Lumber Grade Marking History: 1936


If you had to pick one word to describe the theme in the United States that permeated across 1936, that word would undoubtedly be “innovation.” Even though the country was still reeling from the devastating effects of the Great Depression, innovation was happening across the United States.

In January, the first building in the United States to be completely covered in a glass was finished in Toledo, Ohio, giving birth to a bold new era of architectural innovation. In February, the first superhero character to ever wear a skin-tight costume and mask made is an appearance in newspapers from coast to coast – The Phantom. The construction of the Hoover Dam was completed in March and the first passenger train that could travel between Chicago and Los Angeles – the Super Chief – was inaugurated in May.

The lumber industry continued to innovate in 1936, too. This was particularly evident by way of the quality lumber programs – and in particular, the associated trade policies – that were finally seeing wider acceptance from lumber specifiers and buyers. Those programs had been established a few years earlier by the Southern Pine Association, but they were finally beginning to take hold.

The Houston program of service for the specifiers and buyers of lumber to increase overall confidence was also incepted in March of 1936 – a move that had major ramifications over the remainder of the decade.

All told, the year was another fascinating point on the journey of an entire industry and we hope you will find it equal parts engaging and enlightening.


Quality lumber programs – trade extension policies, established in 1928 and 1929 by the Southern Pine Association, accomplished wider acceptance, on the part of lumber specifiers and buyers. Grade marked lumber offered needed protection against grade substitution and other malpractices. Service to the public and profit to the industry was found, not in project volume increases or more construction jobs, but in better construction work on current projects with better building materials. Characterized as opportunities and obligations – the Southern Pine Association’s better construction campaigns met the challenge and responsibility.

The Houston program of service for the specifiers and buyers of lumber to increase confidence in lumber had its inception in March 1936. Steel house construction and speculative lumber were being featured as proper building materials to the exclusion of quality and suitable lumber. The manufacturers shipping into Houston agreed to finance a local educational program on a fifty percent basis – the local retailers financing the other fifty percent.

Seasoned to specified moisture content, accurately manufactured as to size, and of the correct grade which with structural lumber included certain stress values, strength, durability, and other properties, constituted the responsibilities of grade marked lumber. Protection against any inefficiency of graders, or unscrupulous or willfully dishonest practices of producing mills, was vigorously attended by the Southern Pine Association, who in several instances of violation revoked the grade marking license agreement. Such warranted action contributed greatly to the preservation of the integrity of grade marking, protected the consuming public, improved building, and guaranteed that buyers and users of southern pine could secure the correct grade of lumber.

An Alabama mill’s subscription contract and grade marking license were canceled, effective April 30, 1936, following investigation and proof that manufactured lumber incorrectly graded was being sold, and that the manufacturer had permitted the use of SPA grade marking stamps by other mills, not SPA subscribers and licensees.

Lumber grade marking policies were again given detailed study at a grade committee meeting of the Southern Pine Association on July eighth. A differential was maintained between substandard and standard sizes – SPA branding to show sub-standard on such items. Conformance to moisture content limitations of the grading rules was emphasized. The grade marking movement was regarded as a basic part of trade promotion – the committee resolution:

…the increased demand for grade marked lumber necessitates the
constant enlargement of the supply of SPA marked lumber in all
markets; and,

…the widespread purchasing policy of the government departments,
requiring the delivery of grade marked lumber to government projects,
involves frequent purchases of small lots from local retailers; and,
…complaints from retailers are reaching the association that they are
unable to deliver grade marked lumber out of stock to the government
jobs, notwithstanding they buy lumber from subscribers to the
association who are authorized to grade mark;

…that subscribers be urged to follow the policy of grade marking every
foot of lumber shipped unless specifically instructed by the buyer to
eliminate it, so that retailers who realize the benefit of stocking
superior products may be provided with the merchandising advantages
of the official grade mark, and so that retailers may be facilitated
in the delivery of grade marked lumber to buyers requiring this protection.

