Lumber Grade-Marking History: 1928


1928 was a year that continued to break new ground in more ways than one. In February, a British inventor broadcast the first transatlantic television signal from London all the way to Hartsdale, New York. In March, Charles Lindberg made history in a different way, being awarded the Medal of Honor for his first trans-Atlantic flight – something that changed the face of human transportation as we knew it.

1928 also marked the year in which the Southern Pine Association continued to contribute assistance that was both substantial and vital, all in the name of the welfare of the entire lumber industry.

This marked the year when investigations of actual drying conditions at manufacturing plants across the country were undertaken, all conducted by the Forest Products Laboratory of the USFS. The work was exhaustive, careful and intelligent in equal measure – and the results of that work were enlightening, to say the least.

This was also the year during which a heavy wind storm swept the oil fields of Arkansas and northern Louisiana in May, creating a ripple effect that few could have predicted the full extent of playing out across the rest of the year.

We hope that this particular chapter in the life of the lumber industry will be as fascinating to read as it undoubtedly was to experience first hand. But remember – it’s just a single chapter in a book filled with many, each adding up to the very point where we now collectively stand.


The Southern Pine Association continued to contribute vital and substantial assistance to the welfare of the entire lumber industry. The prevalence, in southern pine consuming markets, of green or improperly seasoned lumber afforded opportunity for the encroachment of building material substitutes. Investigations of actual drying conditions at manufacturing plants were undertaken. Nineteen mills located throughout the southern pine producing area were selected as being typical, a trustworthy guide and a fair cross section of conditions. The Forest Products Laboratory of the USFS conducted the work – defined as exhaustive, careful and intelligent – for the purpose of ascertaining definite facts of moisture content to be recommended for practical inclusion in SPA grading rules as specifications. Grading rules had long been established. Specifications was a new term at this time introduced – it meant a definition of dry lumber, sufficiently explanatory, so that a buyer could order dry lumber – if not ordered dry, the specifications would not apply. Understood that air-dried lumber was not as dry as kiln-dried, and that buyers were accustomed to specifying which they wanted, the grading rules were modified to meet the new moisture content conclusions indicated by the USFS investigation for dry lumber specifications.

The eighth better construction and grade-marking campaign was organized and directed in the southern pine consuming area through retail lumber dealers – during April and May. The fifteen points of safe and permanent frame construction were emphasized. The use of grade-marked southern pine was made the basis of the campaign. Civic organizations, building groups, contractors, architects, engineers and others cooperated. These missionary activities were decidedly effective and increased the demand for grade-marked lumber.

A heavy wind storm swept the oil fields of Arkansas and northern Louisiana in May, and a large number of derricks were blown down – due to improper construction or faulty material. Lumber of proper manufacture that had been used in their building did not fail. Grade-marking was the assurance of proper lumber for oil derrick use and with the damaging effects of grade-substitution exposed by storm action, purchasing agents, engineers and the American Petroleum Institute again favored wood.

In May, also – because numerous complaints had been made against grade substitution in the anthracite coal mining fields of Pennsylvania, SPA investigated the situation and found that the right grades of southern pine were not locally available. A use involving some 40 to 50 million feet of mining timbers, annually, was important to southern pine. Group meetings of the purchasing agents of the various coal mining companies were held for discussion of their lumber buying problems – services of SPA were offered and their solution was sought. Grade-marked southern pine was emphasized as assurance of proper lumber manufacture and grading – and through grade-marking, southern pine was reestablished in this market which grade substitution had destroyed.

Association contact and educational activities continued in fourteen key cities throughout the southern pine consuming area. Grade-marking was a predominating note at all of the meetings. A better building and grade-marked lumber campaign was held at Indianapolis – on the occasion of the annual Indianapolis home show. The fifteen points of safe and permanent frame construction were emphasized. Newspaper publicity was wholeheartedly given the movement by Indianapolis publishers.

Government officials interested in grade-marking and forestry activities followed the program. Ray M. Hudson of the Bureau of Standards, Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., issued the following statement:

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to express my appreciation and approval of the splendid effort the Southern Pine Association is making in its lumber grade-marking program. This movement pioneered by the Southern Pine Association and endorsed by the Department of Commerce, is being recognized throughout the country as a most constructive step.

Longleaf southern pine was defined; and approved moisture content definitions on yard lumber for introduction in the American Lumber Standards, and the grading rules of the various regional associations, were accomplished.

The Ohio State Lumber Show featured wood construction and southern pine.

SPA’s Home Modernization Bureau was organized.

The fifteen points of construction and grade-marking campaign was conducted at Mobile, Alabama during the year.

Grade-marking was explained and sold at all points where direct benefit would result.

The entire middle west was contacted through architects, contractors and builders.

The SPA reaffirmed their stand on grade-marking. Successfully reestablishing southern pine markets through grade-marked lumber deliveries and the elimination of grade substitution in the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania, SPA went into the oil derrick situation in the mid-continent oil fields. The Mid-Continent Purchasing Agents Association in session at Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the 1928 International Petroleum Exposition declared:

…that the Mid-Continent Purchasing Agents Association now go on record as endorsing the grade-marking of lumber, and that, insofar as southern pine is concerned, the suppliers of southern pine be notified that on and after a date to be decided upon during a forthcoming November meeting, no southern pine lumber will be accepted unless it is grade-marked, according to Southern Pine Association specifications.

