In 1929, the Arctic Fur Company was comprised of the "J. B. Simpson Fur Company" and the "Seattle Arctic Raw Fur Company." Together, they dealt with all the principal world markets.

Soon they would gain national fame, through D.C. Keeney's red brick laundry building.

    A role in the fur trade - and another brush with Dave Beck

The Arctic Fur Company had a pair of retail stores in Seattle – as well as establishments in Tacoma, Portland, Los Angeles, Reno, Beverly Hills and San Francisco. By 40, Simpson had achieved his ambition to retire: officially, he ceded control to a nephew, Melville P. Steil.

Actually, however, Simpson never retired. Instead, he became a powerful Chairman of Arctic’s Board of Directors.

In 1939 (the firm’s fifteenth year), Steil oversaw a $25,000 remodel of the old Third Ave frontage. Company Vice President Frank P. English, Treasurer B. P. McNally, and Design Manager John Willers were lauded as local leaders in a newspaper article bannered: "THEY DIRECT DESTINIES." By then, the Arctic had branches in eight Western cities.

But it was always J.B. Simpson who drove the business – and spent time ensuring destiny was directed his way. His favorite conduit for this was Senator Warren G. Magnuson, with whom he developed an extremely persistent relationship. Letter after letter was fired off from the Arctic offices, engaging the Senator’s energies with regard to upcoming contracts.

Sometimes Simpson penned them himself; other times, he merely directed. Always, however, these inquiries were pointed ones. Did Magnuson know about this deal? Could he influence that one? Could he not be of help to his friends back West?

It is clear from their correspondence that Simpson was an energetic inside trader.

One of Simpson’s letters, from May 3, 1948, had huge repercussions for Keeney’s red brick building. In it, Arthur L. Johnson asked – on Arctic Fur’s behalf – about a series of unit contracts for fur items issued by the U. S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour and Public Contracts Division.

This was, in essence, a grievance letter: Arctic Fur was shocked that their name had not been on the bidders’ list. This screed was followed on March 31, 1948, by one from Bruce Bartley, one of Simpson’s lawyers. Bartley protested that no reply had come from the War Department or Navy. His letter also contained this information:

"During the war they [the Arctic Fur Company] made various types of cold-weather clothing including gloves, mittens, parkas, etc. at their plant here in Seattle. The plant is now closed, but could be opened very easily"

The plant to which Bartley refers had been in the Securities Building.

On January 17, Magnuson received pro-Arctic pressure from a different source: The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers. None other than Dave Beck was then its vice president and the letter (dated January 17, 1949), came directly from his personal office. It stressed that, although "Mr. Beck is in Chicago … were he here, I am sure he would be writing you personally." In Beck’s terms, the letter makes extremely clear, the Arctic Fur Company had always been a friend:

"Mr. J. B. Simpson of the Arctic Fur Company telephoned here today regarding the Army contract for fur strips which he said he had discussed with you recently. They are meeting with very strong opposition from the CIO fur organizations in the East, the Seattle Fur Workers Union being the only one not under the CIO.

Should you be in a position to use your influence in behalf of Arctic’s desires for the contract, and I can’t stress too strongly what it means to them, I am positive Mr. Beck would be greatly pleased. They have always been most cooperative when it has been their opportunity to do anything for us collectively or individually."

Whether or not it was due to Beck’s intercession, Simpson received his War Department orders. In May of 1951, after purchasing Keeney’s building, he started operating it as a fur plant. Simpson’s new premises required little alteration, but he did install a personal office on the top floor. From there, he would call in to direct operations, mostly fur contracts for the Korean War.

By the mid 1950’s, things were booming at the plant. Not only did Arctic Fur profit from the military. An even stranger windfall made it unexpected millions – and brought it national fame, thanks to television and Disney.


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