Alexander Fruman emigrated to Baltimore from Eastern Europe in 1917 with few possessions. Among them was a handsaw that helped him start a business building wooden windows and doors in 1919, in a shop at the corner of Stiles Street and S. Central Avenue near the Little Italy neighborhood.
According to family legend, when prohibition began the following year, Alexander sold mauls to the Bureau of Prohibition agents, which were used to break down bootleggers’ doors who were selling illegal alcohol. Sensing an additional business opportunity, Mr. Fruman also offered his services at this time to these same local bootleggers who needed their doors reinforced with steel plating to ward off the Prohibition agents.
As the business grew, Alexander’s son Isadore joined the business and more outdoor storage space was needed. Additional property was soon purchased in Little Italy at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Albemarle Street and another parcel was rented in the rear of Pier 6 on Pratt Street – commonly known today as the site of the Pier 6 Concert Pavilion. In 1960, National Lumber was still growing and moved again to the corner of Elliott Street and S. Linwood Avenue in Canton. This had previously been the location of the P.M. Womble Lumber Co., an industrial supplier of lumber and timbers. In 1969, National Lumber was notified by the City of Baltimore that their property in Canton was in the path of the proposed East-West Expressway, and was likely to be seized through eminent domain, necessitating another move. Even though the expressway was never built, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for National Lumber as it allowed them to move in 1970 to their current six-acre facility at Pulaski Highway and E. Monument Street in East Baltimore (the former home of the Harry C. Weiskittel Co., manufacturers of the Real Host line of gas ranges).
The present-day office on Pulaski Highway features a collection of pictorial memorabilia chronicling the company’s history-–including a horseshoe that some employees speculate came from the company’s first horse, which was purchased from the Baltimore City Fire Department as the city transitioned from horse-drawn to motorized equipment. No one with the fire department at the time thought to inform the horse’s new owners that he might suddenly bolt at the sound of fire engine bells. As luck would have it, the first time the horse was being used for a delivery a fire engine raced by and he took off after them…and left an order of over 40 doors scattered all over E. Baltimore Street!
While the company’s initial focus was in doors and windows, National Lumber has diversified over the years and now proudly offers “Everything for Building.” Their customer base today includes homeowners, contractors, property managers, deck builders, developers, and commercial accounts.
National Lumber’s longevity has been aided by its membership in the Lumbermen’s Merchandising Corporation (LMC), an umbrella organization comprised of over 380 independent lumber and building material dealers from throughout the United States. Established in 1935, LMC is built on a cooperative business model that negotiates buying opportunities for its member firms. Membership is by invitation only and includes a rigorous approval process.
Over the years National Lumber has supplied materials to help build a variety of well-known projects that include scaffolding used in construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, as well as the platform Pope John Paul II used when he stepped off the train for his 1995 visit to Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
National Lumber is now in the hands of the fourth and fifth generations of the Fruman family, Arnold and his sons, Kevin and Neal. While they no longer build windows with sash weights and pulleys, they do offer design consultations and almost anything needed for the building of a home--inside and out. As their slogan says, "Everything for Building."
Watch our Five Minute Histories video on this business!