William B. Cox Sr. was just a young man when he was called upon to help build up the family business.
Making about $55 a week and having to handle lumber in the relentless South Carolina summer heat were just some of the conditions facing Cox as well as the other employees of the newly formed Cox Industries Inc.
But hard work and determination helped Cox Sr. grow the lumber business from five employees and a total weekly payroll of $300 to 14 manufacturing facilities and five distribution yards employing some 400 individuals in 10 states. Annual sales for the company were more than $185 million.
But as the saying goes: All good things must come to an end.
And on Wednesday, the business so long associated with the Cox family name is no longer. The company's industrial division (Cox Industrial) was sold to Pittsburgh-based Koppers Inc. for $200 million, effectively ending Cox Industries.
"It won't be Cox Industries anymore," Cox Sr. said via phone about the sale. "That is the sad part about it. We don't have any family members involved with it anymore. Mikee (Johnson) is the only one still left."
Johnson has served as the company's chief executive officer.
Cox Sr., who is now 92 years old, said it is a sad day.
"I would love to see the Cox name out there but I think we did so much good for the company over the years," he said. "I don't know if that will be carried on or not."
Cox Sr. acknowledged that he has pretty much left company operations since his retirement in 1998, but he said he hopes Cox Industries will still be remembered and will always "be a part of Orangeburg."
Cox was born in 1925 in Wando and graduated from Berkeley High School in Moncks Corner.
He served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946, after which he attended The Citadel. His first job out of college was working for the S.C. Department of Transportation’s engineering department.
He moved to Columbia in 1950, and he and his father-in-law, Arthur Powell, started a wood-preservation business, New Adventure.
In 1952, Cox helped Powell modify the Columbia plant, and business was going so well they decided to open another plant in Orangeburg.
The company’s first contract was with Koppers Co. on Nov. 26, 1954.
At the time, finding work was difficult but Cox was able to survive by landing government contracts that provided housing for military families in the Columbia area and shipping railroad ties to California.
Of note, the company also furnished wood for decking and a roof for a blimp hangar.
Cox retired in 1998, with his son Bill Cox Jr. taking over the role as chief executive officer and president.
Cox’s grandson, Mikee Johnson, would serve as the company's president until its purchase. Johnson will remain as head of Kopper's industrial division.
Cox Industries and Orangeburg have gone together for a long time and have enjoyed much success.
Four years ago, Cox Sr. was inducted into the South Carolina Housing Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the recognition, he gave credit for the company's success to employees, customers and friends.
He also had much to say about Orangeburg.
"I think it is an excellent place to do business," he said.
Cox has also received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Pile Drivers Association.
In 2015, he was inducted into the Orangeburg County Business Hall of Fame.
Cox Industries has also made community involvement a priority during its time. Central Carolina Community Foundation and Columbia Metropolitan Magazine recognized Cox in 2016, naming it the small business winner of the Best of Philanthropy Award.
For the past decade, Cox Industries has raised or donated more than $450,000 toward the work of Edisto Habitat for Humanity in Orangeburg and the construction of several homes.
The employees at Cox also put in sweat equity, completing the construction of one Habitat home per year for the past decade. Cox also fully furnishes the homes.
Cox also donated about $10,000 to the One SC Flood Relief Fund, a fundraising effort that helped South Carolinians who were recovering from a disaster, such as Hurricane Matthew and the 2015 flood.
Cox donated more than $726,000 in cash and materials in 2015 alone to local communities, youth organizations, schools, community projects, national charities and state colleges and universities.
The company also provided scholarships to children of Cox Industries employees.
Cox was recognized as a 2015 Pacesetter for the United Way Campaigns, a select group of companies and organizations that choose to complete United Way campaigns before the campaign’s official launch.
Under Johnson’s leadership, the Edisto District of the Boy Scouts had the highest fundraising in the state.
The company has also been recognized for safety, and Johnson has received much recognition over the years both on the state and local level.
In 2016, he was named the Business Leader of the Year by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and that same year, he was named the Oranegburg County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Person of the Year.