Forestry as we know and love it today would not exist without the efforts of some famous figures throughout its past. From Robert McCulloch to Simon Fraser, we take a look at some of the industry’s founding fathers. 

AFTER completing the research for my article on Jonsered founder William Gibson, I started thinking about the other men who set the foundations for the forestry industry we see today.

A quick peruse through my stacks of previous editions of Forestry Journal and a browse down the Forest Machine Operators Blog presented me with a list of potential suspects for investigation; this piece is an homage to the achievements of some of the greatest minds and innovators that have graced the timber industry, a mark of recognition from forestry’s future to its glorious past.

READ MORE: Remembering the life and legacy of Jonsered founder William Gibson

Robert McCulloch

Forestry Journal: Robert McCulloch, left Robert McCulloch, left

Robert McCulloch is arguably one of the most well-known figures within the industry; without his great innovation and pioneering, the sector would not have been able to grow as quickly as it did during the industrialisation of the timber trade. His introduction of the first lightweight chainsaw changed the landscape of harvesting and paved the way for all the modern developments we see today.

McCulloch was born into a wealthy family and inherited a small fortune upon the death of his grandfather, who had made his money working for the famous inventor Thomas Edison. With a keen interest in engineering, McCulloch started up his own business after graduating from Stanford – the McCulloch Engineering Company.

His early ventures focused primarily around the mass production of race car engines and superchargers, which proved fruitful before he sold it off to pursue a new interest – aviation. The McCulloch Aviation company was again an instant success for the young businessman, and when war broke out in the Pacific it was trusted to build the engines for the US Air Force.

Following the conclusion of the war, change was once again afoot for McCulloch as he upped sticks and moved from Wisconsin to California, where he would revolutionise the timber industry. The concept of a chainsaw was alien to many, with the hand saws and axes they had grown up with still predominant, but it is without doubt the largest single development that the industry’s industrialisation brought about. The 3-25 model became the first chainsaw available for the masses, speeding up the felling process tenfold and overseeing a dramatic increase in turnover. Despite the success of the chainsaws, McCulloch continued to manufacture kart and aircraft engines into the ‘60s proving the diverse capabilities of his operation.

The pinnacle of his legacy came with the release of the Power Mac 6 in 1968. Named after Robert, it was the world’s lightest chainsaw and made the labour-intensive days in the wood ever so slightly easier. 

McCulloch was a revolutionary and a market leader for many years, who always had one eye to the future, looking for the next big thing. Perhaps if the first mass-market electric chainsaw, released by McCulloch Motors Corp in the 1970s, had been as successful as his other ventures, then electric power within the wood industry would be more common place. But for now his achievements have to quite rightly be commended.

Einari Vidgren

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Einari Vidgren is a giant of timber engineering, founding and growing his company – Ponsse – into one of the largest manufacturers in the world. Synonymous with comfort and reliability, his creations still remain at the heart of mass timber production.

While working as a lumberjack in his early career, Vidgren became frustrated with the lack of high-quality equipment available to complete the job. They were slow, cumbersome and lacked the cutting edge that he felt was required. Working with forest tractors without the capacity to produce the volume he desired, Vidgren decided to bring about the change himself. 

He produced his first machine towards the end of the 1960s, a load-carrying forest tractor named after a mixed-breed dog that roamed his village – Ponsse. In 1970 the company was formed, with his official title as industry consultant and founder.

The early years proved difficult, with both engineering setbacks and financial difficulties for Vidgren, but his dogmatic approach, evident within the characteristics of his machines, allowed them to navigate the difficult terrain of both the wider industry and Finland’s treacherous landscape. 

Getting past the hardship suffered in the ‘70s allowed Vidgren to prosper in the ‘80s, with significant improvements in design,  including the formidable Ponsse S15 – unlike anything else on the market and unmatched in forest performance due to its lightweight aluminium frame. Business deals came and went towards the end of the decade before full control of the company returned to Vidgren in the 1990s. As the company grew, so did Vidgren’s global reach, and thanks to his tireless efforts Ponsse now has harvesting markets across 40 countries, numbers to truly rival its three main competitors.

His legacy was further extended when in April of 2005 the Vidgren Foundation was established to “develop and increase the awareness of entrepreneurship related to mechanised logging and increase the attractiveness of mechanised logging as an employer, especially among young people,” helping to cater for the increased demand of skilled labour within forestry.

Forestry Journal:  William Gibson William Gibson

Throughout his life, and even posthumously, Vidgren was recognised as a true innovator and someone who made tangible developments which brought forward the whole industry. Awards from many agencies were in abundance for the great man, most notably receiving a Gold Medal from the Finnish Forest Association and the Inventor Award from the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Finland.

Jonas Östberg

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Perhaps less known than the aforementioned duo, Jonas Östberg came from modest beginnings and is relatively underappreciated for the work he did in the earliest days of timber mechanisation. As the head blacksmith for ÖSA he laid the sturdy foundations for what would become Timberjack and later John Deere Forestry, making him a key cog in the agricultural manufacturer’s venture into forestry.

