George Weyerhaeuser Sr., great-grandson of logging company founder and kidnapped as a child, dies at 95


George Weyerhaeuser Sr., the fourth-generation lumber scion who ran one of America’s largest logging companies and was briefly one of America’s most famous kidnapping victims, died on Saturday June 11, his family confirmed on Monday. He was 95 years old.

Weyerhaeuser, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather also ran the logging company that bears the family name, was CEO from 1966 to 1991 and chairman of the board of directors until 1999 .

During this period, the Weyerhaeuser company became famous for a technology-driven “high-yield forestry” model that boosted production and transformed the industry, but also earned the enmity of many northern environmentalists. -western Pacific and elsewhere.

Yet George Weyerhaeuser Sr. is perhaps more famous for another role: At age 8 in 1935, he was kidnapped in broad daylight from a Tacoma street, kept in a pit in the woods, and released after that only his family paid a ransom. of $200,000 in unmarked bills.

He would later downplay the impacts of the kidnapping and frenzied aftermath. But her daughter, Leilee Weyerhaeuser, said the experience had a profound effect on her outlook on life.

“I think that incident forced him to consider who he really was at a very young age, and he realized how he could cope,” Leilee Weyerhaeuser said Monday.

This lesson certainly applied to his own life.

In addition to his nearly six decades in the forestry business, George Weyerhaeuser also found time to serve on the boards of Boeing, Safeco, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Rand Corporation and Chevron, among others. He was also a key supporter of the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, which was a central venue for the 1990 Seattle Goodwill Games.

George Hunt Walker Weyerhaeuser was born July 8, 1926, in Seattle, to Helen (Walker) Weyerhaeuser and John Philip Weyerhaeuser Jr., grandson of company co-founder Frederick Weyerhaeuser.

Twenty-six years earlier, Frederick Weyerhaeuser and 15 partners had paid the Northern Pacific Railway $5.4 million for just over 1,400 square miles of forest land in Washington state. The deal was “the largest private land transaction in American history at that time,” according to the company.

By the mid-1920s, the company operated 22 sawmills, a lumber distribution center and a steamboat company.

In May 1935, when George Weyerhaeuser was 8 years old, his grandfather John P. Weyerhaeuser Sr. died. It was his obituary, which detailed the family’s timber wealth, that allegedly inspired the plot to kidnap 33-year-old William Dainard, 23-year-old Harmon Metz Waley and 19-year-old Margaret Eldora Thulin.

On the afternoon of May 24, George was driving home from Lowell Elementary School in Tacoma when he was abducted by two men in a 1927 Buick. The abductors drove George to a secluded woods and put him in a freshly dug pit where he was handcuffed.

Young Weyerhaeuser’s family soon received a ransom demand of $200,000 in old $20, $10 and $5 bills. Once the money was raised, George’s father was instructed to run a personal ad in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that read, “We’re ready. Percy Minnie.

On June 1, after eight days of imprisonment in dirt pits, car trunks, cupboards and even a carton of Uneeda crackers, George Weyerhaeuser was left on the side of a logging road near Issaquah with two blankets and a dollar.

After walking to a farm where a family was sitting for breakfast, George reunited with his family.

But the ordeal was not over. The kidnapping had made national headlines, thanks to a reporter who maneuvered to interview George even before he returned to his family, and the result was a “media frenzy”, said Leilee Weyerhaeuser.

“He had told us that for him the worst trauma was being surrounded by reporters with cameras, questions and microphones,” she said. “As a little boy, trying to cope with that kind of media presence was really difficult.”

George Weyerhaeuser himself played the Stoic. In a 1969 interview with Sports Illustratedhe suggested that the kidnapping had a greater effect on his family than on him.

“A[jeune]boy is quite an adaptable organism,” he said. “He can adapt to conditions like no adult could. It didn’t affect me personally as much as anyone might think.[young}boyisaprettyadaptableorganism”hesaid“HecanadjusthimselftoconditionsinawaynoadultcouldItdidn’taffectmepersonallyasmuchasanyonelookingbackonitmightthink”[young}boyisaprettyadaptableorganism”hesaid“HecanadjusthimselftoconditionsinawaynoadultcouldItdidn’taffectmepersonallyasmuchasanyonelookingbackonitmightthink”

But Leilee Weyerhaeuser believes the incident taught her father to be forward-looking. Challenges that “would be daunting for some people, he would look for the path to go into the future and make it better,” she said.

This also applied to people. When one of the kidnappers was released from prison, George Weyerhaeuser hired the man.

“He did me no harm,” Weyerhaeuser said of the man during a interview 2016 with KUOW radio station. “And he was only 20 years old.”

During his teenage years, George Weyerhaeuser spent summers working for his family business, often as a manual laborer in the woods and mills. He served in the Navy during World War II and, after graduating from Yale University, continued to rise through the ranks in the lumber business.

In 1948 George Weyerhaeuser married Wendy Wagner, whose family had been in the lumber business, and the couple had six children: Leilee, George Jr., Sue, Phyllis, David and Merrill. George Jr. died of a heart attack in 2013. Wendy Weyerhaeuser died in 2014.

In the late 1950s, George Weyerhaeuser Sr. entered the executive ranks at the company’s headquarters in downtown Tacoma, as an assistant to the executive vice president, but quickly rose through the ranks. In 1966, at the age of 39, he became general manager and president.

During his tenure, the company launched several major initiatives.

In 1967, Weyerhaeuser rolled out its high-yield forestry strategy—essentially, an ongoing process of logging and regeneration that included replanting clearcuts within a year of harvest; fertilizers and herbicides; thinning; and the selection of more productive and faster growing seedlings.

In the 1990s, Weyerhaeuser operations in the Pacific Northwest produced twice as many volumes of wood as their natural counterparts, according to a 1997 study. report by the World Resources Institute.

He was also heavily involved in the design of the company’s 425-acre corporate campus at Federal Way, which opened in 1971 to international acclaim as one of the first suburban headquarters.

Weyerhaeuser’s executive career was also marked by major challenges and controversy. The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens flattened 68,000 acres of forested land and forced a massive rescue operation. Environmental activists have pressured the company to end or limit logging on some of its millions of acres of forest to protect wildlife habitat.

Weyerhaeuser, who was replaced by Jack Creighton in 1991, is considered the last member of the family to serve in the management of the company.

In 2021, the company reported net income of $2.6 billion on sales of $10.2 billion.

Weyerhaeuser was not entirely satisfied with the direction of the company or the industry after his resignation.

He was unhappy with the company’s decision to sell the Federal Way campus and move its current location to Pioneer Square in Seattle in 2016. “He thought it was terrible,” Leilee Weyerhaeuser said.

Weyerhaeuser also questioned the industry’s growing focus on Wall Street, stock price and short-term earnings, which he saw as ill-suited in a company whose products have taken decades to mature. . As someone who had worked in factories and forests, “he never thought Wall Street knew how businesses should be run.”

A memorial ceremony is planned.


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