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Inventory of the William B. Laughead Papers, 1897 - 1958

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Descriptive Summary

Abstract: William B. Laughead (1882-1958) was a logger, advertising manager for Red River Lumber Company, and amateur artist. Laughead's chief claim to fame is the fact that he was the author of several advertising pamphlets for the Red River Lumber Company, which served to introduce the legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan to a wide, popular audience.
The collection includes correspondence, articles, drawings, sketches, clippings, and printed materials, much of it relating to Paul Bunyan stories. Laughead incorporated his knowledge of the folk hero in an advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company's Westwood, California, mill from the 1910s to the 1940s. Also included are photographs of the manufacture of California white pine and sugar pine lumber by the Red River Lumber Company in California.
Title: William B. Laughead Papers, 1897 - 1958
Creator: Laughead, William B., 1882-1958
Repository: Forest History Society Library and Archives
Call Number: 3363
Language of Material: Material in English
Extent: 2.5 linear feet
(5 archival boxes)

Biographical and Historical Note

William B. Laughead

William B. Laughead (1882-1958) was a logger, advertising manager for Red River Lumber Company, and amateur artist. Laughead's chief claim to fame is the fact that he was the author of several advertising pamphlets for the Red River Lumber Company, which served to introduce the legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan to a wide, popular audience.

William B. Laughead was born in Xenia, Ohio in 1882. Never a serious student, Laughead left high school with his parents' permission at age seventeen. He signed on as a chore boy in the logging camps of northern Minnesota, where from 1900 to 1908 he worked as assistant to the cook, timber cruiser, surveyor, and construction engineer.

In 1908, he returned to city life and worked at a number of different jobs. Upon the commencement of World War I, Laughead began his career as a free-lance advertiser. He drew up numerous postcard-size pamphlets on a variety of subjects and showed them to prospective employers, attempting to interest them in his unique advertising strategy.

In 1914, Laughead was hired by his cousin, Archie Walker, to incorporate his knowledge of the legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan in an imaginative advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company's new Westwood, California mill. When Laughead's third Paul Bunyan advertising pamphlet proved to be a popular success in 1922, he was hired as the company's full-time Advertising Manager. He continued to work in that capacity until the company sold its Westwood mill facilities to Fruit Growers Supply Company shortly after the close of the second World War.

In his later years, Laughead served on the promotion committee of the Western Pine Association. During his lifetime, Laughead produced numerous oil paintings depicting forests and mill scenes that were awarded considerably high acclaim. He often submitted drawings and sketches of traditional logging scenes for publication in trade journals, such as The Timberman, in which a series of Laughead's drawings entitled "Old Timers Will Remember" was published throughout 1946. Laughead died on April 14, 1958.

For further information on Laughead and his literary depiction of the Paul Bunyan character, consult the Laughead Oral History Interview conducted by W.H. Hutchinson of the Forest History Society in September 1958. The typed transcript is filed in the FHS Oral History Collection.


Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan has become a legendary folk hero through literary art. It is believed that tales of the larger-than-life lumberman originated in forestry camps of the Great Lakes region of the United States, possibly as early as the eighteenth century. Apparently, men working in logging camps spoke of the legendary figure in a joking manner, making reference to the folk hero in order to embarrass and tease novice loggers. Lumberjacks carried the legend of Paul Bunyan westward as the lumber industry dispersed along the west coast in the 1880s and 1890s. Increased lumber production and a greater access to other forms of entertainment eventually served to render Paul Bunyan a vague memory in the minds of most lumbermen.

James MacGillivray assembled the first written collection of Paul Bunyan folk tales. It appeared as an unsigned story entitled "The Round River Drive" in the Illustrated Supplementary Section of the June 24, 1910 Detroit News Tribune. The legend of Paul Bunyan remained a relative obscurity, though, until four years later when an unknown poet set MacGillivray's "The Round River Drive" to verse in the April 25, 1914 issue of American Lumberman magazine. "The Round River Drive" -- in both prose and verse form -- however, served only to record the Paul Bunyan legend for its traditional audience; local newspapers and lumber trade journals were not successful mediums through which to contact a popular audience, and most within the lumber industry were not impressed by "silly" folk tales about an imaginary hero.

In 1914, Archie D. Walker, Secretary of the Red River Lumber Company, employed his cousin William B. Laughead, a former lumberjack turned free-lance advertising man, to develop an advertising campaign for the sale of lumber produced in his company's new Westwood, California mill. Most of his buyers at that time purchased soft white pine traditionally harvested on the east coast and were apprehensive about the quality of the wood grown in the west. Walker wanted an imaginative advertising campaign which would catch the interest of prospective buyers while reassuring them that west coast timber was indeed of good quality. Walker urged Laughead to incorporate the Paul Bunyan folk hero in the advertising campaign, hoping that the use of such an unusual gimmick would spur the company's sales.

