Kurth, Ernest Lynn (1885–1960)

By: Robert S. Maxwell

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: November 13, 2019

Ernest Kurth, East Texas lumberman, was the second of five sons of Hattie Martin Glenn and Joseph Hubert Kurth, Sr. He was born at Kurth Station in Polk County on July 25, 1885, and attended local schools and Southwestern University, from which he graduated in 1905. He then joined the family business, the Angelina County Lumber Company. Working in various capacities to learn all phases of the business, he served as clerk, bookkeeper, sales manager, and then as general manager of the corporation. Upon his father's death on 1930 he advanced to vice president and took over the direction of the company when Eli Wiener retired in 1936. He married Isla Kinsolving of Corsicana, and the couple had two children. Kurth took a well-established but modest company and expanded it into a great complex of enterprises. He acquired additional timberlands in neighboring counties and constructed new mills at choice locations in East Texas and Louisiana. He supported the Texas Forestry Association and favored the establishment of the Texas State Department of Forestry (now the Texas Forest Service). Under his direction the company experimented with direct seeding to reforest its cut-over lands in 1925, scattering some 100 pounds of longleaf pine seed. In 1929 Kurth served as president of the Texas Forestry Association, and he was president of the Southern Pine Association from 1935 to 1937. During the New Deal Kurth joined National Recovery Administration efforts to promote business recovery and conservation. He served on the lumber-code authority for the southern pine industry and tried, without success, to bring some order out of the chaos in the lumber industry. Like most southern lumber entrepreneurs, he welcomed the demise of the NRA and the lumber codes in 1935. While many companies closed their mills during the Great Depression, Kurth took the lead in planning for the future; the company continued operations, and Kurth followed state forest-service recommendations to develop selective cutting and sustained-yield programs. In 1937 the company employed Paul Hursey, the first graduate industrial forester in the state of Texas, as company forester.

Kurth's greatest business venture was his decision to manufacture quality newsprint from southern yellow pine, a process that had never been attempted commercially. He brought together fellow lumbermen, publishers, and other paper users to organize the Southland Paper Company, the first factory to use the laboratory process developed by Georgia chemist Charles H. Herty. The newsprint mill, located near Lufkin, began operation in 1940 and soon grew into a multimillion-dollar corporation. The original mill expanded and additional paper mills sprang up in Texas and other parts of the South. Eventually as much southern pine timber went into wood pulp for paper products as into saw logs. As a result of the success of the "Herty gamble" the press hailed Kurth as a leading industrial statesman, and many organizations heaped honors upon him. One governor addressed him as "Mr. East Texas." Kurth was an aggressive business leader who dominated the southern lumber industry during the decades before and after World War II. Like his father, he was active in a variety of civic affairs and philanthropies. He served as Southwestern University trustee, president of local and regional chambers of commerce, Texas Planning Board member, and Lufkin hospital and radiation center founder; he was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by the Mexican government. He died on October 26, 1960, and was buried in Lufkin. His son, Ernest L. Kurth, Jr., then served as president of Angelina County Lumber Company until 1966, when Owens-Illinois Corporation bought the company and its supporting land and timber base.

Angelina County Historical Survey Committee, Land of the Little Angel: A History of Angelina County, Texas, ed. Bob Bowman (Lufkin, Texas, 1976). Robert S. Maxwell and Robert D. Baker, Sawdust Empire: The Texas Lumber Industry, 1830–1940 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1983). Texas Forestry, May-June 1964, April 1974. Frank X. Tolbert, "Paper Prophet," Collier's, April 28, 1951. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert S. Maxwell, “Kurth, Ernest Lynn,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kurth-ernest-lynn.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 13, 2019