Reed, Mark E. (1866-1933)

  • By Kate Kershner
  • Posted 12/12/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9932

Mark E. Reed was a state legislator and business leader. Reed was born in Olympia and settled in Shelton, Mason County, after joining the Simpson Logging Company. He went on to take over that company and the Lumberman's Mercantile. Reed was elected to the state legislature in 1914, and served one term as Speaker of the House. Reed championed workers' rights while also introducing legislation that protected business interests, and he tried to ensure tax breaks for private companies. Reed was an early advocate of reforestation on his timber property. He also ran several regional banks, and began an investment company.

From Olympia to Shelton

Mark Reed was born on December 23, 1866, in Olympia. His father was Thomas Reed, a territorial and state auditor. Young Mark displayed an early entrepreneurial spirit; while attending Olympia-area public schools, he also worked as a delivery boy for Chilberg Grocery, driving a cart in the summer months. Reed later attended the California Military Institute before returning to Washington, where he worked under his father as deputy auditor, later becoming secretary of the State Land Commission for two years. Showing an early interest in the legal system, Reed also studied under Assistant Attorney General James A. Haight.

Around 1893, Reed formed the logging company Ellis Reed with Ike Ellis. A depression occurred in the United States shortly after, due to decline in agricultural and railroad production. Quoted in the Seattle Daily Times, Mark Reed recalled the time:

"I went broke in 1895, but that didn't mean much then. I went to work in the woods and started all over again. I was a mule skinner, a high climber, and a worker on the skid road. I got $1.60 a day, and paid $5 a week for my room and board. But we were all happy; we still had faith in the future and there were few squealers" (Gilbert).

In 1897, Reed got a job as foreman at the Simpson Logging Company. Sol Simpson (1844-1906) was the owner of the company and Reed's boss, but it was his daughter Irene Simpson (1877-1940) who caught Reed's eye. The Seattle Daily Times called Irene the "prettiest girl in the State of Washington," and asserted that Mark and Irene's marriage "delighted the hearts of Shelton and Olympia people" (Gilbert).

After his marriage, Mark Reed became more and more involved with Simpson Logging, moving the company to Shelton, on a southern inlet of Puget Sound in Mason County, where he and Irene settled for the remainder of their lives. Reed's duties for Simpson were varied. He at times managed the company's mercantile and banking responsibilities, and he spent a year in Alaska trying to dig up investments after the gold rush.

Reed showed an early interest in his fellow workers when he organized the Puget Sound Timbermen's Association. The unionized group advocated -- and eventually achieved -- a law that set up official scalers to measure the timber sold to mills. Previously, scaling had been done by the mills, with much complaint from the log suppliers.

In Charge at Simpson

Reed's political machinations -- and what seems to be a fairly representative sense of fairness -- also began to show in 1902. The Port Blakely Mill Company held stock in the Simpson Logging Company, and for years Sol Simpson had offered Port Blakely lower prices for Simpson timber. Mark Reed urged Simpson to end the practice, and when Simpson died in 1906, the Blakely investors were bought out, and Reed took over a portion of the stock.

In 1914, Reed took over as head of the Simpson Logging Company from A. H. Anderson (who assumed the role after Simpson's death), as well as obtaining an interest in Lumberman's Mercantile. Reed also took over management of Anderson's estate, which was the largest aggregate of private capital in the Northwest at the time.

Also in 1914, Reed was elected to the state legislature. His steadfast Republican politics played a role in his business life as well. During World War I, timber was essential to airplane production. The intense conditions that previously marked the working environment of timber men (and the rise of the Industrial Workers of the World, known as Wobblies) became a polarizing issue, and Reed was forced to muddle through slow-downs and strikes in 1917.

The military was called in to contain the discontent, and Reed worked with government leaders to establish an eight-hour workday for forest workers and address working conditions -- all without, it must be said, letting a union take over the timber industry in the state. That is not to say that Reed was an enemy of organized labor; in fact, he was friendly with labor forces and Simpson Logging Company provided clean quarters to workers (not necessarily a standard practice in the rough world of forestry) and life insurance for employees (again, a somewhat progressive idea in a very dangerous industry). In the legislature, Reed championed the Workmen's Compensation Act, which was among the fist such legislation in the nation.

Reed also became a banking fixture in Shelton, as director of Washington National Bank and Reed-Ingham Investment Company. For 20 years, Reed ran the Dexter Horton National Bank until its merger with First National Bank, when he became director of the consolidated institution.