Laughead developed a series of postcard-size pamphlets in which Paul Bunyan tales and cartoons of the character drawn by Laughead accompanied advertisements for the Red River Lumber Company's goods and services. A total of three advertising pamphlets for the company were sent to prospective buyers within the industry during the 1910s and 1920s. Introducing Mr. Paul Bunyan of Westwood, California was published in 1914, and Tales About Paul Bunyan, Volume II was printed just two years later. Few buyers, apparently, appreciated Walker and Laughead's unique advertising strategy, and most threw away the Red River Lumber Company advertisements. As a result, few first editions are currently extant; those that do remain are today rare collectors' items due to the immense popularity of Laughead's third pamphlet.

In 1922, the company published The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan, which was really a re-vamped version of Laughead's first work. Although intended for the same specialized audience of lumbermen, this booklet unexpectedly had a much far-reaching impact on society at large, for a lengthy review of the pamphlet appearing in the Kansas City Star served to introduce the legendary folk hero to the general public. The work was an instant success with the public, especially with children, who viewed Paul Bunyan as a national hero rather than just a folk character. The popularity of the work necessitated the reproduction of new editions for years to follow, culminating with the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of 1944. This third advertising pamphlet was occasionally given other titles in subsequent reproductions, one of the most common being Paul Bunyan and His Big Blue Ox.

The Red River Lumber Company capitalized on the increasing popularity of the Paul Bunyan folk legend by engaging Laughead as its full-time Advertising Manager. Laughead printed whole-page advertisements describing The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan that were periodically run in lumber journals, thus maintaining a high profile for the legendary folk hero. The company officially adopted Paul Bunyan's name for use in its business dealings and copyrighted Laughead's illustration of Paul Bunyan's head, using it as a trademark for its products.

Paul Bunyan's popularity as a larger-than-life national folk hero has encouraged numerous authors, poets, folklorists, and researchers to produce their own works which both study and salute this folklore phenomenon. William B. Laughead, however, was the first person to fully delineate the physical and emotional characteristics of those fictional characters usually associated with Paul Bunyan, thus making the folktales more interesting. Laughead is perhaps the one person most responsible for ensuring that a once little-known folk hero achieved a permanent status as an American national idol.

This information was garnered from Max Gartenberg's article "W.B. Laughead's Great Advertisement," which was published in the October-December 1950 volume of the Journal of American Folklore (pp. 444-449), and from a Forest History Society oral history interview with Laughead, which was conducted by W.H. Hutchinson on September 17-18, 1957.



Collection Overview

The collection includes correspondence, articles, drawings, sketches, clippings, and printed materials, much of it relating to Paul Bunyan stories. Laughead incorporated his knowledge of the folk hero in an advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company's Westwood, California, mill from the 1910s to the 1940s. Also included are photographs of the manufacture of California white pine and sugar pine lumber by the Red River Lumber Company in California.

Collection Arrangement

1. Correspondence, Articles, Drawings, Sketches, Photographs, Clippings, and Printed Materials, 1897-1958



Subject Headings

  • Advertising -- Lumber -- United States
  • Advertising executives -- United States
  • Bunyan, Paul (Legendary character)
  • California
  • Folklore -- United States
  • Laughead, William B., 1882-1958
  • Lumber trade -- United States
  • Lumber trade -- California -- History -- 20th century
  • Red River Lumber Company
  • Red River Lumber Company -- Advertising
  • Sugar pine
  • White pine

