David Eccles was a successful businessman and industrialist, despite his humble beginnings.
Eccles, the son of William and Sarah Hutchinson Eccles, was born on May 12, 1849, in Paisley, Scotland. His father, William, was a half-blind woodturner and lived in poverty in the Glasgow area until 1863 when the family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and immigrated to Utah. They settled in the Ogden area; first in Liberty and then in Eden.
When David’s older brother returned to Scotland, David, at age fourteen, became the principal support for his family. He would peddle his father’s wooden products and traded. Aiming to improve their financial situation, the family moved to Oregon City, in western Oregon in 1867 where David and other family members worked in a woolen mill. “David cut cordwood for the mill for a year, went to the Puget Sound area for six months to work for a lumber corporation, and worked another six months on the California and Oregon railroad. The family returned to Ogden in 1869, hoping the completion of the transcontinental railroad would enable them to find work in ‘Zion.’”
David was now twenty years old and helped build houses and cut wood in the canyons. “He went to Wyoming as well as to the mines at South Pass to freight goods, and later worked in the Union Pacific coal mines. He earned enough to buy a yoke of oxen, and returned to Ogden, where he took a contract to cut and haul logs in Ogden Canyon. He also entered into a partnership with his bishop, David James, to work a sawmill in the Monte Cristo area east of Ogden.”
David Eccles briefly attended school where he learned to “figure,” which later helped him succeed in business. At the school he met Bertha Marie Jensen, and the two married in 1875. They eventually had twelve children.
“Within ten years David had cleared $15,000 from his enterprises and partnerships and launched out with three undertakings: A new retail lumber yard in Ogden, the Eccles Lumber Company; a sawmill, shingle mill, and general store at Scofield, a coal mining district in eastern Utah; and operation of small mills near Hailey and Bellevue, Idaho, where he provided lumber to the incoming miners and their suppliers in the Wood River area. In three years there, Eccles and his partner, A.E. Quantrell, had earned $50,000. When the Wood River mines failed, Eccles set up a mill and general store at Beaver Canyon, near Idaho's Montana border, which provided ties and lumber for the Utah and Northern Railroad, which was under construction between Ogden and the Montana mines.”
“Having set a pattern of following up localized opportunities opened up by railroad construction activity, Eccles then acquired some fir and white pine timber tracts in eastern Oregon, at the time the Oregon Short Line was being completed from Pocatello, Idaho, to Portland, Oregon. He built a planing mill, shingle mill, and box factory, then a larger lumber mill, an electric plant, and other enterprises. Soon he set up other mills at other locations in Oregon and Washington. He invited friends and acquaintances in northern Utah to go to Oregon and homestead timber tracts and work for him. He and his associates also built the Sumpter Valley and Mount Hood railroads. All of these operations were profitable and Eccles shipped much of the finished lumber to Utah where it was used in building homes.”
David Eccles entered into a polygamous marriage with Ellen Stoddard, the daughter of one of his partners. She eventually bore him nine children, including sons Marriner S. Eccles and George S. Eccles. She lived in Baker, Oregon, for a time, then settled her family in Logan, Utah.
“During the twenty-three years between the formation of the Ogden Lumber Company in 1889 [with Charles W. Nibley and George Stoddard] and David Eccles' death in 1912, he probably earned five or six million dollars from his Oregon enterprises. Much of this was invested in Utah. He bought into banks, insurance companies, railroads, beet sugar factories, flour mills, construction companies, condensed milk plants, and canneries, coal mining ventures, electric light plants, a hotel in London and the Grand Ogden House in Ogden. One of the companies in which Eccles was a partner, the Utah Construction Company, built 700 miles of mainline track for the Western Pacific Railroad and became a leader in the heavy construction field.”
“A community-minded person, Eccles was elected to the Ogden City Council and served as mayor from 1888 to 1890. On two occasions he came to the rescue of the [Church of Jesus Christ] in a financial way by lending it large sums of money at no interest. Perhaps his most significant transaction was the sale of a majority interest in several beet sugar factories in Utah and Idaho to Henry Havemeyer of the American Sugar Refining Company in New York. At the time of his death, he was president of sixteen industrial corporations and seven banks. He was also a director in twenty-four other banks and industries. He was Utah's first multimillionaire.”
He died of a heart attack in 1912 in Salt Lake City at the age of sixty-two. "At the time of his death, he was president of 17 corporations and seven banks and served as acting director of 24 businesses in various industries. On Dec. 5, 1912, the day David Eccles passed away, flags across five Western states flew at half-staff. On the day of his funeral, factories, railroads and coal mines halted operations to pay respect to the man who had created thousands of jobs in virtually every sector of the economy." The David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah is named in his honor.