Kirk Company History
Lured by the Alaskan gold rush in 1898, George Ridgway Kirk, known as G.R., left
his home in Pennsylvania for Seattle, Washington. Before reaching his
destination, G.R. met miners digging graves for the victims of an epidemic
rather than gold. He decided to return home and then traveled to North Carolina
to learn the lumber business. By 1902 he returned to the northwest and was
successfully running a planning mill.
In 1918 G.R.'s brother-in-law in El Paso, Texas, called and order a carload of
Christmas trees for a local florist. "A stupid idea." thought G.R., as he told
his foreman to cut the Texan a carload of wild Douglas fir. The next year he
received an order for two carloads. That got his attention. He immediately cut
three carloads (approximately three thousand trees) for himself and headed to
Los Angeles where he set up shop at the 8th and Alameda railroad tracks. He sold
all of his trees and thus began the Kirk Christmas tree business.
By 1928, Kirk Company was producing up to twenty five carloads annually. The
stock market crash in October of 1929 made it difficult to make ends meet.
Through ingenuity and perseverance, G.R. met the challenge and set the stage for
In 1931 G.R.’s son Paul agreed to work for his father "temporarily". A few years
later, Paul built a fifteen foot house trailer and hr and his wife, Dorothy,
spent the next ten years traveling throughout the United States and Canada
developing and marketing the Christmas tree business. During this time, they not
only expanded the market for Kirk trees but made hundreds of friends during
their visits. Also during this time, they became the proud parents of three
children, Paul “Rick”, Morris “Mac”, and Ann Kirk.
In 1936 during Paul's travels in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Paul
found a large supply of Spruce and Balsam Firs for the Northeastern market. He
moved quickly and set up 50 farms throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and
Until the early forties, most Christmas trees were cut from naturally reseeded
forests or abandoned farms and pastures and then transported. By the mid forties
the transition to plantation grown or farm raised trees had caught on and most
trees were being harvested from farms. The advantage of plantations over the
forests is that cultivation, fertilization, shearing, and cutting large volume
production can be done more economically while maintaining high quality
In 1950 Paul Kirk decided to produce Scots pine trees and within a few
years nearly a thousand acres were planted. These trees were sheared which
involves cutting back the soft new foliar growth to give them a pyramidal shape.
If you could shear Scots pine trees, thought Paul, why not shear Douglas fir and
other trees. To surprise the competition, he began by shearing ten acres in
secret. Eventually the company was shearing two thousand acres of wild trees in
Canada and Washington. The Kirks began to see that naturally reseeded wild
trees, even when fertilized and sheared, was not the most effective solution for
supplying quality Christmas trees.
Sales expanded. The company saw a shift from smaller deliveries to small grocery
stores to large orders from chain stores that were able to attract a larger
market. To meet the demand, the company had to make a change. In 1953, the Kirks
began purchasing deserted farms in flat lands near Wautoma, Wisconsin. Spanning
more than ten thousand acres, the Wautoma Plantation was once the largest of all
the Kirk operations.
In 1956, G.R. and Paul Kirk were featured on the cover of Business Week magazine
and given special recognition for their achievements. They had built one of the
largest Christmas tree companies in the world, harvesting and marketing trees
all across the continent. Father and son had played complementary roles. G.R.
had remained in the corporate offices in Tacoma, Washington giving
administrative support to Paul who couldn’t sit still. Paul was always at the
front lines developing new markets, finding new forests and trees, and improving
operations. His dynamic personality and drive created a rate of company growth
that constantly challenged G.R.’s administrative skills.
In time, Paul's three children became the third generation to run the Kirk
Company. During those years, the Kirk Company made its mark on the Christmas
tree industry with innovative field production methods and high quality
standards. It had successful operations located in Oregon, Wisconsin and Nova
Scotia. It also introduced a number of support products to expand the Christmas
tree line. Products included balers and netting, tree colorants, nutrients, and
disposal bags. Then under Rick’s leadership, the Kirk Company expanded its
presence internationally. The Kirk Company sold trees to Puerto Rico, Guam,
Mexico, Central and South America and the Pacific and Caribbean Islands.
In 2008 Ralph Nilssen, the company's VP of Sales, and Gary Snyder, the Oregon
Production Manager purchased the Kirk Company from the Kirk family. With 50
years of experience at the Kirk Company between them, Ralph and Gary understand
the value of hard work and the importance of maintaining the company's solid
reputation for quality products and excellent service. One of the first items
they accomplished was to document a Mission and Values statement to define Kirk
Company. In their first years as owners, the company expanded sales into the
Australian, Asian, and Russian markets and boldly led the industry by
introducing a line of bio-degradable plastic products. In 2010, they
successfully launched the Kirk Elf Tree™ into the American, Canadian, and
Central American markets. That same year, Kirk made good on its promise of
excellent service by expanded their shipping options to include palletized
As the Kirk Company approaches its 100th birthday, we continue to push boundaries
while staying true to our commitment to providing our customers with quality
products, buyer-focused solutions and cutting-edge customer service.