Robert Sutherland began working in the timber business at the age of 19 by operating a lumberyard in Independence, Kansas. At the age of 33 he bought his first yard and started an empire that grew into one of the largest lumber businesses in the Midwest.
Sutherland was born in Garnett, Kansas, in 1884. He went to work at the age of 14 years because his father was in poor health. He worked throughout the Midwest for an optical company, a brokerage business, and a coal company, but it was his first lumberyard in Hugo, Oklahoma, that began his fortune.
As many searched for oil during the 1920s, Sutherland built lumberyards in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and New Mexico that supplied the wood for oil derricks and the "Boom Towns" that grew around them. His savvy business sense prevailed in the early 1930s when he recognized the popularity and economy of steel derricks, which could be disassembled and reused. His gamble in 1931 to sell all of his yards in the oil fields paid off when, three years later, he saw nearly half of his former competitors lose vast sums of money, unable to compete against the steel derricks.
Sutherland began his first "cash and carry" yard in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1932. It was an innovative idea for the time, offering lower prices to those who could pick up their own lumber. This saved the company delivery and bookkeeping costs, which could be passed on to the customer.
Sutherland purchased his distinct Kansas City mansion at 1200 W. 55th Street in 1923 and planted 10,000 imported red tulips every year, attracting many sightseers every spring. He also owned a 300-acre ranch in the Ozarks, where he hunted, fished, and raised horses to show at the American Royal. The charitable and impulsive man who also loved a tough, even battle, died from a heart attack in1941 at the age of 57 years.
A version of this article previously appeared at http://www.kchistory.org/content/biography-robert-r-sutherland-jr-1884-1...
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