John Stagmaier was a philanthropist and early supporter of Chattanooga Boy Scouting. He is the namesake of Camp Stagmaier.
From Harmon Jolley:
“One thing leads to another.”
“Success breeds success.”
“Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” (a quote of John Wesley)
Each of those sayings applies to the life of John Stagmaier (1863-1944). Along his journey from a difficult childhood to a Chattanooga business career to philanthropy, he demonstrated what can be achieved by being determined to set and to reach goals.
John Stagmaier was born in Ironton, Ohio on April 30, 1863 during the Civil War. His parents had both died by the time that he was eight years old. His uncle, Joseph Friedel, offered John and his five siblings a home in Chattanooga in the spring of 1872.
At a young age, John Stagmaier went to work. His first job was in a local sawmill. He was a server at the Planters Hotel on Market Street. It was a job as a clerk and delivery boy at the L.J. Treece grocery store that began an interrelated series of business achievements.
Stagmaier learned the operations of the business, and decided to open his own grocery. He then attracted the attention of K.P. Jones, a packager/wholesale seller of coffee, tea, and spices. Jones offered Stagmaier a partnership in a business of selling items to the stores that were once Stagmaier’s competitors.
Just as working for himself as a grocer had been a step up from working for someone else, John Stagmaier concluded that running his own jobbing business would be advantageous. He developed his own line of boxed flavoring extracts and vinegar. Next, he acquired the household remedies of prominent local druggist Dr. Thacher. Stagmaier rounded out his product portfolio with the Up-to-Date brand of baking powder.
One thing that concerned John Stagmaier was the poor quality of the packaging that was on the market. He felt that consumers didn’t have a favorable impression of his products because the products came in flimsy boxes. So, his next venture was the Archer Paper Company.
The packaging businesses evolved into the Star Box and Printing Company and the Tennessee Paper Mills. The latter became a well-known enterprise on Manufacturers Road on the north shore of the Tennessee River, and joined other businesses in giving the road its name. Tennessee Paper Mills provided a special memory for me, for it was one of several places where my father taught me the value of recycling, long before it was popular. Every few weeks, we would take our bundled newspapers to Tennessee Paper Mills.
Banking was his next venture. He served on the board of the Hamilton National Bank, and was one of the founders of what came to be called Pioneer Bank.
As John Stagmaier accumulated wealth, he determined to give back to his community. He was a devout member of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, and was active in its ministry. The Social Service Bureau benefited from his leadership for twenty years. He was a trustee of the University of Chattanooga. Twelve years after his passing, the Tennessee Paper Mills established the John Stagmaier Chair of Economics and Business Administration at the school.
A special charitable interest was the Pine Breeze Sanatarium. According to a 10/27/2000 Chattanooga Times Free Press article, John Stagmaier at age fourteen witnessed the challenges of finding adequate tuberculosis treatment for his eighteen year-old cousin. He vowed, if he was able, to establish a center for treating patients with the disease. Pine Breeze was the realization of his dream, and was where he visited weekly for thirty-five years. A bust of John Stagmaier that once stood at Pine Breeze was given in 2000 to UTC.
Upon the passing of John Stagmaier, Chattanooga Mayor Ed Bass observed, “Few men have served their community as unselfishly as and more loyally than John Stagmaier. It would be impossible to recount the many valuable civic projects which received his personal support and all the influence he could bring behind them.”