As Truitt & White celebrates 75 years of providing lumber and building materials throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, the three-generation business honors founders and family patriarchs.
George Truitt and Robert White, who were determined to build their business and their families, while helping a war-weary community build or rebuild their homes and their lives.
Born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1912, Robert White worked his way through the University of Minnesota during the Great Depression, earning a degree in Business Administration. He remained in Minneapolis, where he met his future wife, Rose Adamek.
George Truitt was born in La Grange, Texas in 1899. He attended Southwestern University, after which he married Gem Cowling, moved to Wichita Falls, and opened several small-town lumberyards.
When the United States entered World War II, George and Robert enlisted in the Navy and were assigned to the Naval Supply Center in Oakland, which shipped a range of materials, including lumber and building supplies, to support the war effort in the Pacific.
A year after the war ended, George and Robert created Truitt & White Lumber Company and opened their lumberyard at the corner of Second and Hearst in Berkeley along a railway spur.
Following the war years, building materials remained in short supply. Yet George was able to bring in much-needed equipment from Texas. Meanwhile, Robert scoured many small mills and wholesalers throughout Northern California, cash in hand, to buy any available inventory.
The basic business philosophy of the two partners was simple but strong: “Do our best to meet the needs of our customers. Hire knowledgeable people to provide useful advice for product selection and the best way to complete a project. Develop a network of suppliers to stock or special-order products to satisfy a wide range of building needs for contractors and homeowners.”
One of those early customers was Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who had moved to the Berkeley hills while stationed at Treasure Island after the war. When he visited Truitt & White and learned it had been established by two Navy veterans, he became a regular customer, stopping in for building materials or a cup of coffee.
The company grew steadily throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, necessitating additional warehouse and yard space across the street. George’s and Robert’s families, growing as well, were always an important part of Truitt & White, including George’s children, Jody, Nancy, and Ed, and Bob’s children, Jim, Joanna, Dan, and Warren. “All of us worked Saturdays and throughout the summer,” said Dan White, “starting as young as age 10.”
Every child began with the basics: sweeping floors, stocking shelves, and assisting as needed.
“We weren’t spoiled with easy work, either,” said Warren White. “We really hustled to keep up with the others and pull our weight, loading 50-pound boxes of nails into the bins to earn our 50 cents an hour.”
In 1965, George Marks founded Sierra Designs in a warehouse two blocks from Truitt & White. He needed building materials to convert part of his building to a retail store but didn’t have the capital to pay up front. His collateral to Robert and George was a handshake, confirming he would make good on his purchase once his store was up and running. Sierra Designs went on to become the premiere backpacking equipment maker in the country.
The 1970s were a decade of change for Truitt & White. Working hard, working smart, and remaining dedicated to meeting customers’ needs paid off with steady growth for the company, requiring expansion into a modern new facility across the street. Warren and Dan White joined the family business in the mid-70s. George Truitt passed away in 1978, and the White family acquired Truitt’s ownership, electing to maintain the name to honor its origins and recognize the legacy of George Truitt’s contributions.
Ⓒ 2021 Truitt & White