Harvey Crowley Couch
1877 – 1941
Harvey Crowley Couch was born on a hillside farm in Calhoun
County, Arkansas, the son of an itinerate Methodist minister, Thomas C. Couch,
who preached on Sunday and farmed during the week. Of Welsh extraction, his great-grandparents were born in
Georgia. Couch went to work in his
teens; his first job was firing a cotton-gin boiler at fifty cents a day.
Born during Reconstruction, Harvey started life
unpropitiously, but he plowed, milked, and “slopped” hogs and grew in
strength. Resourceful from the
beginning, he built flutter wheels on the banks of creeks as a child to saw wood
with waterpower, and after seeing his first railway train he improvised a toy
track down hill. When Harvey was
seventeen, his father’s health failed and the family moved to Magnolia,
Oversized, nearly six feet tall, he was assigned to the
fifth grade with boys of twelve and thirteen.
Wearing a hickory shirt and homespun suit made by his mother, with other
boys in white shirts and “store bought” clothes, Harvey endured his
embarrassment for a month, when he confided to his teacher that he felt out of
place and was going to quit and go to work.
His teacher, Pat M. Neff, who later became governor of Texas and
president of Baylor University, belittled the ridicule of Harvey’s classmates,
suggested he try to make two grades in one, and wrote on the blackboard a lesson
Harvey never forgot: “A quitter
never wins, and a winner never quits.”
Neff inspired Harvey with the thought, “Men like you have
built empires.” In later years
Harvey Couch often said, “Next to my mother, Pat Neff has influenced me more
than any other person…He touched me with his great personality.”
Harvey was a pupil under Neff for two years when the helplessness of his
father made it necessary for him to go to work to support his family.
Fortified with what he had mastered in school and fired
with the irrepressible urge to get somewhere and be somebody, he went forth to
achieve fame and fortune. Starting
empty-handed, he built a telephone line from Bienville, Louisiana, to Magnolia,
Arkansas, while he continued his mail run.
By the time he was thirty-four, his telephone system, which he sold to
the Bell interests, covered several states.
Couch then bought two small electric plants at Arkadelphia
and Malvern, Arkansas, contracted with a sawmill to supply current, and
connected the two towns with a transmission line. This was the birth of the Arkansas Power & Light Company,
with headquarters in Pine Bluff. Couch
bought millions of dollars worth of electrical equipment on open account.
He constructed Remmel Dam on the Ouochita River to generate the first
hydroelectric power in Arkansas.
Having pioneered in communication and electrification,
Harvey Couch next ventured into the business of transportation.
He bought the Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad on which he once had been
a mail clerk and merged it with the Kansas City & Southern to form a major
railway system under the management of his brother Charles Peter Couch.
Harvey Couch married Jessie Johnson of Athens, Louisiana,
on October 4, 1904, and they had one daughter.
In 1932 during the depth of an economic depression,
President Hoover organized the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
He appointed Couch as a director, and he continued to serve under
President Roosevelt as chairman of the corporation.
In this strategic position his wide experience was felt in every part of
the country during a period of national recovery.
Countless calls were made upon him in the public service,
and his leadership helped initiate an industrial revolution in the Deep South.
At the time of his death on July 30, 1941, he was identified officially
with many industrial and commercial enterprises and was active in a number of
charitable and educational institutions.