For twenty-seven years Robert Wray Brooks has been identified with the wholesale paper trade of St. Louis and has developed an extensive business under the name of the Brooks Paper Company, of which he is the president. Studying closely every phase of the trade, actuated in all that he undertakes by a progressive spirit and by firm determination that enables him to overcome all obstacles and difficulties in his path, he has made steady progress toward the goal of success and is now controlling extensive and important commercial interests.
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Tennessee numbers him among her native sons. He was born in Lexington, May 1, 1860, and is descended from Irish ancestry in the paternal line, while on the distaff side he is of Scotch descent. His father, John Brooks, was born to Londonderry, Ireland, and was of Scotch-Irish parents. He came to America at the age of fifteen years and for an extended period he figured prominently in connection with business, civic, Masonic and religious interests in western Tennessee. From 1840 until 1880 he was a leading merchant of Henderson county, Tennessee, and for many years was owner of extensive plantations in the same county. He was also the enterprising proprietor of grist, cotton and saw mill properties in the vicinity of Lexington and his activities contributed in substantial measure to the upbuilding and progress of the localities in which he lived. He was a personal friend of President Andrew Johnson and of Senator Isor Harris, both of whom delivered memorable political addresses in the beautiful oak grove that surrounded the family home of the Brooks. Mr. Brooks was a very devout Christian and took a most active and helpful part in religious work. He died in Jackson, Tennessee, and his wife has also passed away. She was born in Fincastle, Virginia, and belonged to one of the old families of that state of Scotch descent. Her life was ever permeated by her religious faith and no good work done in the name of charity or religion sought her aid in vain. She was also helpful in civic matters and was ever swayed by a strong spirit of patriotism. In the family of Mr. and Mrs. John Brooks were four sons and a daughter.
The youngest of the number, Robert Wray Brooks, was educated in the West Tennessee College and in the Southwestern Baptist University. When his college days were over he turned his attention to journalism, accepting a position on the West Tennessee Whig. Later he engaged in the paper business at Nashville, Tennessee, from 1880 until 1886 and then turned his attention to the wholesale paper trade at Memphis, Tennessee, where he continued until 1893. In that year he removed to St. Louis and here established the business which he has since conducted and which in 1904 was incorporated under the name of the Brooks Paper Company, of which he has continuously been the president. His business has grown with rapidity and along very substantial lines. He has gained as patrons many of the leading metropolitan newspapers of the United States and Canada and in the conduct of his affairs he has manifested a most progressive spirit and marked initiative and enterprise. To him is due the credit of demonstrating the practical use and conversion of poplar and cottonwood into wood pulp for the manufacture of paper, these pulps having since been extensively used, for the Brooks Paper Company not only Is connected with the wholesale trade but is also extensively engaged in the manufacture of paper, its annual output reaching a large figure. Mr. Brooks was likewise a prime mover in the establishment of the first mill to manufacture wood pulp from poplar and cottonwood and has made this a staple and indispensable article in use throughout the western mill centers. He was likewise for twenty-five years the southwestern manager of the Lockwood Trade Journals of New York. In 1903 he organized the St. Louis Stationers Association, which subsequently became a national association and of which he was made an honorary life member by the St. Louis body. Aside from his other interests he has acquired valuable realty holdings in St. Louis and also at University City, and he was one of the organizers of the Central National Bank of St. Louis.
On the 10th of December, 1890, Mr. Brooks was married in Memphis, Tennessee, to Miss Pauline King, a native of that state and a daughter of Henry Clay and Sally E. (Houghton) King, representatives of very prominent Kentucky and Mississippi families, respectively. Mrs. Brooks had an uncle, a brother of her father, who was one of the governors of Kentucky. To Mr. and Mrs. Brooks have been born six children: Pauline, Robert Wray. Jr., Everett Lee, Lucille, Maud Evelyn and Florence.
The military experience of Mr. Brooks covers service as a member of the famous Chickasaw Guards of Memphis, Tennessee, who were pronounced by General Sherman to be the best drilled guards in the United States in a competitive drill among the military representatives of many states. In politics Mr. Brooks has always been a most earnest democrat, giving unfaltering allegiance to the party and standing at all times for its highest ideals. He is a Knight Templar Mason, belonging to St. Aldemar Commandery, K. T., of St. Louis, and also to St. Louis Consistory, A. A. S. R., In which he has attained the thirty-second degree of the Scottish Rite. He is a member of the City Club and the University Club of St. Louis, is president of the Tennessee Society, of which he was formerly treasurer, and is a member of the Chamber of Commerce. He is also an active member of St. John’s Methodist Episcopal church, South, in which he has served as steward and has been chairman of several of its most important committees. His wife has been an active sharer in the good works that he has clone. She takes a most helpful interest in those activities with which women have been helpfully concerned, including civic, religious, philanthropic and social interests. She is an officer in some of the societies of St. John’s Methodist Episcopal church and is a member of the board of lady managers of the Methodist Orphans Home. She is likewise an official of the St. Louis Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy. During the World war she was a most enthusiastic worker in all activities pertaining to the welfare and comfort of the soldiers in camp and field, thus following in the footsteps of an honored ancestry, for the family was represented in the Revolutionary war, also in the War of 1812 and in the Civil war, while various members thereof were prominent in professional circles and in civil and social life.
A review of the career of Mr. Brooks should ever serve as a source of stimulus and encouragement to others, showing what can be accomplished through individual effort. He started out in the newspaper world when sixteen years of age, established business on his own account when a youth of eighteen without financial assistance from others. and step by step as the years have gone by he has broadened the field of his activity and the scope of his interests until he is now one of the prominent wholesale paper men and manufacturers of the Mississippi valley and is equally well known through other important business associations.