Biography of Henry F. Fortmann of San Francisco

Fortmann Mansion at 1007 Gough Street
Fortmann Mansion at 1007 Gough Street

This name at once suggests a power in the world of trade—a power which to a large degree directs the salmon canning interests of the west and is a most important factor in the commercial and shipping interests of the world. The day of small undertakings, especially in cities, seems to have passed, and the era of gigantic enterprises is upon us. In control of mammoth concerns are men of master minds, of almost limitless ability to guide, of sound judgment and keen discrimination. Their progressiveness must not only reach the bounds that others have gained, but must even pass beyond into new and broader, untried fields of operation, but an unerring foresight and sagacity must make no mistake by venturing upon uncertain ground. Thus, continually growing, a business takes leadership in a special line, and the men who are at its head are deservedly eminent in the world of commerce, occupying a position that commands the respect while it excites the admiration of all. Mr. Fortmann is president of the Alaska Packers’ Association, and stands as one of America’s representative businessmen controlling business interests of gigantic proportions which have largely been developed through his efforts.

Mr. Fortmann was born in San Francisco, in 1856. His father, Frederick Fortmann, was a native of Hanover, Germany, and in 1852 came to San Francisco, which then served largely as a means of egress and ingress from and to mines of the interior. Frederick Fortmann established the Pacific Brewery and conducted a business of importance which brought him a most gratifying success. His death occurred in 1889.

Henry F. Fortmann acquired his early education in the schools of San Francisco, and between the years 1868 and 1874 attended the schools of Stade and Hildesheim, Germany, thus completing his literary course by advanced collegiate training. Upon his return to San Francisco, he became associated with his father in the brewing business, with which he was connected until the father’s death, when the plant was sold. In 1884 he entered into partnership with prominent businessmen of San Francisco in organizing the Arctic Packing Company, formed to conduct a salmon packing business. In 1893, the Alaska Packers’ Association was organized with Mr. Fortmann as president, a position he has since occupied. This concern is capitalized for five million dollars and employs eight thousand men and utilizes one hundred sea-going vessels, the largest fleet in number flying the American flag employed by any one shipping institution; and packed one million three hundred thousand cases of salmon in 1903, the output being valued at six million dollars. This constitutes about forty percent of the total output of the world. The company not only does a most extensive business, but one which involves much labor and a thorough understanding of many lines of industrial activity. Their employees take the fish from the water, prepare them, can them and ship them to all sections of the world. Most improved labor-saving inventions have been utilized in the manufacture of tin cans and also in the packing department. The company owns its own patents and modern canning machinery. This is the largest salmon canning company of the world, and the business has been reduced to a scientific basis. Every means possible has been used to simplify the work and to secure maximum results with minimum effort, and the extent and value of the business is indicative of the splendid powers of management and executive force and enterprise of Mr. Fortmann. He is likewise a director of the California Safe Deposit and Trust Company of San Francisco and is identified with other financial institutions of the city. He is also largely interested in the ownership of ships engaged in the coasting trade.

Mr. Fortmann was married to Miss Julia Schindler, and they have two daughters, Emma and Stella, the former the wife of Dr. W. E. Stevens, of San Francisco. Mr. Fortmann is an active Democrat, studying the political situation of the country from the standpoint of a practical businessman and giving his support to the principles which he believes produce the best conditions for the great majority. His career is notable even in a country where so many rise to prominence in commercial, industrial, and professional life. Steadily pursuing his way, undeterred by the obstacles and difficulties in his path, he has achieved a position of which he, perhaps, even did not dream two decades ago. Steady application, careful study of business methods and plans to be followed, close attention to details, combined with untiring energy, directed by a superior mind, —these are the traits of character which have brought to him success and made him one of the foremost men of the Pacific Coast.

Source: Leigh H. Irvine; A History of the New California Its Resources and People, 2 Volumes; New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903.

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