Biography of W. H. Rees
Alameda County, CA Biographies





W. H. REES
W. H. Rees, managing superintendent of the El Dorado Oil Works, at Berkeley, is regarded as one of the leading chemical engineers of this part of the country, for he has not only proven capable and efficient along technical lines, but is also a successful executive, having operated the El Dorado plant in a very able and satisfactory manner. He was born on a farm just west of Colusa, Colusa county, California, in March 1871, and is a son of Stephen and Elizabeth Jane (Smith) Rees. His father, who was a native of Pennsylvania, came to California, by way of the isthmus of Panama, in 1852, with his parents, and on reaching maturity engaged in farming in Colusa county.

There W. H. Rees spent his boyhood years, attending the public schools to the age of fifteen years, when he entered Hopkins Academy, in Oakland, and was graduated in 1889. He then pursued the chemical engineering course, including assaying, metallurgy and allied subjects, in the University of California, and was graduated in 1893. He first worked in the chemical department of the Giant Powder Company, at Giant Contra Costa county, and later for the Vigoritt Powder Company, at El Cerito, this state, helping to establish its plant. During the hard times immediately following, he was dropped from the payroll temporarily at which period he became connected with the wine business as chemist for the Condensed Must Company, which was engaged in concentrating fresh grape juice for shipment to France, where it was used in reinforcing foreign wines, a process which was not an entire success. Following this, Mr. Rees taught a country school for one year, as business in his professional line was very dull. Early in the '90s he became connected with the El Dorado Oil Works as assistant in the chemical laboratory. About that time W. B. Rising was at the head of the department of chemistry in the University of California and assigned Mr. Rees to a position as assistant to the state analyst in chemistry, while during that period he also taught chemistry in the Boone Academy, in Berkeley. At that time a manufacturer of fireworks in San Francisco was experiencing trouble with his foreman and chief chemist, who refused to divulge the secret formulas used in the making of the various kinds of fireworks. He got into touch with Mr. Rees, whom he employed, and the latter immediately set to work, making chemical analyses and experiments, and soon had discovered the secrets of the construction of sky rockets, roman candles, bombs and set pieces, and, through his persistent and intelligent efforts, was able to duplicate everything that the former chemist had produced, including the famed electric star, completing this work in 1898. During this period he had retained his connection with the El Dorado Oil Works, but in 1899 resigned his position and, going to Inyo county, this state, became superintendent and manager of a borax concern in Saline valley, known as the Western Borax Company, for which he served as chemist for six years. In March, 1905, he returned to Alameda county as chemist for the Alameda Sugar Company, with which he remained until 1911, and in January, 1912, he returned to the El Dorado Oil Works as chemist, while at the same time he gave a course of lectures in applied chemistry at the University of California. He served for several years as assistant to the superintendent, Mr. Searly, and on the latter's death, in 1915, Mr. Rees was made managing superintendent, which position he still holds. At that time the business had outgrown its plant and Mr. Rees drew the plans and superintended the construction of the new mill, installing much new machinery, some of which is of his own invention.

The El Dorado Oil Works, located at Second street and University avenue, Berkeley, was established in 1892 and has been profitably operated. The first oil mill, known as the Pacific Oil Mill, was established in San Francisco in the early '80s, but the El Dorado Company has become the leading concern of the kind in the country. Its special line is cocoanut oil, which it extracts from copra, brought from the South sea islands, Singapore and Sidney, Australia, being the principal sources of supply. The copra is shipped to the Oakland wharf on the Dollar line steamboats, whence it is transported by rail to the mill. Here is produced the famous Snowflake brand of cocanut oil, which is shipped out in steel tank cars. About five cars, or thirty five thousand gallons of the oil, are produced daily, the output being sold mainly in the United States, though some is also shipped to Canada, Mexico and Hawaii. It is used in the manufacture of soaps, foods and cooking oils, among the extensive buyers of the oil being such firms as Armour & Company, Swift & Company, the Fairbank Company, the Hoskins Soap Company, the Southern Cotton Oil Company, Procter & Gamble, and the Palm Olive-Pett Brothers Manufacturing Company. The plant, which covers an area of two and a half acres, represents an investment of five hundred thousand dollars and gives steady employment to one hundred men, the main building being one hundred by four hundred feet, and high in proportion. Six thousand tons of copra are handled each month and the aggregate business of the company for 1927 amounted to over eight million dollars. In spite of the fact that last year was one of general depression in most lines of business, the El Dorado plant was run continuously night and day, showing a steady increase in product. One of the secrets of its success has been the fact that the product has been maintained at a uniformly high standard of purity. A valuable by product of the El Dorado plant is the "El Dorado Cocoanut Oil Cake Meal," which is an excellent stock food and is now extensively used for milk cows, hogs and poultry. Three carloads of this meal is produced daily, is packed in one hundred pound sacks, and great quantities of it are shipped to the poultrymen of Petaluma, while thousands of tons go to the dairymen in Humboldt county. Mr. Rees is the inventor and patentee of a number of machines which have greatly facilitated the operation of the plant, one of which is a weighing machine, a wonderful mechanical and electrical apparatus, which has proven very successful. It is entirely automatic and absolutely accurate, and it is now protected by patents in the United States, Canada, England, France, Germany and other manufacturing countries.

In Berkeley, in January, 1900, Mr. Rees was united in marriage to Miss Mary L. Brehn, who was born in Illinois, but was reared and educated in California. Prior to her marriage she was a teacher in the art department of the Berkeley public schools. They had a son, Edward, who died when nineteen years old. Mr. Rees is a stanch republican, is a member of the Sigma Xi college fraternity, the Rotary Club and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. He has devoted his efforts closely to the interests of the company with which he is connected and his record stamps him as a man of outstanding ability and achievement. To a marked degree he possesses the qualities essential to success as a manager, being a man of clearheaded judgment, tactful in handling men, absolute loyal to his employers and enthusiastically interested in his work. Among his associates he is cordial and affable and throughout the community is held in high regard by all who know him.

From:
History of Alameda County, California
BY: Frank Clinton Merritt
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chicago, Ill 1928


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