Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bismark Adair Steinhagen (1878-1946)

Portrait from the Bullseye, 1917.

   A former mayor of Beaumont, Texas, Bismark Adair Steinhagen was recognized as one of Jefferson County's established businessmen prior to his election, being both the secretary-manager of the Tyrell Rice Milling Co. and a primary figure in the movement to have a new city charter voted on for Beaumont. A lifelong Texas resident, Bismark Adair "Steinie" Steinhagen was born in the town of Navasota on August 19, 1878, the son of Henry Carl and Anna (Sobbe) Steinhagen.
   While little is known of Steinhagen's early life in Navasota, he removed to Beaumont in 1901 and for a time was affiliated with the Wilson Hardware Company in that city. Steinhagen would marry in Oklahoma on December 27, 1906 to Erilla Elinor Weeks (1878-1945). The couple were wed until Elinor's death in 1945 and had two children, Dale S. (1914-1916) and Robin Adair (1916-1999). 
    B.A. Steinhagen made his first foray into the rice industry when he joined the McFadden Rice Mill in the early 1900s. He continued with that company for several years and in 1912 was engaged as a speaker at a meeting of the Texas Welfare Commission on the use of rice by-products (rice bran and rice straw), as livestock feed and for papermaking. In 1915 Steinhagen, W.C. Tyrell and several other partners organized the Tyrell Rice Milling Co., of which Steinhagen would serve as secretary-manager. Following the construction of a plant with a "1,200 barrel capacity", Steinhagen's name grew to even more prominence in the milling and rice industry, as he would serve as the vice-president of the Associated Rice Millers of America in 1921, 1922 and 1923. Upon his election as mayor of Beaumont, his business acumen received glowing praise in Volume 23 of the Rice Journal, which relates that
"It can truthfully be said that Steinhagen has taken an active part in every big undertaking that has been for the betterment of Beaumont, and at the same time has made a success of his own business and been an active leader in progressive movements to place the rice industry on a higher plane. He is a rice man, but a businessman with it, and has always held a place on the important committees of the Rice Millers Association because he was known not only as a man with ideas but a man who would get out and work and carry them out."
From the Rice Journal, Volume 23.

   While a leading figure in the rice milling industry in Beaumont, B.A. Steinhagen also held the post of president of the Greater Beaumont Association in the late 1910s, and in that capacity was a primary mover in seeing the adoption of a new city charter, one that would see Beaumont "governed by fifteen councilmen and a mayor and managed by a city manager." This association (along with a number of progressive Beaumont businessmen) would later back Steinhagen when he announced his candidacy for Mayor in February 1920
   Steinhagen's opponent that year was incumbent mayor Ernest John"E.J." Diffenbacher, who had been elected in 1918. On election day (February 23rd, 1920) it was Steinhagen who triumphed, besting Diffenbacher by a vote of 3,394 to 2,932.  Following his election, Steinhagen promised a "business administration free from petty politics and prejudices" and also laid plans for the erection of a municipal auditorium and public library, at the cost of $250,000. 
  Steinhagen's mayoralty saw him having to contend with substantial Ku Klux Klan activity in Beaumont. Promising to "get those cowards who hid behind masks", Steinhagen declared Klan members to be "as bad as Bolshevism" and along with several other prominent Beaumont citizens came out firmly in opposition to Klan activity. Steinhagen even launched an investigation into suspected Klan advocates holding city offices and directed city manager George Roark to announce that
"All city employees would be required to sign an affidavit stating they were or had been members of the Klan."
   Despite his strong opposition to Klan activity and his popularity amongst the Beaumont citizenry, Steinhagen was defeated for mayor in 1924 by attorney J.A. Barnes, who, while being a non-Klan member, had its backing over the course of the campaign.
   Following his mayoralty Steinhagen continued in the rice milling business, being the founder of the Steinhagen Rice Milling Co. in 1927. This company would later merge with the Comet Rice Co. in the late 1930s and by 1939 this merger had formed the Comet Mills Co., of which Bismark Steinhagen served as President. Steinhagen's later years saw him continue to be a leading figure in Beaumont, being acknowledged as a "pioneer in the development of the Sabine-Neches waterway improvements" and as president of the Lower Neches Valley Authority laid the groundwork for extensive waterway projects involving the Neches River basin
   Widowed in 1945, Bismark Adair Steinhagen died at age 67 on February 13, 1946. In the years following his death, his name would continue to be prominent in the history of Beaumont and in 1967 became the namesake of the B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir, a part of the waterway project he had helped initiate in the years prior to his death. 

Portrait from the Rice Journal, Volume 23, 1920.

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