William McClellan Ritter (February 19, 1864-May 21, 1952) was born in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, was one of West Virginia’s most prominent lumbermen. Having learned the lumber business on his father’s Pennsylvania farm, he began a logging operation in Mercer County in 1890. He was successful and, in addition to harvesting timber for others, soon set up his own mills. His operations included Mercer, McDowell, and Mingo counties, as well as Buchanan County, Virginia, and Pike County, Kentucky.
Ritter incorporated as the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company in 1901 and expanded his operations into Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He first used circular-saw mills but changed to much larger band-saw mills, including a double band mill operation at Maben, Wyoming County. During World War I, Ritter moved his primary residence from Welch to Washington, where he served on the War Industries Board as an adviser to Chairman Bernard Baruch. In addition to his lumber interests, Ritter owned and operated coal companies and railroads in Virginia and West Virginia, including the Red Jacket Coal Company near Matewan in Mingo County. In 1907, the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company was indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of peonage. Ritter, on behalf of his company, entered a guilty plea and paid a fine on the charges.
Ritter’s later life was spent in Washington, from where he directed his many business interests. In 1924, he made national headlines by sharing $3 million in Ritter company stock with his employees. Ritter was married twice. When he died as the result of complications from a stroke, he was survived by his wife, Anita Bell Ritter, and a foster son, Paul D. Ritter. He was buried in a family cemetery in Hughesville, Pennsylvania. William M. Ritter was a cousin of lumberman Charles L. Ritter of Huntington, for whom Ritter Park is named.
This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Reedy, Dennis E. W. M. Ritter Lumber Company Family History Book. William M. Ritter Lumber Collection. Western Carolina University Library, Cullowee, North Carolina.
Bailey, Kenneth R. A Temptation to Lawlessness: Peonage in West Virginia, 1903-1908. West Virginia History, (1991).
Ritter, Pioneer Lumber, Coal Operator, Dies in Capital. Charleston Daily Mail, 5/22/1952.