Robert Alexander Long was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky, the son of a well-to-do farmer. He moved to Columbus, KS when he was 22 to live with his uncle who was a banker. At the suggestion of his uncle, he and his cousins started a hay business. The hay was destroyed, so they sold the lumber for the shed that protected the hay. They discovered that there was a great demand for lumber. A new business was born.
Later he purchased land near Columbus and dug for coal mines. He made a large profit with this business as well.