Lumber Grade-Marking History: 1916


1916 was a year that gave us a great many things for the first time, many of which our lives literally depend on today. On New Year’s Day, the British Royal Army Medical Corps carried out not only the first successful blood transfusion in history, but they did so using blood that had already been stored and cooled. World War I still raged across the globe, with significant battles taking place in France, East Africa and in other places. In Munich, a little automobile company called BMW was first founded – which would go on to become one of the most successful automotive brands of the 20th century in due time.

1916 was also another banner year for the lumber industry that we all know and love, as it was the year when the branding of lumber was finally officially accepted by subscribers to the Southern Pine Association. In this section, you will learn about how the desire to trademark lumber had been latent in the industry for some time – and how all of that changed in a big, big way. You will learn about the critical support that the National Association of Retail Lumber Dealers provided during this critical junction.

You will also be able to read, in detail, the statement that the Southern Pine Association made outlining their collective desire to support and empower the lumber branding movement. We hope that it continues to paint a clear and necessary picture of how quickly things began to move during these important years.


The branding of lumber was officially accepted by the Southern Pine Association subscribers for application to lumber produced by them contingent on arrangements for the use of a practical branding machine that would accomplish the work on a satisfactory cost basis. The desire to trademark lumber had, for some time been latent in the industry. It had to start in order to begin, and with some one mill, but each unit or group waited for the other to initiate the movement, collectively and otherwise – or proceeded on their own without advising their competitors. It was wanted by all- none outwardly opposed the idea, although there were two apparent controversial sides; one, comprising those manufacturers who intended to sell lumber meriting the brand, and the other those who intended to sell lumber of some class or other for the equivalent grade but not meriting the brand. The latter group, of course, expected to profit at the expense of the former.

The National Association of Retail Lumber Dealers, representing the yard dealers of various cities in the United States, supported the Southern Pine Association adoption of branding lumber, by a resolution reading:

“To the end that the Public may be protected from the mixing of grades of lumber, we hereby heartily endorse the efforts now being made by certain of the associations of lumber manufacturers to devise ways and means by which the product of their members may be branded with trademarks representing their respective associations, with the number or name of the mill which manufactures the lumber, and if possible with the name of the grade of each piece, thereby absolutely assuring within a reasonable variation the integrity of the grade as well as making possible the identification of the lumber, with the consequent protection of the retail dealer and the ultimate consumer of the stock.”

Subscribers to the Southern Pine Association evidenced their collective desire for the lumber branding movement by passing the resolution.

“Resolved that we, subscribers to the Southern Pine Association, assembled in second annual meeting, hereby record ourselves as in favor of the branding of lumber produced by us whenever arrangements can be made by the directors for the use of a practical branding machine upon a basis of cost which will be satisfactory to us.”

A circle with a dot in the center, design patented, in connection with the letters SPA, and the number assigned to the mill placed between the grade letters and the numerals, was the trade mark form.

A report on the subject of lumber branding, under consideration for some time, and submitted to SPA subscribers, was indicative of the current interest. This report reads:

“This Committee has been working on the branding matter for over a year now and has gone into the subject very thoroughly.

“As stated pm several previous occasions, we feel that branding would be a very great asset to the Lumber Manufacturers and to the Yellow Pine Association.

“Briefly stated, our reasons for such a belief are as follows:

Perfect identification of lumber.

1. A guarantee of grades on account of the Association’s Inspection service.

2. It is a splendid medium of advertising for the Association and the Association mills.

3. It should increase the membership and strengthen the Association.

4. Several retail dealer’s associations and societies of architects have expressed the hope that Association mills would brand their lumber.

5. It should put Association mills with their standard grades above the competition of small short-lived operators who hardly grade their lumber at all.”

Actual branding of lumber was delayed until use of a machine with which to automatically trade mark the ends of lumber was secured. Machines thought suitable for the purpose were on the market – two units of one of these, the McDonough Branding Machine, were obtained for experimentation and placed, one at Lake Charles, Louisiana, and another Laurel, Mississippi. The machine at Lake Charles did not work satisfactorily because of handling, so called refinements, or adjustments; the one at Laurel did work satisfactorily. All objections could probably have been overcome, with attention and study for adaptability, but the branding subject as an SPA activity was officially suspended, by subscriber action, and nothing further, for the time being, was done in the way of collective effort. Individual mills however proceeded on their own to brand – i.e. those who had timber producing a product permitting use of a brand, those who did not, neither branded timbers nor lumber. Self-preservation of mill and company identity promoted the desire for individual brands. The supporters of branding did not want to wholly submerge themselves in a collective effort to brand because they thought they would lose opportunities for competitive advantage that might be developed. It was made to appear, however, that the temporary delay in SPA adoption of lumber branding was to await the results of the Cypress Association action who was also working to adapt the McDonough Branding Machine to quantity use. Timbers of course, could be branded by hand hammer.

Study and investigation as the basis for the preparation of uniform grade marks for use of all subscribers were in progress. A system of grade marks and uniform nomenclature which all mills could use, instead of a different set for each mill, were developed. A grader from one mill could then read the markings of another mill grader. The elements of secrecy, confusion and misunderstanding between graders and inspectors decreased. The use of an individual mill mark on lumber grades was not considered objectionable; but, since uniformity among all mills in the matter of size and grades was being established, there should of course, be simplicity and uniformity in the marking systems and nomenclature employed by the mill graders as well.

The trademarking of lumber was recognized as an advantage in merchandising. Subscribers were requested to brand their mill products and be in line with other nationally advertised manufacturers and products. Inspection service was extended, in an educational sense, to retailers for the purpose of acquainting them with southern yellow pine and its merits. Non-subscriber mills were observed as profiting by the establishment of uniform grades and other efforts of the Southern Pine Association in defending and promoting the welfare of the industry. Investigation of the lumber industry by the Federal Trade Commission concluded that uniform cost accounting was necessary before recommendations for special concessions could be made. They advised lumbermen to cooperate for their mutual advantage and protection.

The Webb Bill, approved by the Federal Trade Commission, the Forest Service, and the Department of Commerce, permitting organized effort for the promotion of export trade was presented to Congress. Expansion of southern pine markets in foreign trade was predicted.


Association Achievements. Official Report of the Second Annual Meeting of the Subscribers to the Southern Pine Association, Grunewald Hotel, New Orleans, La., February 6 and 7, 1917.

Branding Committee. File. 1916. 

Branding Matters. File. 1916. The Grade-Marking of Southern Pine. Pamphlet. December, 1927.