Charles Forsythe Ruggles, the millionaire lumberman and salt king of Manistee, Michigan, was a dealer in real estate, including timber lands in Manistee and Amador County, California.
Born in Maine on March 3, 1846, and reared in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, he was the son of timber salesman, Daniel D. Ruggles. Charles finished his education at 18 and was employed with the Diamond Match Co. in Oshkosh. He went to Detroit, Michigan, on an industrial Spy” mission to determine the secret formula of the improved match tips. Charles discovered the answer by getting a watchman drunk, confiscating his keys, getting into the factory, and stealing some of the matches.
In 1866 Charles and his parents moved to Manistee. He bought tax-delinquent properties and sold them to invest in timber lands, lumber camps and mills, and other people’s land transactions. Around 1870 Charles entered the banking business dealing mainly in loans for the purchase of pine lands and logging stock. Accumulating wealth he diversified and acquired real estate in Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, and California.
In 1874, Ruggles invested in the thriving Buckley and Douglas Lumber Co. Edward Buckley was his brother-in-law, having married his sister Mary in 1869. She died in 1885. After a fit of anger Ruggles resigned from their partnership, later returning in 1890 to try to reclaim his two-fifths interests in the firm. His long and involved case was won in the courts after 25 years.
With the awarded $3,000,000, Ruggles and his business partner John Rademaker, established Ruggles and Rademaker Salt Company in 1923. In 1927 while having a well cleaned out, they struck a bed of salt with bromine, a chemical then in high demand for the manufacture of gasoline. They began manufacturing bromides and other chemicals, beginning the chemical industry in Manistee. Their differences and separation resulted in a celebrated legal suit in 1929 involving the sum of $5,000,000 and the sale of the company to the Morton Salt Company.
Ruggles bought into the Manistee and Northeastern Railroad, riding it occasionally like a tramp to avoid paying fares. An eccentric tightwad, he dressed poorly and looked shabby and unkept. He lived in a plain looking home in Manistee with his dog, Bobbie. Ruggles kept painstaking accounts of every household transaction and was known to push cars downhill and out of his garage to avoid starting them a moment earlier than absolutely necessary, thus saving gasoline. He was known to repeatedly argue with train conductors to avoid paying the last leg of a train ride to Manistee (35 cents) by getting another passenger to pay his way. Ruggles kept his possessions doubly locked in two sets of cabinets with different keys. His ledgers and files had other files to keep finances and debtors straight. In Manistee Ruggles was known as an Ebenezer Scrooge.
A supporter of temperance he built and maintained a free public drinking fountain and watering trough hoping it would lessen the desire for alcohol. Ruggles also built a public bathhouse, charging extra for towels. At one time he had made homemade sweets for children on New Year’s Day but stopped promptly when he learned some children were going through his line more than once.
Towards the latter period of his life, Ruggles was interested in legal reform and became a founding member of the American Judicature Society, to promote equal treatment for all in the courts.
Ruggles died from Bright’s Disease on August 21, 1930 at age 84. In his will he left 19 people, two of whom were relatives, and Mercy Hospital of Manistee a total of $2,710,000. When he died in Aug. 1930 Ruggles owned timber lands in Wexford, Kalkaska, and Manistee counties, Michigan, Minnesota, and California, and gas and oil leases in Manistee and Lake counties, Michigan. Also, Ruggles owned either completely or had a controlling interest in the following companies: his timber companies, Manistee and Northeastern Railroad, Amador Timber Company, Amador Central Railroad Company, Calveras Timber Company, and the South Carolina Lumber Company (Marion, South Carolina), and was associated numerous companies including: E. E. Jackson Lumber Company (Baltimore, Maryland), R. and R. Liquidations Company, Weed Lumber Company (based in California?), and McCloud River Lumber Company. He was buried with his parents in the family mausoleum in Oshkosh. (This information is from his obituary notices in the Manistee Advocate Weekly.)