Trade promotion worked for the elimination of grade substitution and to prevent the return of “jerry-building.” SPA authorized a campaign for better construction and the use of quality lumber including the employment of trained inspectors to assist consumers in getting the correct grades of lumber. Through the cooperation of local retail dealers with SPA in Houston and Dallas, campaigns to promote proper construction and quality lumber were conducted. These two cities served as laboratories for experiments in this type of work. Successfully demonstrated to be advantageous, a limited number of similar campaigns at strategic points in other parts of southern pine consuming territory were suggested by SPA officials. The following conclusions were expressed, officially:

1. In promoting the use of grade marked lumber by home-builders, it
is essential that the association work in cooperation with groups of
retail lumber dealers on local programs on behalf of quality lumber
and good construction.

2. Local dealer participation in such campaigns, financial and
otherwise, is necessary to secure results.

3. While in these initial campaigns the association participates with
the retail dealer group in financing local advertising cost, such
programs, if continued, must be on the basis either of the retailers
carrying on this local advertising themselves or of our subscribers
announcing that they will pay so much a thousand on every car of
lumber bought from them by these retailers, which will be held in
reserve by the Southern Pine Association, and when matched by the
dealers will be devoted to local advertising.

The consuming public generally regarded lumber as being all alike, except for differences in size, thickness, lengths, and appearance. They were unfamiliar with the grade, quality, physical characteristics, and mechanical properties. The Southern Pine Association understanding the situation and the evils that reacted to the disadvantage of consumers, specifiers, and users of southern pine lumber, extended the protection plan – April 1936 – which functioned against grade substitution and the use of unseasoned lumber in various classes of construction. Fearful that the then present more prosperous times would promote the return of “jerry-building,” flimsy unstable construction, and the use of incorrectly manufactured, graded and unseasoned lumber in house building, the protection plan supplied additional lumber inspectors and contact men to follow through on sales to the point that the grades and qualities of southern pine were in line with the order and use for the purpose intended. Previously beneficial to architects and contractors, during prior periods of the mushroom spread of “jerry-building,” the extension of protection service to residential building, in vulnerable communities, was timely.

Quality lumber programs were conducted by retail lumber dealer groups sponsored by the Southern Pine Association. Increasing numbers of lumber specifiers and buyers were seeking the protection afforded by grade marking. SPA concluded:

1. That large lumber buying groups, like the departments of the
Federal Government, will to an increasing extent continue to
require lumber bought to bear the Association grade mark, or be
accompanied by an Association certificate;

2. That retail lumber dealers are beginning to realize the competitive
problems which grow out of the sale of cheap lumber on a price
basis alone, and are turning to Association grade marked lumber as
a means of solving their own problems;

3. That with the creation of larger demand for grade marked lumber,
particularly for delivery out of retail stocks, it is imperative that all
grade marked material should not only represent a high standard of
manufacture and grading, but should be legibly marked, in order
that the dealer may be able to deliver a properly identified product
to his customers;

4. That the Association should do everything within its power to
improve the methods of grade marking used by its subscriber mills.

For appearance improvement, more legible and uniform stamping, SPA grade mark license
agreements for subscriber authority were to include:

1. It is agreed by the subscriber that all grade marking stamps, ink and
equipment used by him will be ordered from the Association, the
Association agreeing to furnish this material at cost unless the
subscriber first secures the specific consent of the Association to
order such material elsewhere, upon proof of equivalent efficiency.

2. It is agreed by the subscriber that if the Association should find that
legible marks on the end of each piece cannot be attained, because
of wood texture, trimming, or for any other reasons, the Association
will have the right through its inspector to require the subscriber to mark
the grades or items in question on the back or edge of each piece.

3. The subscriber further agrees that the Association has the right to
inspect and grade mark, at the destination, at the expense of the subscriber,
any lumber shipped on an order requiring the grade mark, upon complaint
by the buyer that the lumber is either unmarked or incorrectly marked.

To combat “jerry-building,” reduce and eliminate the use of improperly manufactured and unseasoned lumber “Quality Lumber” programs were introduced and accomplished in various
territories, by SPA. The “Lumber Dealers’ Cooperative Sales Promotion Plan” was created and furnished by SPA; and similarly, the “Questions Before the House.” Cooperative dealer campaigns were conducted at:

Dallas, Texas – second quality lumber campaign emphasizing lumber
grade marking; prospective builders were contacted by dealers with a
message on the importance of grade marked lumber; real estate
transactions, vacant property owners, and property buyers received
communications on grade marked lumber values.

