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(This page published May 1, 2021)
“A bunch of malarkey”
That age old phrase has new meaning to me today after learning about the life of James A. Malarkey.
Who was this man that owned such an auspicious fountain pen befitting the likes of John D. Rockefeller, J. Paul Getty, and Henry Ford? The pen which is known as a Sheaffer Honor Masterpiece sold for $150 in 1942. A worldly sum considering we were still recovering from The Great Depression and in the beginnings of World War II. That $150, in January 1942, was equivalent to $2,499.19 in January 2021.
James Alfred Malarkey was born to Charles A. and Catherine Agnes O’Neil Malarkey on 11 June 1872 in New York City. About a year later, they moved to Portland where two brothers of Charles lived. James’s father became a commission merchant and participated in a number of business ventures including Columbia River Paper Company. James was educated in Catholic schools, becoming especially proficient in mathematics. He began working part time for his father when only eleven years old. His interest in business gradually overcame his interest in school, until, at age fifteen, he became a full-time clerk at Cleveland Oil and Paint Company, which his father owned.
James married Fannie Emma (Kitty) Holman, a member of a prominent Portland family. He moved to Astoria with his young family, and there he owned and operated a sash and door mill until it was destroyed by fire. He returned to Portland and acquired an interest in Acme Planing Mill. During the nationwide financial panic of 1907, he also became a department manager at Central Door and Lumber Company of Portland, remaining there for eleven years. In 1918, James Malarkey was forty-six years old. His elder son, Huntington, was in the army. At home still were son Herbert and daughters Mary and Helen. In that year of generally unfavorably business conditions James Malarkey took a decisive step. He purchased a local millwork company for a small cash investment plus assumption of debts owed to a bank. He renamed it M & M Woodworking Company.
The infant M & M mill was powered by an old Corliss steam engine. The product line, which Malarkey of necessity continued for a time, was components for Portland shipyards: spruce deck plugs, locust belaying pins, wooden pullies and mast hoops (oak rings to which rigging was attached). After World War I shipbuilding in Portland declined, Malarkey began searching for new products to manufacture. Electric irons were just coming into high use, and an ingeniously simple, folding, wooden ironing board had been invented. On contract, M & M began manufacturing the patent ironing boards, becoming almost overnight one of the largest producers in the country. As the 1920s, advanced Americans began to take to the automobile. Automobiles, the bodies of which were wood-framed, were far more vulnerable to weather than now (waterproof plywood had not been invented, and needed garages. Houses until then did not have garages, and as fast as automobiles were built, garages were built. Garages needed doors, and James Malarkey stepped up to fill the need. Garage doors led to the manufacturer of house doors, and by the end of the twenties, Malarkey was among the major producers in the Pacific Northwest.
This is where things become interesting.
Door manufacture led to plywood, which was beginning to supplant solid-wood panels in doors. In order to control its plywood supply M & M built in 1920-30 a plywood mill in Longview, Washington. In the 1930s, M & M acquired National Tank and Pipe Company in North Portland, a manufacturer of wood irrigation flumes and water storage tanks They acquired a defunct Portland manufacturer of plywood, rebuilding it as the Plywood Division of M & M. They also remodeled the Longview plywood plant and built a third plywood plant at Albany, Oregon. There they installed a giant, electronic, high-frequency hot press that “welded” wood veneers together and was capable of producing panels nine inches thick. The Albany mill increased total M & M plywood production to almost seventy million board feet, at that time more than ten percent of the total production of the fir plywood industry. Then, to free M & M of the vexations of the fluctuating costs and supply of plywood adhesives, a glue division was formed. Chemists and production people were hired and M & M became virtually independent of outside sources.
On August 22,1938, James applied for a patent on Plywood Tiling and was awarded U.S. Patent No 2,235,230 on March 18, 1941.
World War II was a proving ground for plywood. The product was declared an essential war material... The industry’s war-time mills–by this time numbering about 30–produced between 1.2 and 1.8 billion square feet annually. Plywood barracks sprang up everywhere. The Navy patrolled the Pacific in plywood PT boats. The Army Air Corps flew reconnaissance missions in plywood gliders.(The U.S. Army Air Corps officially became the U.S. Army Air Forces on 20 June 1941. Common parlance of the time, even during the war, referred to the organization as the Army Air Corps, but a modern reference document should name it properly as the Army Air Forces.) And the Army crossed the Rhine River in plywood assault boats. There were thousands of war accessories made of plywood–from crating for machinery parts, to huts for the famed Seabees in the South Pacific, to lifeboats on hundreds of ships that kept supply lines open in the Atlantic and Pacific.
The United States entry into World War II found M & M with modern and highly efficient plants able to supply the war effort with plywood for PT torpedo boards, crash boats, aircraft rescue boats, assault boats, minesweepers, landing barges, export freight cars, airplanes and pontoon bridges and treadways. Toward the end of the war M & M, which had always bought all logs on the open market, began to invest in standing timber. During the next decade, M & M acquired timber reserves totaling one billion feet in Oregon and two billion feet in the redwood country of Northern California. M & M continued to expand, acquiring a green veneer mill at Idanha, Oregon; a new plywood mill in Eureka, California; a half- interest in a Springfield, Oregon lumber mill to supply rough stock for the tank, pipe and door divisions; and a new plywood plant at Lyons, Oregon to replace the old Longview plant.
In 1948 M & M Woodworking went public, but with the Malarkey family retaining controlling interest. Two days after final confirmation of the underwriting James Malarkey died aged seventy-six. Seven years later M & M was sold for more than fifty million dollars. James Malarkey, starting with belaying pins and ironing boards, had built a company comprising twelve operating divisions at nine locations in Oregon and California, and with sales offices in six states servicing five thousand dealers across the nation.
While there is no documentation with regard to the Sheaffer Honor Masterpiece pen set bearing James A. Malarkey’s name, it is my belief that the pen was purchased by his son Herbert and was presented to his father on behalf of the company. While James did not fight in the war, the contributions made by him and his company played a great roll in the United States victory against both Germany and Japan.
So what does a bunch of malarkey mean to me now?
I will forever think of a shipment of plywood, destined for a factory to produce valuable items for our boys over there.
As an added note to the significance of this historic family, James’ first cousin twice removed was Donald Malarkey. Don was a noncommissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army during World War II. His service was immortalized in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. Two of Don’s uncles, Gerald Malarkey and Robert Malarkey, served in World War I. Gerald was killed in action in France on August 11, 1918, by shrapnel from a German shell, and Robert died in 1926 due to complications resulting from a mustard gas attack.
One of Many Plants
This is the C. W. Guerrier Lumber Company mill that was later purchased by M & M Woodworking and renamed Springfield Lumber Mills, Inc.
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