Related Material

Oral History: William B. Laughead

Detailed Description of the Collection

1. Correspondence, Articles, Drawings, Sketches, Photographs, Clippings, and Printed Materials, 1897-1958.

Box 1
Correspondence Files
   Folder 1.1-1.2
General I, 1897 and 1915-1954
Correspondence arranged alphabetically by author.
   Folder 1.3
General II, 1942-1958 and undated
Correspondence arranged chronologically.
   Folder 1.4
Red River Lumber Company, 1929-1955 and undated
   Folder 1.5
Artwork: Paintings and Drawings, 1944-1958 and undated
   Folder 1.6
Clara Nelson, 1944-1957 and undated
Correspondence regarding Nelson's historical biography of T.B. Walker.
   Folder 1.7
John M. Orr, 1921
Correspondence regarding Orr's history of Xenia, Ohio, and book on St. Mary's.
   Folder 1.8
Miscellaneous, 1925-1957 and undated
Box 2   Folder 2.1
Newspaper Clippings: Miscellaneous Dates and Subjects
Box 2   Folder 2.2-2.3
Photographs, circa 1910s-1920s
Includes photographs and postcards related to manufacturing, logging, and landscapes.
Box 2   Folder 2.4-2.5
Advertisements: Miscellaneous, 1915-1954 and undated
Box 2   Folder 2.6
Miscellaneous: "Annals of an Obscure Grandmother," 1938
Story about Lottie Reeve in envelope addressed to Amy Laughead.
Box 2   Folder 2.7
Miscellaneous: Pamphlets, undated
Box 2   Folder 2.8
Miscellaneous: Personal Records, Financial, 1921-1956 and undated
Box 2   Folder 2.9
Miscellaneous: Personal Records, Miscelleanous, 1942-1957 and undated
Box 3   Folder 3.1
Photographs, 1920s-1950s and undated
Includes photographs of the manufacture of California white pine and sugar pine lumber by the Red River Lumber Company in California
Box 3   Folder 3.2-3.4
Drawings and Sketches
Includes drawings, sketches, greeting cards, and company illustrations created by Laughead for Red River Lumber Company, chiefly related to Red River Lumber Company, California white pine and sugar pine lumber, Timberline Transfer, lumbermen, and other aspects of logging. Many of these sketches are Laughead's ideas to promote Red River Lumber Company products.
Box 4   Folder 4.1
Paul Bunyan Works: Bibliography, 1937-1944 and undated
Albright, Charles Albert. "Chronicle of Life and Works of Mr. Paul Bunyan."American Lumberman (June 17, 1916): 40-41.
Ames, Carleton C. "Paul Bunyan--Myth or Hoax?"Minnesota History 21 (March 1940): 55-58.
Brown, Charles E. Paul Bunyan Tales. Madison, Wisconsin: n.p., 1922.
Prepared for the use of students of the University of Wisconsin, 1922 summer session.
Ericksen, Mabel Natalie. The Ballad of Paul Bunyan and Other Verses. Bemidji, Minnesota: Sand Dune Sage, 1939.
Fishwick, Marshall W. "Paul Bunyan: The Folk Hero as Tycoon."The Yale Review 41 (Winter 1952): 264-274.
Gartenberg, Max. "W.B. Laughead's Great Advertisement."Journal of American Folklore (October-December 1950): 444-449.
Haney, Gladys J. "Paul Bunyan Twenty-Five Years After."Journal of American Folklore 55 (July-September 1942): 155-168.
Hoffman, Dan G. Book Review of Legends of Paul Bunyan, ed. By Harold W. Fenton. Southern Folklore Quarterly 13 (December 1949).
Hoffman, Dan G. "Folk Tales of Paul Bunyan: Themes, Structure, Style, Sources."Western Folklore 9 (October 1950): 302-320.
Hoffman, Daniel G. "Robert Frost's Paul Bunyan: A Frontier Hero in New England Exile."Midwest Folklore 1 (April 1951): 13-18.
Jones, E.R. Paul Bunyan: Preface, Prose, Etc. n.p.: E.R. Jones, 1930.
Jones, Edward Richard. Bunyan's Progress. A Volume of Verse on Paul Bunyan Up to Date. Madison, Wisconsin: E.R. Jones, 1929.
Langerock, Hubert. "The Wonderful Life and Deeds of Paul Bunyan."The Century Magazine 106 (May 1923): 23-33.
Pound, Louise. "Nebraska Strong Men."Southern Folklore Quarterly 7 (September 1943): 133-143.
Shepard, Eugene S. and Karretta Gunderson Shepard. Paul Bunyan: His Camp and Wife. Tomahawk, Wisconsin: The Osborne Press, 1929.
Shepherd, Esther. "The Tall Tale in American Literature."The Pacific Review 2 (December 1921): 402-414.
Stevens, James. "The Black Duck Dinner."The American Mercury 2 (June 1924): 161-169.
"The Man Who Invented Logging." Forestry Kaimin (n.d.): 65-72.
Box 4
Paul Bunyan Works: Miscellaneous
   Folder 4.2
Albright - Ericksen
   Folder 4.3
Fishwick - Haney
   Folder 4.4
Hoffman - Jones
   Folder 4.5
Langerock - Pound
   Folder 4.6
Shepard - Shepard
Box 5
Paul Bunyan Works: Miscellaneous
   Folder 5.1
Stevens - No Name
Box 5
Paul Bunyan Works
   Folder 5.2
Laughead I: Miscellaneous Editions
Includes materials related to Paul Bunyan and His Big Blue Ox.
   Folder 5.3-5.4
Laughead II: Miscellaneous
Includes chiefly advertising materials for the Red River Lumber Company.
   Folder 5.5
A. G. T. Moore Article: "Colonel I.M. Goodpine," 1948
Box 5
Paul Bunyan
   Folder 5.6
Newspaper Clippings, 1922-1984
   Folder 5.7
Tourist Attractions, undated
   Folder 5.8
Miscellaneous Materials, undated

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

No restrictions.

Copyright Notice

The nature of the Forest History Society's archival holdings means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. The Forest History Society claims only physical ownership of most archival materials.

The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], William B. Laughead Papers, Library and Archives, Forest History Society, Durham, NC, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Received from William B. Laughead in 1958.

Processing Information

Processed by Michele Justice, August 1991, and Amanda Ross, January 2009

Encoded by Amanda Ross, January 2009

Funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission supported the encoding of this finding aid. Support for digitization and outreach provided by the Alvin J. Huss Endowment.