Houston, Texas – second quality lumber campaign by dealers to
promote through publicity and advertising the use of quality lumber to

Columbus, Ohio – a grade marking campaign for quality lumber.
Meetings of the various branches of the construction industry; SPA,
through their representatives, contacted all architects, specifiers and
homeowners, urging the use of grade marked lumber.

Memphis, Tennessee – a quality lumber campaign by dealers; FHA
commendations and requests that dealers in other cities of Tennessee,
similarly, overcome the use of inferior lumber; some 350 members of
the construction industry met together, in the interest of quality lumber
and sound construction.

The Tennessee State Highway Department, through its Engineer of Materials and Tests, agreed to specify grade marked lumber on the better grades and to follow with the practice for all lumber purchases. The War Department included a requirement for CCC camp construction bids that lumber was to be officially grade marked or accompanied by a certificate of inspection.

The Procurement officers for WPA material of the following states in southern pine consuming territory required all lumber to be officially grade marked or accompanied by a certificate of inspection:

  • Missouri
  • Ohio
  • New York
  • Kansas
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Oklahoma
  • Michigan
  • Maryland
  • Arkansas
  • Pennsylvania
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Wisconsin
  • Massachusetts
  • Indiana
  • New Jersey
  • District of Columbia

The U.S. Engineers Office, Washington, D.C. specified grade marked lumber for the Tidal Basin and other construction projects.

SPA cooperation extended, through field men and inspectors, to Government agencies, embraced:

1. Preparation of specifications for lumber.
2. Lumber inspections for a grade.
3. Uncovering of fraudulent grade marks.
4. Handling of manufacturing carelessness.

The Resettlement Administration advised all their control engineers to accept only lumber SPA officially grade marked or certified.

The officials of seventeen retail dealer associations from southern pine consuming areas, representing nineteen of the states, were guests of the Southern Pine Association at the Twenty-second Annual Meeting in New Orleans. A portion of the meeting time was turned over to them for expressing their independent views, as dealers, to the manufacturers. They collectively declared:

…the Southern Pine Association has paid the retail branch of our
industry the compliment of inviting its counsel and participation in the
proceedings of the annual meeting, through its secretary-managers;

…this opportunity has afforded the retail associations here represented
an insight into the program of activities and objectives of the Southern
Pine Association such as would not have been otherwise possible; and,

…this invitation to participate also afforded the retail association
representatives an opportunity to discuss and coordinate the work of
their own associations;
…that we thank and commend the officers and directors of the
Southern Pine Association for their generous and farsighted gesture of
goodwill, and in expressing our gratitude as guests for the splendid
hospitality afforded, we also voice, on behalf of our respective and
collective memberships, the appreciation which we feel convinced will
be reflected by them in a wiser and more effective utilization of the
facilities of the Southern Pine Association program of activities.

Dealer attitude toward grade marked lumber was cooperative. Each of the seventeen officials presents expressed endorsement and approval of lumber grade marking and gave the assurance that their respective retail association groups were in accord with the practice. Public information and guidance for the acceptance of better lumber were thought conducive to elevating lumber standards in high-grade product markets. Those present were:

Hunter W. Gaines, Secretary, Michigan Retail Lumber Dealers Association, Lansing, Michigan.Ernest E. Woods, Secretary, Southwestern Lumbermen’s Association, Kansas City, Mo.J. T. Fain, Secretary, Tennessee Retail Lumber, Millwork & Supply Dealers Association, Nashville, Tenn.

Leo Klarer, Jr., Secretary, Kentucky Retail Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association, Louisville, Kentucky.

R. W. Slagle, Secretary, Retail Lumber Dealers Association of Indiana, Crown Point, Indiana.Findley Torrence, Secretary, Ohio Association of Retail Lumber Dealers, Xenia, Ohio.C. H. Herwig, Secretary, West Virginia Lumber & Builders Supply Dealers Association, Fairmont, West Virginia.

