The Swift Family History

The Swift family has been in the forest product industry since 1839, when Ira Swift started a small sawmill in Northern Florida that cut cross ties for railroads in the surrounding area. Four of Ira’s five sons, including Charles Augustus Swift, continued in the industry and headed west working for logging crews. They eventually wound up in the Cantoment, Florida area and then worked their way into Alabama. Once they reached Alabama, they settled in Seminole, a small town just west of the Florida line. It was here that they found work under the employment of George Robinson. They worked for Mr. Robinson until approximately 1901, when they moved to Southern Mississippi.

A railroad used to transport logs in Swift Lumber's early days.

Charles’ son, George Robinson Swift Sr. entered into the lumber industry as well, and worked for a few sawmills in the area before starting his own mill. In 1909 he entered into a partnership with the Hunter family; opening Swift/Hunter Lumber Company.

An employee tends the pond logs

In 1920, Robin Swift Sr. made an agreement with a landowner in Monroe County, Alabama, to cut a large amount of standing timber in the Atmore area. In order to log the tract, Mr. Swift moved his entire operation from Southern Mississippi to Atmore, Alabama because of the numerous geographic advantages it held; particularly, the ease of material transportation. This one timber agreement managed to log the mill almost exclusively until 1955.

For approximately thirty years, from the time of the mill’s initial construction in the 1920’s, until the 1950’s, its physical lay-out and mechanical manufacturing components remained largely unchanged.

The sawmill while it was still steam powered

In 1955, the business was purchased from Robin Swift Sr. by his son George Robinson Swift Jr. and his nephew John Byard Swift Jr., forming Swift Lumber Company. It was at this time they shut down the sawmill and began to purchase green lumber as raw material to run the planer mill. When the mill was purchased, the entire facility was steam powered and the sawmill was shut down in an effort to reduce the number of departments being operated on steam.

Three years later, they decided to upgrade the entire mill to electric power. Once the conversion was completed they resumed production at the sawmill, took out all of the boilers, and began drying with gas fueled, direct fired kilns. These direct fired kilns were used until gas prices skyrocketed, at which point they did away with gas powered kilns put in a waste-fired boiler and a steam heated dry-kiln.

In 1969, the sawmill received its first major upgrade when they took out the circular saw as the primary cant breakdown and put in a bandmill. Periodic small-scale upgrades were made after that until 2002 when the sawmill underwent a massive reconstruction, in which nearly every piece of equipment was either replaced or reengineered, and the footprint of the entire mill was altered. Since then we have also made major upgrades to both our sawmill and planer mill infeed systems.

Pictured (from left), John Byard Swift Jr., George Robinson Swift Sr., and George Robinson Swift Jr.

In 1956 G.R. Swift and J.B. Swift opened a small retail outlet in Atmore to sell certain products produced by the mill. Two years later an arrangement was made with the Algar-Sullivan Lumber Co. in Century, FL to lease a small lot on their mill site to buy end runs and excess lumber items and retail them to the local community. Over time, other building material items were added and the facilities began attracting builders. Then a location was built in Bay Minette followed shortly by another new facility in Jay, Fl where new oil fields were priming the local economy. David Swift, Sr. joined the companies in January 1973 and was General Manager for the four supply yards as well as sales for Swift Lumber. As other facilities were added in the early 80’s to the Swift Supply company it required more management time and he eventually was primarily involved in that company. Operations were expanded to include a door fabrication shop, a roof and floor truss plant, a wholesale salvage yard, an installed sales department and a window distribution warehouse. In 2005 the company operated 13 locations. That has been consolidated and Swift Supply consists of six locations.

Today, Swift Supply is the leader in south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle for providing quality building materials to the professional builder, business, industry, and individual. Our focus is on the latest innovations in building products and services in the industry. We invite you to visit us at one of our six convenient locations. You will find a staff of courteous, knowledgeable professionals anxious to assist you with any size project.