Fighting Taxes

Reed was also a proponent of decreased taxation. This cause was at the forefront of his mind due to a new, vexing business issue in the form of reforestation. Simpson Logging was one of the few companies that did not sell off its land after logging; thus, it was left with barren land. How would the company gain money back? Reforestation provided a long-term solution to not only re-use land, but also keep a steady supply of work.

The only problem was property taxes. If the company owned the land, it had to pay taxes on it. And although reforestation was a great solution, it was not a quick fix; taxes on the land had to be paid for years before a new timber crop might earn the money back. And there was no guarantee that the money would be recouped.

As a legislator, Reed saw an opening. If taxes could be reduced, his land could make him money. Reed began pushing forward spending cuts in the legislature. He opposed salary increases for state officials, he pushed for tuition charges in the state's colleges and universities, and he angled for measures that streamlined state agencies for maximum efficiency. These measures never brought Reed the tax cuts for reforested land he hoped for, but he did succeed in forestalling increased taxation.  Reed's anti-taxation platform played a role in his opposition to developing public power companies and utilities. Reed found these systems distasteful, as they were not required to pay the taxes that burdened privately owned companies.

Reed also promoted public road improvements on the Olympic Peninsula. Not only did he advocate improved infrastructure, but he realized that better road conditions meant faster transportation for his logging concerns. Reed served as majority floor leader in the state House of Representatives, and was eventually elected Speaker of the House in 1923.

In 1924 the incumbent governor, Louis Hart (1862-1929), offered to support Reed in the gubernatorial campaign. Reed declined, citing his concerns outside public service: "My business affairs are quite extensive and, unfortunately, for something like twenty years the organization has been maintained largely as a personal one, and it would be very difficult to turn over the organization to another" (Ficken).

Beloved in Shelton

Irene Reed, Mark's wife, was also an important figure in Shelton. She served on the school board for 20 years, and a high school (later closed) was named the Irene S. Reed High School in her honor. The Reeds also established Shelton's first hospital. Olympia formerly provided the closest hospital to the Simpson Logging interests, and Reed's funding of the Shelton hospital provided a much more effective and efficient treatment of injured workers. "The benefactions of the Reed family endeared them to their neighbors," the Seattle Daily Times said on the occasion of Mark Reed's death, adding "It has also been truthfully said that the most beloved persons in Shelton were Mr. and Mrs. Mark Reed" (Gibson). The Reeds had three children, William, Frank, and Sol. Sol was killed in 1930 by a former employee of the Reeds' timber company who had lost a leg in a logging accident two years before he shot Sol Reed, and then himself, at Reed's brother's home.

In 1932, Mark Reed was elected a national committeeman for the state Republican Party, which was no doubt lured by his connections to wealthy donors. Reed's own political and business affairs took a back seat during that time, however, as he steadfastly supported President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) in his bid for reelection, and chaired Hoover's state campaign. After Hoover lost the presidency to Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), Reed was gloomy about the nation's future, but maintained long-term optimism. Reed predicted "plenty of trouble ahead for the next two years, at least," but said the incoming Democrats would be "thoroughly discredited in the minds of the people," and Republicans would return to power (Ficken).

In 1933, Reed went to Chicago with a group tasked to establish industry codes for logging under the National Industrial Recovery Act, a Roosevelt administration centerpiece that defined industry regulations. While there he contracted dysentery, and he died a month later on July 5, 1933. Reed's death triggered an outpouring of warm community support. Thirty-two respected state figures wrote small tributes in the Seattle Daily Times. They included Governor Clarence D. Martin (1887-1955), who wrote:

"Washington has sustained a profound industrial, financial, and political loss in the death of Mark E. Reed. He was a worthy leader in these three fields, loved by his followers and respected by his competitors and opponents. Moreover, he was an outstanding son of Washington, born and reared in this state, and his influence will be missed by his fellow citizens" (Seattle Daily Times).


Sources: Robert E. Ficken, "Mark E. Reed: Portrait of a Businessman in Politics," Journal of Forest History, Vol. 20, No. 1, January 1976; J. W. Gilbert, "Mark Reed Taken By Death," The Seattle Daily Times, September 5, 1933, pp. 1, 10; "High Tributes Paid Mark Reed," Ibid., pp. 10, 12; Marie Rowe Newberger, "Lifetime of Faith Exemplified by Mark Reed and His New Bank," Ibid., March 19, 1933, p. 9; "Mark E. Reed's Political Work is Outstanding," Ibid., May 8, 1932, p. 8; "Mark Reed's Son Slain By Logger; Motive is Mystery," Ibid., June 24, 1930, p. 1; "30 To Share in Mrs. Reed's Will," Ibid., May 9, 1940, p. 22; HistoryLink.Org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Mason County" (by David Wilma), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed September 10, 2011).

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