SPA recommendations revising the basis of American Lumber Standards on structural provisions as purchasing grades were accepted to eliminate confusion.

Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, U. S. Dep’t of Commerce, said:

The grade-marking of lumber is an excellent idea. It will tend not only toward a more economical distribution, but it is a big step toward better merchandising and will directly benefit the manufacturer, middleman, and consumer. It should be practical and beneficial for the domestic and export trade alike.

The National Committee on Wood Utilization, U. S. Dept of Commerce, commented:

The grade-marking of lumber may truly be termed the backbone of the lumber business. It will weed out unsound and unfair practices. It will give the producer a greater pride in his product, decrease distribution costs, and stabilize the market. It will simplify inspection and settlement of claims. Furthermore, the grade-marking of lumber will assure the consumer the quality, kind and dimensions which he specifies.

From a national point of view, grade-marking of lumber will have an important effect on reforestation. Grade-marks will permit a closer utilization of timber, thereby making the total product of the tree more valuable. This will hasten the day when reforestation will become commercially feasible. That grade-marking of lumber is in the interest of those who produce, distribute, or use lumber is evidenced by the endorsement of the idea by all the organizations representing those branches of industry.

Of particular importance are the views expressed by the United States War and Navy Departments, which rank among the largest users of lumber in this country.

The National Committee on Wood Utilization, representing producers, distributors, and consumers of wood products, therefore sponsoring the grade-marking movement as an important part of its program for closer wood utilization.

The United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Baltic States, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Germany, Poland, Japan and Australia already had adopted a grade-marking system for lumber but confined it almost exclusively to the export trade.

Individual company grade-marking of lumber steadily grew in importance in Northern Europe, although lacking in grade uniformity and without benefit of written grading rules. First, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth constituted the grade denominations and the only nomenclature. Each grade had a distinct and simple symbol made as visible and plain as possible. Spruce and pine being the only two woods exported, species designation was accomplished by color. Commercial directories were published in Europe – one in London called “Shipping Marks on Timber,” another in Stockholm termed “Handbook of Northern Wood Industries.” Grade-marks were not registered but were considered as business assets. Huber stamps and steel dyes, both ink conveying, were used to apply the grade-marks to both ends of lumber; the cost of application being from 6 to 15 cents per M depending on the circumstances. Grade-marked lumber stocks found no objections by the trade. Consumers ordered the same brand of lumber year after year. The trade desired certain brands which they were accustomed to handling resulting in grade-marked lumber being regarded as more of a refined product than just lumber. Passing the experimental stage in Europe over 60 years ago, the grade-marking of lumber was not theoretical, but a practical guarantee of the integrity of the producer, and that his lumber was as good as the quality symbol indicated or the producer would make it good.

The U. S. Department of Commerce made several investigations during prior years as to foreign grade-marking practices, and stated:

The Baltic pine flooring, which forms a big part of the sales, is white, light in weight, and full of knots, and would not be generally considered desirable for flooring purposes in the United States. It is popular because it can be laid with a minimum expenditure of time and labor. It has been poplarized too, through the consistent use of brands; the brands have been known to carpenters and builders for years, and they repeatedly order by brands alone.

What would be the cost to the producing mill to stencil the dimensions on each piece of timber shipped to Australia? So many were the queries from the yards as to why this was not done that one is led to believe that it would be a welcomed innovation. It would materially assist in tallying the timber and would benefit the distributor, who usually piles various sizes and lengths together. Much of the timber that comes from other countries bears not only the stenciled dimensions but a brand as well. While the tendency naturally is to cut costs in every direction, particularly when the price obtained for lumber is so low, it would appear desirable at least to consider the additional expense per thousand feet of marking on one end the size and length of the pieces shipped.

Scandinavian lumber is manufactured true to dimensions, and is thoroughly seasoned, assured stockpiled six to eight months and free from discoloration, almost as bright as the day it came from the saw. In guarantee of the grade the manufacturers brand each board of their production for export with letters or symbols, the established mark of the designated mill.

Brazilian lumbermen and agents point to Swedish pine as a worthy example of how lumber should be marketed in tropical countries.

Another instance was the rejection of an 800,000 foot cargo in which three intermediaries and four different mills were interested. The blame was placed entirely upon the mills for sending material that had deteriorated, but it could not be ascertained whether the intermediaries transmitted to the mills full and detailed instructions. That there was a chance, however, for a mistake or for poor business by the intermediaries is as natural an assumption as that all the manufacturers were at fault.

Don’t fail to consider the advantage of adopting the European system of branding all lumber for exportation to Brazil.

Branding should by all means be adopted by all manufacturers or organizations of manufacturers who intend to build up an honest and permanent export business. It is comparatively inexpensive and will probably do more than anything else to build up a reputation in the most desirable trade circles. Moreover, responsibility will be fixed for the products of each mill or association of mills and they can thus be protected from fraudulent misrepresentation by other concerns. Branding, by whatever symbol or mark, should represent at least the mill of origin, the grade, and the species, and preferably also the degree of manufacture.

With each piece of lumber branded to show not only the grade of the individual piece of lumber but the species, the degree of manufacture, and the mill that produced it, American lumber could be sold much more readily. It would also be advisable to have the grading rules translated and distributed in foreign countries that are or could be developed into good markets for American woods.

The McSweeney-McNary Forest Research Bill was before Congress.