Biography of John P. Vollmer

One of the ablest and best known businessmen of Idaho is John P. Vollmer, of Lewiston. In past ages the history of a country was the record of wars and conquests; today it is the record of commercial activity, and those whose names are foremost in its annals are the leaders in business circles. The conquests now made are those of mind over matter, not of man over man, and the victor is he who can successfully establish, control and operate extensive commercial interests. John P. Vollmer is one of the strong and influential men whose lives have become an essential part in the history of Lewiston and the state. Tireless energy, keen perception, honesty of purpose, genius for devising and executing the right thing at the right time, joined to every-day common sense, and guided by great will power, are the chief characteristics of the man. Connected with various trade interests, the place that he occupies in business circles is in the front rank.

Mr. Vollmer was born in Germany, January 25, 1847, his parents being Otto P. and Elizabeth (Fix) Vollmer, also natives of the same country. The father was a chemist, and he came to the United States in 1840. He became a naturalized citizen of this country, and in January 1843, returned to Germany and was married. In 1851 he brought his family to the New World, locating in Louisville, Kentucky, where he engaged in the distilling business, meeting with excellent success. He did a large business, having two distilleries in that state and two in Indiana. Mr. and Mrs. Vollmer spent their last years in the Hoosier state, becoming residents of Indianapolis in 1855. There the father died in the fifty-eighth year of his age, and the mother passed away in 1863. They were Lutherans in their religious faith, and they reared a family of five children, three of whom are yet living.

John P. Vollmer, the eldest of the family, was educated in the Northwestern Christian University, after which he acquired a practical knowledge of business as chief clerk in Merrill & Company’s large book concern, with which he was connected for several years. In 1868 he came west under engagement, and, locating at Walla Walla, had charge of a refinery. His enterprise, perseverance and untiring labor brought him success as the years passed. In 1870 he came to Lewiston and embarked in the wholesale liquor and grocery business, which he conducted with marked success for three years, but becoming convinced that temperance principles were correct, he abandoned the liquor business, and opened a general mercantile establishment in connection with W. Scott. He has since prospered greatly in his undertakings, and his honor-able business methods and enterprise have made the firm of J. P. Vollmer & Company one of the most prominent in the northwest. They now have five large stores, located at Lewiston, Genesee, Grangeville, Uniontown, and Asotin. The annual business transacted in these stores is now figured by the millions.

In 1883 Mr. Vollmer became the organizer of the First National Bank of Lewiston, the first national bank established in the northern part of the state. He was elected its president and still retains that connection with the institution, which is now enjoying an almost phenomenal success and is regarded as the most reliable financial concern in the state. Business was be-gun on a capital of fifty thousand dollars, and now there is a surplus of that amount, with nine-ty-two thousand dollars undivided profits and a reserve fund of forty-five thousand dollars. In its dividends it has returned the capital to the stockholders and thirty per cent additional, and it stands thirty-fourth on the roll of honor of the thirty-three hundred national banks of the United States, a splendid showing, and one which reflects credit upon the managers of the bank! Mr. Vollmer was also one of the organizers and is half-owner of the bank at Grangeville, which has a rating of one million dollars. He has also been largely interested in farming, and has one hundred and ninety farms, with two hundred and forty-eight miles of fencing. He was also prominent in the organization of the Sweetwater Irrigating & Power Company, which was organized in 1890, and now has seven miles of ditching and will add ten miles of steel pipe line. This ditch has a large amount of power besides affording irrigation for several thousand acres of rich land, and is of immense value to the section which it traverses. From 1877 to 1885 he was agent for the Oregon Steam Navigation Company and its successor, the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company, while later he was made state agent for the Northern Pacific Railway Company and its allied lines, for the state of Idaho, which position he still holds. Mr. Vollmer also takes a just pride in the thought that he was the first to introduce the use of the telephone on the Pacific coast, also the first telegraph line in northern Idaho.

Such in brief is the history of a remarkably prosperous business career. The multiplicity of Mr. Vollmer’s business ventures and their uniform success well indicate his superior business and executive ability, which has enabled him to rise to an eminent position in commercial circles.

In his early life Mr. Vollmer affiliated with the Democracy, but, being a believer in a protective tariff, he is now a Republican. He has never consented to accept office, his time being fully occupied with his business interests, which have also prevented him from being an active worker in the Masonic order, although he belongs to this ancient and benevolent fraternity and has attained the fourteenth degree in the Scottish Rite.

On the 27th of September, 1870, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. Vollmer and Miss Sallie E. Barber, a native of Kentucky, and a daughter of M. A. Barber and granddaughter of Judge Duval, of that state. Their union has been blessed with seven children, five of whom are living, namely: Ralston, who has charge of the bank and store at Genesee; Bessie, who had the honor of being selected “Queen of Idaho” at the state fair held in 1897, at Boise: Genevieve, who is attending school: and Norman and Norma twins, at home. They are a family of much refinement, and their delightful home in Lewiston is the center of a cultured society cir-cle, while the members of the household are held in the highest esteem by their many friends.



Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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