Professor Mike Nagle Authors Book about Justus S. Stearns

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Wayne State University Press has announced the release of a new book “Justus S. Stearns: Michigan Pine King and Kentucky Coal Baron, 1845 – 1933,” by Michael Nagle, professor of history and political science at West Shore Community College.

In the book, Nagle addresses key events in the first few decades of Stearns’s life and his initial foray into the lumber industry. Subsequent chapters explore Stearns’s political career, his timber operations in Wisconsin, and his coal, lumber, and railroad operations in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Nagle also details the ancillary businesses that Stearns founded or purchased in the early 20th century, even as his Stearns Salt & Lumber Company served as the anchor of his Michigan holdings, while Stearns Coal & Lumber did the same for his operations in Kentucky.

The final chapter offers an overview and analysis of Stearns’s lifetime of accomplishments, including his impact on Ludington, where he maintained a residence for over 50 years.

Near the turn of the 20th century, "Pine King" Justus S. Stearns was Michigan’s largest producer of manufactured lumber and the owner of a prosperous coal mining operation headquartered in Stearns, Kentucky, a town he founded.

Over the course of his career, Stearns would own at least 30 manufacturing businesses—making everything from finished lumber to kitchen utensils, game boards, and motors—as well as hotels, a railroad, and a power company.

He was also an active member of the Republican Party who served one term as Michigan’s secretary of state and a philanthropist who gave a great deal of his wealth to causes in both Michigan and Kentucky.

Nagle details Stearns's astounding range of accomplishments and explores the influence of both paternalism and Social Darwinism in his business practices.

Nagle makes extensive use of primary source material from several historical archives as well as contemporary newspaper accounts, court documents, company records, and other primary sources.

William M. Anderson, former director of the Michigan Department of History, Arts, and Libraries and author of “The Glory Years of the Detroit Tigers: 1920–1950” (Wayne State University Press, 2012) says, “Justus S. Stearns is another strong example of an overdue treatment of a significant figure in Michigan and Kentucky.

Justus Stearns personifies the long-held belief in the American dream. Working as a farmhand milking cows was the entry-level job that ultimately led to his becoming a lumber baron, owner of major business interests, and Michigan secretary of state. Professor Nagle has tenaciously researched the life and times of Stearns and written a compelling narrative.”

American history scholars, as well as general readers interested in Michigan’s lumbering era and Kentucky’s mining history, will enjoy this biography of an exceptionally influential businessman.

Books will be available for sale at several upcoming events and Nagle will be available for questions and to autograph books.

Nagle will appear at White Pine Village’s “Lumber Days” on August 29 with presentations scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

A book launch celebration will be held on Thurs., Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. at Stearns Motor Inn, 212 E. Ludington Ave., in Ludington.

He is also scheduled to deliver two presentations as a part of the college’s Business and Community Education program.

“Justus S. Stearns, a Research Project” will be directed toward those enrolled in research-oriented course work or others who might be interested in the steps involved in researching a book such as Nagle’s. The program will be held on Oct. 8, at 2 p.m., in WSCC’s Center Stage Theater.

The same evening, Nagle will deliver a presentation titled “Justus S. Stearns, Ludington’s First Citizen” at 7 p.m. in the Ludington Area Center for the Arts.

The book can be pre-ordered online in either hardback or e-book formats at

Author: Thomas Hawley | Executive Director of College Relations