John P. Vollmer was born in Wurtemberg, Germany, on January 25, 1847. Still he is an American citizen, since his father, Otto P. Vollmer, Jr., was a naturalized American citizen at the time of the son’s birth. His father was a chemist of note and a man of fine literary attainments, having added to the knowledge gained by study and diversified reading, that of extensive travel and close observation. The grandfather of our subject, Otto Phillip Vollmer, was a surgeon of high standing and extensive practice in Baden, Germany. Being in sympathy with the revolutionary element of that realm in the middle of the last century, in consequence whereof he had to pay the penalty of the independent stand he took, by accepting voluntary exile, and came to America in 1849 accompanied by Hon. Carl Schurz, and other men of national reputation in Germany. The family followed the elder Vollmer in a very’ short period, but the father of our subject returned to Germany, after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States, and was then united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Fix, his fiancée, a native of the old home place, Wurttemberg. In 185 1, the father and mother set sail for America, bringing their young son. They settled in Indianapolis and there, in a private German school, young Vollmer received his elementary education. It was in 1861, that he entered the Northwestern Christian College of Indianapolis, where he received a thorough English education.

About this time, Mr. Vollmer associated himself with the firm of Merrill & Company, now Bowen, Merrill & Company, a large book concern of Indianapolis, where he remained for several years. He also engaged in the manufacture of ink and was for a time connected with his father in business, in all of which places he made money and saved it. In his early teens, he enlisted to fight for the Union and he assisted to repel the rebel raider Morgan and his riders. In 1863, the mother died at the home in Indianapolis, leaving the youth at the age of sixteen without that sweetest of all earthly love, a mother’s. It was a sad blow, but he stood bravely beneath it and continued his business. His business success, his graduation with high honors from the university, where he had made many warm friends, buoyed up his native courage, and desiring to try his fortunes in the undeveloped far west, where merit and ability win, he accordingly came, via New York and the isthmus, to the Pacific and in 1868, we find him in Walla Walla with a few thousand dollars in his pockets, saved from his own earnings, and a letter of recommendation from General Harrison, afterwards President of the United States. He was soon engaged with a company manufacturing high wines. His former thorough education and consequent knowledge of the new modes of distilling made him invaluable to the house and he was soon installed manager of the concern, although he was but twenty years of age. He continued in this until 1870, then left for Lewiston. Here he formed a partnership with Wallace Scott in the wholesale liquor and grocery business. Later he abandoned the liquor business, on account of conscientious scruples, although it had been profitable. Mr. Vollmer began private operations outside of the firm with a capital he had reserved. From the outset he was remarkably successful as he has since been in all of his large and varied business relations. Doubtless no man of the Inland Empire has ever had more diversified interests and more varied experience in business lines with an equal number of successes at the end of each new venture. Many superficial observers attribute it to “luck.” But business men of experience know that it is due to consummate breadth of comprehension, keen discrimination and foresight, coupled with practical knowledge and a will that brooks no defeat.

To the original business established by John P. Vollmer and Company at Lewiston, have been added branch houses at Grangeville, Mt. Idaho, and Genesee, in Idaho, and Uniontown and Asotin in Washington. The Vollmer Clearwater Company, a creation of our subject, operates at eighteen different points, named as follows: Lewiston, Sweetwater, Bosalt, Lenore, Weippe, Stuart, Lapwai, Culdesac, Agatha, Peck, Kamiah, Stites, Genesee, Kendrick, Clyde, Spar, Nez Perce and Asotin.

Among the earlier business movements of Mr. Vollmer, was the organization by him of the First National Bank of Lewiston, the first house of its kind in northern Idaho. The National Bank of Genesee and the bank at Grangeville, followed in regular order. Mr. Vollmer pays taxes on over fifty sections of agricultural land, which requires about three hundred miles of fence to divide it into quarter sections. He is president of and owns the controlling interest in the Lewiston Water and Light Company. He is also president of the board of trustees for the State Normal School.

Mr. Vollmer has also been interested in and identified with several transportation companies. He was connected with the Walla Walla & Columbia River R. R. Company and in 1877, was made agent for the Oregon Steam Navigation Company. He then acted for Henry Villard in the deal by which the last named company was absorbed by the O. R. & N. Co., which latter company Mr. Vollmer represented until 1883, when he became financially interested in the Northern Pacific and was one of the leading promoters of that line which is now extended to Lewiston. Since that time, he has been the representative of that line for the state of Idaho.

In addition to all the above named enterprises, with which Mr. Vollmer has been connected for the improvement and betterment of the country, he was also the one to construct the first telegraph line in northern Idaho, in 1874. Four years later, he established the first Bell telephone exchange on the Pacific coast. He was also prominent in the organization of the Sweetwater Irrigation & Canal Company, with which he is still connected.
It is interesting to further note, as testimony to Mr. Vollmer’s high standing in financial circles, that in “American Successful Men,” of New York city, which contains a history of the most prominent citizens of America, he is given a prominent place, being the only banker mentioned in Idaho. Such is the brief outline of the financial history of this in no wise common or ordinary career.

In political matters, Mr. Vollmer is a staunch Republican, but has never been an aspirant for office, preferring to promote the political interests of his friends. In fact, he has repeatedly declined preferment at the hands of his friends even when the tempting offer of the highest political office in the state was the reward of his acceptance.

In his home life Mr. Vollmer has been as greatly blessed as he has in his masterful business career. His well appointed home is a model of family felicity and home attachments. This is largely due, as are many of the pleasant phases of his life, ‘to the wisdom and painstaking care of Mrs. Vollmer, who has the happy faculty of making a home in the true sense of the word.

Mrs. Sallie E. Vollmer, nee Barber, a native of the state of Kentucky, is a true southern lady and a granddaughter of Judge Duvall. They were united in marriage at Walla Walla, September 27, 1870, and to them have been born seven children, five of whom are still living, namely; Ralston, now in charge of the bank at Genesee; Bessie, who was married September 4, 1901, to Arthur E. Clarke of the New York Life Insurance Company, and now residing in New York; Genevieve, who is attending school; Norman and Norma, twins, at school in Lewiston.

Notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Vollmer is one of the very busiest of men, he is of a pronounced literary turn, as is also his wife; and their home is supplied with a first class library and all the leading magazines and periodicals of the day, which they find time to read and enjoy. He is a thirty-second degree Mason.

Mr. Vollmer is an enterprising, public spirited citizen, and takes great interest in the affairs of the County and state and especially in the advancement of the community where he lives. He is at the front and promoting all enterprises that are for the general benefit. His career is marked by display of energy and profound ability and insight into matters that have to do with the business and social world. He is known as a staunch friend and has as few enemies, probably, as any man living, of his active, aggressive temperament and extensive business interests.

Back to: Nez Perce Biographies

Source: An Illustrated History of Northern Idaho, Embracing Nez Perce, Idaho, Latah, Kootenai and Shoshone Counties, Western Historical Publishing Company, 1903