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  • Ellen Mirro

“One Word—there is a great future in Concrete—think about it.” (Adapted from The Graduate)

In a previous post about the Historic Structure Report that we recently completed for the Town of Concrete, we talked a little about the photographer E.J. Siegrist, who took many fine photographs of the Pacific Northwest in the early part of the last century. This post focuses upon the Seattle capitalists that financed the Superior Portland Cement Company. Because of the physical distance between Concrete and Seattle, not much attention has been directed toward the men who wished to profit from the “new” building technology of reinforced concrete. Just as Andrew Carnegie had made his fortune in steel a half-century before, these men saw the growing demand for concrete to build buildings, bridges, highways, and dams. You need cement to make concrete.

Superior Portalnd Cement Co., ca. 1914 (LEJ photo collection)

The Superior Portland Cement Company was created by capitalist John C. Eden (1864-1929) in 1906. Eden began work as a railroad telegrapher in Buffalo, New York, and advanced in the railroad field, coming to Seattle as the western traffic manager of the Great Northern Railroad. He later relocated to Chicago where he became president of the Sharsville Furnace Company and director of Inland Steel Company, as well as president of the Benson Mines Company in New York. Back in Seattle he assembled a syndicate of local investors to provide capital for the new plant. The syndicate included Jacob Furth and Captain E.E. Caine, both former investors in the Washington Portland Cement Company also located in Concrete), as well as other prominent Seattle investors.

When we were researching Eden we found this photograph at the Rainier Club archives in Seattle.

John C. Eden (Rainier Club)

Eden had moved to the Rainier Club after the death of his first wife and was obviously either drowning his troubles away, or leading the high life in January 1916, when on January 17, the King County Sheriff Bob Hodge conducted a raid on the Rainier Club confiscating “49 and a half quarts of intoxicating liquor and 46 pints of beer” from John Eden’s room. The Sheriff also seized a collection of liquor bottles tagged with the names of Rainier Club members. In those years immediately before the initiation of Prohibition (1919-1933), consumption and possession of alcohol was a growing political issue. It appeared to be legal to hold two quarts of whiskey and twelve of beer, for personal use, but not to purchase or sell it. Eden was so upset with Hodge that he, along with a few other imbibers, threatened to move to San Francisco.

Eden’s connection with Seattle Banker and local representative of the Boston based Stone & Webster Cartel, Jacob Furth (1840-1914), was also interesting. president of the private electric utility that would later purchase the rights to develop the Baker River hydroelectric project from Superior. Furth was a banker, former Seattle City Councilmember, president of the Vulcan Iron Works, real estate investor, and owner of a 16,000 acre Eastern Washington wheat farm. As the agent for the East Coast based Stone and Webster cartel, Furth consolidated Seattle’s streetcar and private electrical utilities into the Seattle Electric Company (later Puget Sound Traction, Light and Power Electric Company; and later Puget Sound Power and Light), becoming president of the Puget Sound Electric Railway, controlling the interurban railways between Seattle and Tacoma and also owning the street railways of Tacoma and other regional cities.

Jacob Furth (Bagley)

There are other interesting links, including with Herman Goetz (1867-1941), who along with his partner James Stirrat (1865-1937), were one of the largest concrete paving contractors in Seattle; as well as attorney James McElroy (1864-1919), who just happened to have direct connections with the Corps of Engineers prior to the federal government’s selection of Superior Portland Cement Company cement for use in the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, to name just two. A lot of water has passed through the locks since then, but it is always interesting making previously unknown connections.

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