This week, we thought that we would highlight a collection that can be helpful for those researching the lumber industry in the Upper Peninsula: the William Bonifas Lumber Company records.
William “Big Bill” Bonifas immigrated to the United States from Luxembourg. He was a lumberjack who managed to save enough money to start his own logging operation and to bring his seven brothers and sisters over from Luxembourg to help run his business. In 1910, he purchased several thousand acres of timberland north of Watersmeet, Michigan, and founded the company town of Bonifas. The town housed 200 people in twenty-five buildings, and the William Bonifas Lumber Company employed 350 people in several logging camps from approximately 1916 to 1932.
Bonifas became a millionaire when he partnered with the Kimberley-Clark Paper Company. He continued to be very involved with his company because, as he told a novelist who later based a ruthless lumber baron on him, he “just enjoy[ed] making money.” He was known for his aggressive and sometimes mildly unethical business practices.
Bonifas Company lumber camp, 1915. Photo Source
The collection contains four ledgers from the William Bonifas Lumber Company dating from 1910 to 1936. They provide information about lumber lands with land descriptions, jobbers, and various accounts. They do, however, take some time to decipher as the accountant had rather sloppy handwriting and a tendency to abbreviate.
The Archives also has several other collections related to the lumber and paper industries in the Upper Peninsula. These collections include the Bay de Noquet and Oconto Company records (which we have previously written about on this blog), the Marquette County Timber and Mining Reports, the Consolidated Fuel and Lumber Company records, and the United Paperworkers Union records.
Written by Annika Peterson
Karamanski, Theodore J. Deep Woods Frontier: A History of Logging in Northern Michigan. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989.