Östberg began working for his family at their village forge in Alfta, Sweden, after completing his training as a blacksmith and farrier. Spending his time predominantly on agricultural equipment in his early years, Östberg realised in 1950 the nature of the nearby landscape meant specialist timber machinery was needed, too. Working on rebuilt trucks, the ÖSA forge created a machine that could pull full lengths of timber from the forest using full and half belts, effectively creating the forerunner to what would now be called a forwarder. 

As one of the pioneers in industrialising the forestry sector, ÖSA was a lightning rod for many others to learn from due to Östberg’s skill and vision. Outwith the machinery in which he made his name Östberg also made great strides in creating products that aided those on the forest floor – developing a timber sled to transport wood and one of the earliest iterations of a turning hook, in which he was granted a patent.

By training up his two sons Martin and Gunnar in his image Östberg ensured his legacy would continue. They built upon the foundations laid by their father and took ÖSA into the age of technology, producing horse-drawn timber carriages to start with before venturing into the creation of purpose-built forwarders, designed to tackle difficult terrain. Great successes were enjoyed by Östberg’s family off the back of his impressive foresight and led to the sale of ÖSA to Finnish owners in 1981 for a considerable fee.

Fast-forward to 1988 and ÖSA became part of the Forest Machine Group, with the company name changing to a more familiar muse to younger readers – Timberjack.

Without the extensive research and design established in the earliest years of ÖSA, none of that would have been possible, and without the Timberjack takeover, John Deere would not have come knocking in 2000.

Östberg is the man who put the wheels in motion. 

Sam Madill

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While the others included within this article can be credited with making developments in the mass improvements of timber industrialisation, Sam Madill made waves in a more niche sector of the trade – producing the first portable spar tree yarder, which allowed him to build a considerable manufacturing operation, as well as set the way for modern skylining.

Madill founded his namesake business in Canada in 1911 while working as blacksmith within the profitable coal-mining industry. His business grew slowly, but as it did the coal began to dissipate, leading to a need for diversification. The mountainous regions of British Columbia were awash with vast areas of woodland, so the step into logging seemed logical. The precarious landscape of the region called for specialist equipment to allow for extraction and Madill realised this. Equipped with an idea and the skillset to put it into practice, 1955 saw the release of the first portable tree yarder, the innovation that would put his name on the map.

The success came fast for Madill and led to an additional plant being built in Washington state to help with the production requirements. Madill continued to design, and following the release of his cable swing yarders, or skylines, and heel-boom log-loaders to load trucks, he cemented his place in timber folklore. The specialist nature of his creations allowed for accelerated levels of production upon steep ground, ultimately laying the foundations for modern manufacturers to produce similar products. In 60 years as an independent manufacturer, his firm produced more than 4,000 machines, establishing itself as one of the forestry sector’s largest companies, known for superior performance, productivity and passion.

In 2011 Madill became part of the Nicholson Manufacturing family, taking control of the industry leaders in 200 hp cable yarders built upon Nicholson’s impressive reputation.

Today the company still incorporates aspects of Madill’s earliest designs into its products.

Sam Madill may be a relative unknown in the wider forest sector, but his influence can be seen far and wide.

Simon Fraser

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Rather different to the other pioneers covered here, Simon Fraser’s influence on today’s forests is not born of an industrial nature. Instead, his contribution is of a more parliamentary influence, being that he was the first chairman of the Forestry Commission.

Born in 1871, the eldest of Lord Lovat’s nine children, Simon had a privileged upbringing, with his father serving as aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria shortly after his birth. After graduating from Oxford University he joined the army and quickly distinguished himself among his peers, earning the rank of Lieutenant of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders in 1894. While fighting in the Second Boer War, Fraser again progressed up the military ladder, becoming a captain in charge of a considerable mounted unit, before stepping up to brigadier general in 1914, fighting bravely on the front lines during the

First World War. His efforts saw him become a Knight of the Thistle for demonstrable leadership and courage.


Following the devastation the Great War had on the nation’s forests, Fraser was appointed as the first chairman of the Forestry Commission, serving in the role for almost ten years. He oversaw mass replanting and the earliest days of Forest Planning and Management. His efforts allowed for the mass repopulation of native species and increased replanting of much-needed commercial softwoods. With the mass purchasing of suitable ground, Fraser made great strides in establishing a profitable timber trade during the incredibly trying times post-war. His efforts gave many returning soldiers fresh opportunities to rebuild their lives, with employment in planting positions offering a steady income when the Great Depression hit. The groundwork put in place during Fraser’s tenure meant the Forestry Commission could go from strength to strength, evident by it becoming the largest private landowner in Britain in 1939 and still remaining today as a bastion of the industry.

Fraser was both a war hero and a shrewd, forward-thinking man of action, and because of his efforts on both fronts his legacy will long be remembered.