Biography of Archibald B. Kirkwood

Archibald B. Kirkwood. In the death of Archibald B. Kirkwood on May 16, 1916, the City of Pittsburg and southeastern Kansas lost a very prominent business man and citizen. He was one of the pioneers in the development of the coal resources of this section of the state. At one time be was general manager of the Wear Coal Company and president of the Standard Mercantile Company of Pittsburg. Of later years his interests were rather widely diffused and long before his death he had acquired a generous competence which would have enabled him to take life easily and leisurely.

In many ways he had a remarkable career. He entered the coal industry at the age of thirteen. He worked in the mines and about them in practically every capacity. He was a master of the business before he reached his majority, and not only had a thorough grasp of every detail of coal mining but was also a master in the handling of men and large material resources.

He was born at Lonaconing, Allegany County, Maryland, August 20, 1859, and was still comparatively young when death overtook him. His parents were John and Bachel (Gibb) Kirkwood. His father was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and the mother was also a native of that country. As a young man John Kirkwood came to the United States, locating in Maryland. He had learned coal mining in Scotland, and had come to America to find a larger field. About 1862 he brought his family to Fairbury, Livingston County, Illinois, and there he opened and operated the second coal mine in that district. He conducted it under the name of the Central Coal Company. After many years as one of the leading operators in that part of Illinois, he came toward the close of the ’80s to the coal fields of Kansas, and served as superintendent of the Osage Coal Company at Scranton for some time, and in 1893 moved to Pittsburg, where his son Archibald had previously located. He died in Pittaburg.

The early life of Archibald B. Kirkwood was spent chiefly in Fairbury, Illinois, where he gained a limited education in the local schools. At the age of thirteen he was given his first occupation in a coal mine, keeping a trap door. Later he drove mules to the coal cars, and from that graduated into a practical coal miner. He went through the various positions from pit boss, mine foreman, superintendent, up to general manager. There was nothing about a mine in its construction or operation which he did not understand, and he was not only a mining engineer but also had a practical knowledge of general engineering. This was evidenced by the fact that in 1880 he became a subcontractor in the construction of the Big Horn tunnel of the Northern Pacific Bailroad in Custer County, Montana. That work kept him engaged for about nine months.

Following this bit of experience in the northwest, Mr. Kirkwood came to Kansas, and located at Carbondale in Osage County. The coal mining industry was just beginning to attract attention in that section. He became mine foreman for the Kansas Carbon Coal Company, which was the coal department of the old Kansas Pacific Railroad. He next moved to Scranton in the same county and was made foreman for the Osage Mining Company, the coal department of the Santa Fe Railroad. It was during his early years in Kansas that Mr. Kirkwood met Mr. Frank E. Wear, and their acquaintance was subsequently developed into a business partnership. Mr. Kirkwood remained at Scranton until 1888, and then associated with Mr. Wear went to Liberal, Missouri, where they leased and operated a mine. Three years later they opened up the No. 1 mine, known as the Sunshine, at Minden, Missouri.

In the meantime in 1890 the Wear Coal Company had been organized, and in 1891 Mr. Kirkwood became superintendent of its mines at Pittsburg. In 1900 he was elected general manager of all the mines controlled by the Wear Coal Company including nine mines in the Pittsburg district, besides others at Collinsville, Oolagah and Poteau in Indian Territory and also mines in Arkansas and Missouri. 1,100 men were employed by the Wear Company in the Pittsburg district alone. Mr. Kirkwood was one of the large stockholders as well as general manager of the Wear Coal Company for many years.

He was also president of the Standard Mercantile Company of Pittsburg, which operated what was them said to be the largest department store in Kansas. After retiring from the coal business Mr. Kirkwood gave up serious work of all kinds for nine months and spent the time traveling through Europe. After his return he devoted himself chiefly to real estate and merchandising. He erected the Kirkwood Building at Seventh and Broadway in Pittsburg. This structure was destroyed by fire in 1911, but he at once rebuilt it and made it one of the largest and handsomest business structures in Pittsburg. He was also president of the Kirkwood-Hammett Hardwood Company, whose store was in the old Kirkwood Building and its stock was destroyed by the same fire that burned the building. Mr. Kirkwood was a promoter of the Syndicate Building at Seventh and Broadway.

He was always prominent in local affairs, and served as mayor of Pittsburg in 1907. He was a man who in later years seldom betrayed the hard experiences of his early youth when he was a humble laborer in one of the most hazardous occupations that engage men. He was a man of very affable manner, was genial and a good companion, and was extremely generous and sympathetic especially with those who saw only the unfortunate side of life. He was affiliated with the lodge, chapter, council and commandery of the Masonic order at Pittshurg and with Ararat Temple of the Mystic Shrine at Kansas City. He also belonged to the Elks, the United Commercial Travelers, the Improved Order of Red Men and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

At Windsor, Illinois, March 30, 1880, Mr. Kirkwood married Miss Ida M. Bowman. Mrs. Kirkwood survives her honored husband and makes her home in the Kirkwood Building. To their marriage were born three children. Ray N. is now the wife of Dr. Robert B. Gibb, a prominent surgeon of Pittsburg. Edna married D. M. Hammett and they live in Shreveport, Louisiana. Roy was at the time of his father’s death a sailor in the British marine.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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