especially adapted to a large retail trade and has about two miles of water frontage. In addition to its facilities for deep sea transportation the company has built spur tracks which connect the mill with the transcontinental railroads. The plant now covers about sixty acres of ground and the firm also operates three logging camps in Oregon. Mr. Inman took out a number of important patents In connection with milling, among them being a power set works for setting out the log on the carriage. He was endowed with executive ability of a high order and remained president of the Inman-Poulsen Lumber Company throughout the period of his connection with the firm, continuing active in its affairs until about five days before his death, which occurred April 27, 1920. A keen analyst of character, he assembled a well trained, highly efficient corps of workers, many of whom have been connected with the industry since its inception, Mr. Inman's democratic spirit inspired in his men a warm feeling of comradeship and it was his firm belief that the problems of labor and capital could best be solved by a closer association between employers and their employees. The men who had worked with him throughout his business career were those he knew and liked the best. Aside from his lumbering interests he was a director of the Merchants National Bank of Portland and his name lent additional prestige to the institution.
Mr. Inman was married May 2, 1875, to Miss Frances L Guild, who passed away leaving two daughters, Minnie Myrtle and Ivy Frances. His second union was with Mrs. Clarissa Alice Rickards, to whom he was married October 6, 1912. Her parents were Joshua and Rachel Jeanne McKeyes, the former a native of Richmond, Virginia, while the latter was born in Oregon. The father of Joshua McKeyes was a prominent shipbuilder of Maine and there became associated with John Jacob Aster. Joshua McKeyes was a mining engineer and in 1849 started for California, sailing around Cape Horn. In the Feather river district he engaged in hydraulic mining in association with Mr. Sutro and spent about ten years in that part of California. He. then came to southern Oregon and purchased large tracts of timber land, also owning and operating sawmills in this region. For several years he was identified with the lumber industry of Oregon, controlling a business of extensive proportions, and after-ward went to Arizona, where he passed away in 1912. His wife's parents came to the west early in the '40s and were pioneer settlers of southern Oregon. Mrs. Inman was graduated from a normal school, afterward taking a special course in the University of Chicago, and engaged in teaching for a number of years prior to her marriage. By her first union she had one child, Alice Rickards, now deceased.
Mr. Inman represented that class of men to whom personal gain is but one aim in many, secondary in importance to public growth and advancement and lower in value than many other elements which go to make up the sum total of human existence. In 1892 he was chosen to represent his district in the Oregon legislature, being the only democrat so honored in Multnomah county in a score of years, and in 1900 he was elected to the state senate on the citizens' ticket. At one time he was a candidate for the office of mayor and for six years he was water commissioner of Portland, while from 1911 until 1920 he was president of the board of port commissioners, acquitting himself with dignity, fidelity and honor in every instance. In the Concatenated Order of Hoos, a national organization of lumbermen, he served as chief snark for two terms and in 1910 was elected supreme snark. Along fraternal lines he was identified with the Masonic order, in which he held the thirty-second degree, and also belonged to the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. He was a life member of the Multnomah Athletic Club and was also affiliated with the Portland Rowing Club, the Oregon Automobile Club and the Portland Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Inman was a member of the Presbyterian church and conscientiously adhered to its teachings. Work was his chief recreation and he also enjoyed motoring and reading. His was a picturesque and interesting career, in which the romance of the west was closely interwoven. He knew the dangers of the long trail westward. the thrill of Indian attack, the toil of a tie Cutter and a railroader. True to the traditions of his ancestors, he fought and won in the great battle of life becoming one of the foremost lumbermen of the Pacific northwest. He was unspoiled by prosperity, and at the zenith of his career he wore his laurels with true grace and becoming modesty. Among all of his possessions the one of greatest value was the strong and enduring friendship of those who loved him for his manly worth, who shared in his success and who mourned his passing as a personal affliction. At the time of his death one of the local papers said editorially:
"Not many boys started life poorer than 'Bob' Inman nor with gloomier prospects. When at the age of twelve he reached Oregon with an immigrant train, there were hundreds of lads who had a better start' and after he reached manhood went to work in a sawmill there were thousands of workmen to whom opportunity beckoned, but nearly all of them tuned away. 'Bob' Inman's rise from millhand to captain of industry is an object lesson which many young men may study with profit. Inman wasn't a grasping man. Never did he seek to grind down labor. He treats his employees like men - as he would wish to be treated if he were working for an employer. He was a builder of industry and a valuable community asset. More than that, he took part in public affairs fearlessly and honestly and he won complete public confidence. Always he was foursquare with the world."
Mrs. Inman is a Presbyterian in religious faith and contributes generously toward the support of the church. Her interest in social and cultural affairs is indicated by her affiliation with the Oregon Sculptors Society, the Portland Research Club, the Woman's Club of this city and the local Country Club. She retains an interest in the Inman-Poulsen Lumber Company and is a capable business woman. Endowed with creative power, she invented the first electric curling iron and a plant was established in Chicago for manufacturing this device. The business was started with a capital stock of one hundred thousand dollars and incorporated under the name of the Del Sales Company. Forty girls were employed in the factory, the output of which was sold mainly through the Western Electric Company and Marshall Field & Company. Mrs. Inman received large royalties from her invention and controlled the patent rights therein for about twelve years. She then sold an interest in the curling iron and invested a portion of the profits in Aerial Terraces, a beautiful home on Westover heights. During the holiday season of 1927 the following news item appeared in one of the local papers:
"Hundreds of Portland residents who had not previously viewed the brilliantly illuminated grounds about the home of Mrs. R. D. Inman, 1214 Cumberland road, journeyed last night. despite the failing snow, to see the sweepstakes winning decorations in their true winter setting. Against the white background the gaily colored lights shone out in extraordinary beauty. The decorations were awarded the sweepstakes prize of two hundred and fifty dollars in the Portland Advertising Club's Christmas outdoor illumination contest for the private display division. Five ever-green trees in front of the palatial residence were tastefully bedecked with many colored electric lights, while on the roof and easily visible was a brilliantly illuminated star. In the windows were electric wreaths. The home is located at the end of the Westover car line."