William Augustav (Bill) Seiz was one of the most active and visible leaders in Hot Springs (Garland County) from the 1920s through the 1980s. Seiz was at the forefront of the industrial development, city planning, and other civic endeavors.
Bill Seiz was born on June 19, 1902, in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, William Gustov, was a sign painter in St. Louis. Seiz was the oldest son of the seven children in his family. The Seiz family moved to Hot Springs in 1908, where the elder Seiz established Seiz Sign Company. Seiz excelled in the Hot Springs public schools through the eighth grade, when his father took him out of school to begin work. The family was extremely poor, and Seiz was the only son old enough to work and help support their large family.
Seiz married Doris Russell on June 5, 1926, and they had three children. In 1927, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was sent to Arizona for a recovery.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Seiz was one of only a few people in Hot Springs who publicly opposed the illegal activities of Leo P. McLaughlin, mayor from 1927 to 1947. McLaughlin gave instructions in the area that anyone leasing property to Seiz for a billboard location would have to answer to him. As a young businessman, this created a financial hardship for Seiz because he was forced to borrow money to buy land for his outdoor advertising business. During the Depression years, this was a difficult undertaking. Seiz ran for mayor of Hot Springs in 1949 with the slogan, “A Progressive Leader for a Growing City.” McLaughlin had been defeated two years previously, but a candidate sponsored by McLaughlin’s followers ran against Seiz and defeated him in an election that saw false rumors spread about Seiz, as well as threats of bodily harm issued against the Seiz family.
Seiz was a lifelong Episcopalian and was active in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, serving as treasurer from 1939 through 1962, working to establish a permanent residence for the the bishop, helping create Camp Mitchell on Petit Jean Mountain, and being a part of many diocesan conventions. In recognition of his work for the diocese at the local and state levels, Seiz was honored by being selected in 1961 to be the first Arkansan to be named “The Episcopal Churchman of the Year.”
Prior to 1940, each local charitable and character building organization in Hot Springs made its separate appeal for gifts. Seiz recognized the advantage of having the campaigns for the seven organizations at that time merged into one campaign through a central agency. He organized a committee to draft a constitution and by-laws for the Hot Springs Community Chest and Council. The goal of the Community Chest and Council was to secure a better and broader support for the seven agencies being assisted through one fundraising campaign. He served as the first president of the Community Chest in 1941. In later years, this organization became the United Way of Hot Springs.
Seiz’s most noteworthy contributions to Hot Springs came in the areas of industrial development and city planning. In 1921, Seiz joined the Business Men’s League, the forerunner of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, where he began to establish himself in a leadership role. Seiz often held leadership positions in several groups simultaneously. Seiz was vice president for two years and then elected president of the Chamber of Commerce for four years during World War II, a period of time when the chamber had only one paid secretary and no other staff. After serving on the Aviation Committee of the Chamber, Seiz, helped oversee the planning for and completion of Hot Springs Memorial Airport in 1947 during his tenure as president.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Seiz was involved from the beginning in the industrial efforts that were made for the region that included Garland, Hot Spring, Saline, and Clark counties and for the Hot Springs area. He was an organizer and president of the Ouachita Area Development Council (OADC), the Chamber of Commerce Industrial Committee, the Garland County Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC/GCIDC), and the Hot Springs/Garland County Regional Planning Commission.
As vice president of the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce in 1941, Seiz flew to Washington DC with Carroll Cuffman of Malvern (Hot Spring County) to make the case to the Office of Production Management and Defense Plant Corporation for a war plant to be located at Jones Mill between Hot Springs and Malvern. The delegation was successful in securing the aluminum plant for the area of Hot Springs, Malvern, and Benton (Saline County). This government-owned plant was operated by Alcoa, Inc., and it played a major role in the World War II effort. Following the war amid talk of closing the plant, Seiz, as president of the Chamber of Commerce, returned to Washington DC to urge the continuation of Alcoa’s activities at Jones Mill. The trip was successful, and the plant continued in operation. A rolling mill was soon added, and the plant was leased to Reynolds Metals Company, which became part of Alcoa in 2000.
On behalf of the OADC, Seiz led a lobbying effort for congressional approval for the construction of Blakely Dam between Lake Ouachita and Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. Blakely Dam was dedicated in 1956. As president of the Chamber of Commerce and the OADC, Seiz sponsored a meeting to reactivate the Ouachita Valley Association. He was elected to the executive committee of the organization to work on flood control and navigation of the Ouachita.
Among Seiz’s other accomplishments are his securing of a shoe factory to Hot Springs, leading the development of the industrial park named Mid-America Park, and serving on the first Advertising and Tourist Promotion Commission for Hot Springs.
Seiz remained active in Seiz Sign Company throughout his life, and following a full life of industrial and civic involvement, he died in Hot Springs on November 18, 1990. He is buried in Hot Springs at Greenwood Cemetery.
For additional information:
Campbell, Caroline Seiz. “Seiz Sign Company in Hot Springs, Arkansas.” Subject File. Garland County Historical Society, Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Obituary of William A. “Bill” Seiz. Hot Springs Sentinel-Record. November 20, 1990, p. 2A.
Scully, Francis J. “Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce.” The Record 4 (1964): 49–52.
Caroline Seiz Campbell
Hot Springs, Arkansas