During the first part of the Twentieth Century, Mississippi experienced a timber boom as Northern business interests bought up huge tracts of virgin pine trees and began harvesting the wood with little regard for the future. All that remained when they left, were fields of stumps as far as the eye could see and unemployed timber workers.
When the Hercules Powder Company opened a plant in Hattiesburg in 1925, they brought jobs and a renewed sense of hope to the area. The company put men back to work digging up the seemingly endless supply of stumps and limbs the sawmills left behind to extract the resin the wood contained. The resin was then processed and shipped around the world for use in the manufacture of a variety of products.
In 1925, Buck Wells’ father went to work for the Hercules plant in Hattiesburg. In this episode, he remembers how the town struggled during the Great Depression and the way Hercules looked out for its workers. When he turned 16, Wells went to work for the company, himself, harvesting stumps. He recalls how clear-cutting had devastated the land and how Hercules turned those stumps into gold.
Prior to World War II, Germany and Japan were important customers for the Hercules Plant in Hattiesburg. Wells explains how the loss of that business hurt the local economy until America entered the war. The boom that followed would grow the company into a giant of industry, and continued until the end of the 1950s, when tree stumps became increasingly hard to find. Wells discusses the company’s cost-cutting efforts and how the move to management led him to a second career. He retired from Hercules in 1980, after 45 years with the company.