Joseph G. Rowell, Secretary, Alabama Lumber and Building Material Association, Birmingham, Alabama.

C. E. Flambeau, Secretary, Florida Lumber and Millwork Association, Orlando, Fla.

J. D. McCarthy, Secretary, Illinois Lumber and Material Dealers Association, Springfield, Ill. O. L. Thomas, Secretary, Louisiana Retail Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association, New Orleans, La.

L. M. Hawkins, Secretary, Arkansas Association of Lumber Dealers, Little Rock, Arkansas. W. M. Lockhart, Secretary, Mississippi Retail Lumber Dealers Association, Jackson, Miss. H. R. Hansen, Secretary, National Association of Commission Lumber Salesmen, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

R. F. McCrea, Secretary, Retail Lumber Dealers Association of Western Pennsylvania,
Pittsburgh, Pa.

C. A. Pickett, Secretary, Lumbermen’s Association of Texas, Houston, Texas.

G. E. DeNike, Secretary, New Jersey Lumbermen’s Association, Newark, New Jersey.

The Arkansas Association of Lumber Dealers passed the following resolution:

…the retail lumber dealers from time to time have laid certain charges
of unethical practices at the door of the lumber manufacturers; and,

…the dealers, themselves, from time to time have practiced certain
policies in their dealings with the manufacturers which are also unethical.

…that the Arkansas Association of Lumber Dealers go on record as
favoring a mutual agreement with the manufacturers whereby those
dealers who indulge in those unethical practices be censured by the
dealers themselves in the same manner as unethical manufacturers are

…that we commend the efforts of the Southern Pine Association and
pledge them our support in their program for our mutual benefit.

The National Association of Commission Lumber Salesmen passed the following resolution:

Association grade and trade-marked lumber represent a standard quality of merchandise, which is not susceptible to the ravishing fluctuation of lumber which does not carry association stamp or endorsement. It is, therefore, recommended that commission salesmen bend every effort to promote the increased sale and use of association grade and trade-marked lumber.

They brought the value of grade and trade-marked lumber to the attention of buyers and sales congresses of their sponsorship. They were boosters for quality lumber; and actively condemned the poorly manufactured, green, and wrongly graded stock, always available in active markets below current price levels.

California was first and the State of New Jersey second in FHA building and loan commitments. Construction in New Jersey was approximately eighty-seven percent house building under the FHA program. Local availability of grade marked lumber was resisted. The wholesaler was blamed. FHA minimum construction requirements of dwellings resulted – the only program of its kind in the U.S. and thought to be adopted, eventually, by the other forty-seven states. The manufacturers were asked to assist by not resisting – through increased price references.

The cost of grade marking was considered a part of the lumber production cost. Extra charge references were improper and unsanctioned. New Jersey with eighty-seven percent of building under FHA requested grade marked lumber, the quality product, for its homes. There was an unlimited number of producers, in the Southern Pine Association, who grade marked as a matter of routine – others, who grade marked when requested only, and charged for the service. This gave rise to the misinterpretation that grade marked lumber cost more than ungrade marked lumber; and the misinterpretation was capitalized on by some wholesalers and manufacturers, who declared that grade marked lumber did cost a dollar per M more. The fact was that the Southern Pine Association had provided a means by which lumber manufactured by non-subscribers to the Southern Pine Association could grade mark under official circumstances. A charge of one dollar per M was considered fair and equitable for non-association mills to pay for the facilities placed at their disposal. A buyer of lumber from a non-association mill would necessarily have to pay a dollar per M more for grade marked lumber than from a SPA mill who practiced grade marking under regular inspection. The effect was that non-association mill lumber was worth a dollar less because of the limited attention that had been given to comply with grade specifications, and the lack of responsibility in the absence of a symbol of guarantee. The certification by an official inspector was worth a dollar, and cost a dollar per M. Certification by anybody who does the work carefully and authoritatively would cost a dollar per M. The one dollar per M was an element of cost whether paid an inspector for certifying that the lumber was of grade, or expended in mill practice to school graders inefficient application of the grading rules – the equivalent of certification. Of course, misconstruction placed on the grade marking program by “horse-trading” buyers and sellers could falsify the situation for the uninformed.