THE HISTORY OF SAVAGE WHOLESALE BUILDING MATERIALS, INC.

Prior to 1918, two lumbermen, John Workman and Wally Savage, operated a sawmill in the northern part of Washington, near Arlington. In 1923, they built a manufacturing plant in Renton to kiln-dry and process green clear lumber into finish, mouldings and other high-end products. They named the corporation Savage Lumber and Manufacturing Co. after Wally Savage.

The first location was Renton. This was the only location until 1933 then Savage dedicated to distribute, at wholesale, a wider variety of products than lumber and millwork, and rented a warehouse for this purpose at 1215 Western Avenue, Seattle. This building is now occupied by the Compton Lumber Co. About 1940, property for our present building was purchased from the Milwaukie Railroad but construction was delayed on account of war. In 1947, a warehouse and office were built (at our present Seattle location). The building then was only half its present size and the completed structure was finished in 1951.

In 1955, we opened a warehouse in Spokane from a location leased from the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1958, we bought our present site on Ferry Street and built the first of three warehouses there. In that year, we sold our Renton plant, moving to our present Tacoma address at 1001 East 25th Street. We added three new buildings and moved our machine and millwork equipment to Tacoma from Renton. In 1973,a Portland branch was started which gave us complete wholesale distribution facilities in the four major northwest cities.

In 1955, we opened a warehouse in Spokane from a location leased from the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1958, we bought our present site on Ferry Street and built the first of three warehouses there. In that year, we sold our Renton plant, moving to our present Tacoma address at 1001 East 25th Street. We added three new buildings and moved our machine and millwork equipment to Tacoma from Renton. In 1973,a Portland branch was started which gave us complete wholesale distribution facilities in the four major northwest cities.

About 1930, Workman sold his share in the company to McDonald, who then merged Savage with Columbia Lumber Co., a subsidiary of the Bloedel Donovan Lumber Mills and took stock in Columbia Lumber Co. for his 2/3 interest. Bill Miller, President of Columbia Lumber Co., was a good friend and the arrangement worked very well until Bill’s passing (around 1940). Soon after, things turned for the worse for Columbia Lumber Co. and McDonald offered to buy back all of the stock of Savage. He was joined in this venture by Gardner Gamwell, the local sales rep for the Certain-Teed Co., who put enough cash, $10,000, to secure a 1/3 interest. Gamwell joined Savage as sales manager and helped in expanding distribution for many new commodities. Gamwell died in 1954 and McDonald bought his interest from his wife.

For the first ten years (1925-1935), Savage was exclusively in the business of re-manufacturing lumber. Rough green clears were purchased in C/L lots, from many nearby sawmills who lacked the facilities for drying and reworking high grade finished products. Most of these mills were small and they could only accumulate about one or two cars of clears a week.

This was not enough production to justify the expense of purchasing expensive special equipment for remanufacture. Savage bought these surplus clears (our capacity was 2 C/L per day) to dry and rework into finish lumber, mouldings, casing, trim and specialty items such as railroad car materials, ladder stock, hand rails, etc. At one time, we were one of the largest manufacturers of wood gutter in this area. We designed a special, improved pattern that led the local market in sales for many years.

During the depression era, many of our suppliers went out of business and larger mills like Weyerhaeuser, etc. started to move into this sales are with prices lower than Savage could match. Therefore, about 1931, a decision was made to expand our product line into the millwork business, with windows, doors, frames, cabinets, etc. Fortunately, this turned out to be a good move, and Savage became one of the largest local manufacturers in this industry.

In the 1930’s, it became apparent that the supply of good clear lumber, which was needed for specialty lumber items, was becoming less and less available and concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. In 1929, the volume production of fir plywood started and because of its low price (about $14 per thousand for 4×8 ¼” AD), it took over the wallboard market all over the country. The result was an insatiable demand for clear logs with a subsequent shortage of lumber for millwork and other uses.

It became apparent that Savage would be wise to enlarge and diversify product lines to include items other than those manufactured at Renton that could move in reasonable volume through normal dealer channels. The opening of Seattle’s warehouse gave us the opportunity to service this field. While we still continued to handle the manufacturing of many wood products and millwork, sales were expanded to include roofing, fiberboards, gypsum products, hardboards, insulation, nails glass and other items.

The development of our glass department was particularly important. As large users of glass ourselves in the manufacture of windows and sash, it became clear that there was no effective distribution at the wholesale level. Dealers at the time were forced to buy from large retailers and contractors who tied up most of the production and competed unfairly with their own customers. After several years, we were able to establish ourselves firmly with this important commodity.

In the beginning (1925), the management consisted of Charles H. McDonald, sales, buyer and general manager, Bob Jacobson, manufacturing superintendent, and Naomi Verd, bookkeeper and clerk-stenographer.

In 1928, the bookkeeper quit, we hired Lyndal McCallum, an accountant who was previously employed by a branch of the Columbia Lumber Company. She did a splendid job throughout her 42 years of service until her retirement in 1971. Bob Jacobson retired during the war and in later years was replaced by L.C. Walt.

Both of McDonald’s sons, Pete and Bruce, worked for the company while attending high school, college and during vacations. Their chores consisted of regular warehouse and mill jobs (unloading cars, piling merchandise, lading trucks, etc.) In this way, they learned the business “from the ground up” and earned enough to pay for their own college education. After college, they both decided to continue in the family business as a career. For several years they served at the order desks, as salesmen and as branch managers. When McDonald retired as president in 1971, Pete (39) succeeded him and Bruce (35) took over as manager of Tacoma.

Story prepared in April of 1980

Enjoy these historic photos of our long history

Savage Wholesale Building Materials, Inc.
1001 East 25th Street, Tacoma, WA 98421

Tacoma Office: (253) 353-1727
Spokane Office: (509) 535-3616
Honolulu Office: (808) 833-7411