Jack London and the Misadventures of the California Eucalyptus

In the Fall of 1909, just north of San Francisco, a 33-year-old Jack London was at home on his Glen Ellen, Calif., ranch resting from a decade of traversing the globe in search of The Call of The Wild and other stories to tell.

London sat at his writing desk looking out on his rugged California ranch surrounded by golden hills, Live Oaks, and vineyards. A coastal wind blew East, carrying the scent of salt water from the Pacific Ocean filtered through the forest of Redwood trees and tangled Manzanita.

He typed a letter to his old writer friend — my great grandfather Grant Wallace — about a business deal they were working on:

Jack London met my Great Grandfather Grant Wallace on a reporting trip to Far East in the 1904 — both serving as war correspondents for the international media reporting on the Russo-Japanese War. Along with more than two dozen international journalists, the two spent months in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo as embedded war correspondents for western media publications. Only Grant — reporting for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin managed to file a story from the front lines of battle, where he claims to have witnessed hundreds of Japanese soldiers dead on the battlefield from barbaric “dum-dum” bullets.

‘The Most Useful of Trees’

Five years later, Jack London and Grant Wallace were now both homebound back in California and short on cash, and they reconnected over a business deal in the hardwood lumber industry.

Around that time in California, the timber industry had essentially clearcut the most massive Redwood and Sequoia groves that blanketed the coastal mountains and inland forests. Grant and his fellow speculators envisioned the fast-growing Eucalyptus trees they had encountered on their adventures in the East as a solution to replenish the dwindling hardwood supply.

They scrounged whatever money they could to cover the investment, importing tree saplings, and Grant offered his skills in hand-drawn illustration and persuasive writing to produce a 63-page book for the American Eucalyptus Timber Corporation on the benefits and opportunities of the Eucalyptus industry in California.

The propaganda publication was titled “Mahogany Eucalyptus: The Most Valuable Tree in the World. A Rapid, Certain and Perpetual Source of Income.” It included dozens of articles and first-person accounts promoting the “Wonder Tree” for its multitude of resources and extracts including: Leaf and Flower Products, Hardwood products, and its Fruit. “The Most Useful of Trees,” he proclaimed in his trademark penmanship.

By 1913, Grant Wallace ran out of money and moved on to new endeavors. Three years after that, Jack London died at his home from kidney disease at the age of 40, many years before his Eucalyptus groves would failed to bear fruit, and a century before they contributed to California’s wild fire crisis, illustrated this week in modern color by Bay Area journalist Susie Cagle.

Curious to see more of Grant’s illustration work? Check out the illustration of his I brought to Antiques Roadshow.

That’s me in the blue shirt, standing in line for an appraisal!

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