William Thomas Bailey

William T. Bailey. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

William Thomas Bailey was one of the makers of history in northern Minnesota due to his prominent associations with the great lumber industry centering at Duluth. The business which he founded and of which he was president many years, the W. T. Bailey Lumber Company, is still in existence, and for many years comprised great holdings of timber land and a complete organization of mills and all other facilities for production from the stump to the final market.

The late Mr. Bailey was of English ancestry, and the family in England spelled the name Bayley. His parents were James Joseph and Catherine C. Bailey, the former a native of England and the latter of Canada. James Joseph Bailey came when a young man to Canada, and located at Baylysboro in Ontario, where his son, William Thomas, was born September 22, 1842. After the discovery of gold in California James J. Bailey started for the Pacific Coast, and probably met a violent death, since he was never heard from again. At the age of ten William Thomas Bailey was an orphan. He had to support himself by his own industry and resourcefulness, but in spite of early limited advantages in school he kept his mental horizon broadening with successive years through reading and intimate contact with men and affairs. He eventually took up railroad work, and for a number of years was purchasing agent for the Northwestern Railroad with headquarters in Chicago.

In 1880 he came to Duluth, but it was his resourcefulness as an organizer, as an executive and a shrewd business man that enabled him to achieve prominence in the lumber industry rather than the possession of extensive capital. His operations grew and prospered from a modest scale until the William T. Bailey Company became one of the largest operating in northern Minnesota. While the headquarters of the company were at Duluth, its mills and logging operations were carried on over a large scope of country. Some of the most extensive mills and manufacturing operations of the business have long been maintained at Virginia, where Richard Roberts Bailey, son of W. T. Bailey, has had his business headquarters since 1896.

William Thomas Bailey at the age of seventy-two, and with many mature achievements to his credit, died on March 31, 1914. He was a Republican in politics, a faithful member of the Presbyterian Church, was affiliated with the Masonic Order and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and was deeply devoted to home and family.

Many recall him for his deep interest in blooded horses, and he had one of the finest stables around Duluth. June 25, 1873, he married in Michigan Miss Rebecca Roberts, daughter of Richard and Rebecca (Roberts) Roberts, of Ottawa county, Michigan. Her father was a prominent lumberman. The three children born to their marriage were William Thomas, Jr., Richard Roberts and Rebecca.



  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
  • Menu