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.
In his day, R.A. Long built one of the nation's finest Gilided Age mansions, he owned what was called "the world's most beautiful farm," ran the planet's largest lumber company, and was one of his community's greatest philanthropists.