William Galloway – Mail Order Magnate

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The cover of the 1917 Galloway mail order catalog.

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William Galloway was a big name (at least in the Midwest) in the farm implement field during the first two decades of the 20th century.

Galloway was born in 1877 on a farm near Berlin, Iowa, attended local public schools and studied at Monmouth College in Illinois. He began his career by traveling from farm to farm selling notions and specialty items from his buggy, before going to work for an implement dealer at Reinbeck, Iowa. Eventually Galloway became a traveling salesman for implements and farm equipment, learning the machinery business from the ground up.

Galloway moved to Waterloo, Iowa, in 1901, and started a farm implement dealership selling (as was common at the time) many lines of machinery and vehicles. Galloway, however, wanted to build his own machinery and started the William Galloway Co. in 1905 to manufacture harrow carts and manure spreaders.

Other implements were added and everything was sold by mail order. No jobbers, dealers or salesmen were employed. Galloway touted this method by calling his firm “The House that Divides the Melon with its Farmer Friends,” instead of “Splitting Up Your Share with the Middlemen.” The 1913 Galloway catalog cover showed Galloway holding half a watermelon marked “Manufacturer’s First Cost & One Profit” and a smiling farmer holding the other half marked “Farmer’s Share.”

The 1913 catalog had 146 pages and contained engines, pumps, sawing outfits, manure spreaders, cream separators, portable elevators and well drilling outfits. There were litter carriers, incubators and brooders; sprayers, grain drills and corn planters; plows, harrows and cultivators; harness, saddles and buggies, as well as Galloway wagons, which were famous for their high quality. The wagon gears were constructed of white oak with either wooden or steel wheels, while the boxes were made of thoroughly seasoned “long leaf white pine,” well ironed and painted and equipped with a patented Comstock folding tailgate.

One could order belting and pulleys, and for the shop, tool grinders, post drills, anvils and forges. In addition, there were steel grain and water tanks, windmills, pitless scales, fanning mills, and feed grinders and cutters.

For the missus there were washing and sewing machines, stoves, baby buggies, ice boxes, furniture of all kinds, kitchen cabinets, rugs, curtains, blankets and mattresses. There were watches, paints, dinnerware, fencing, roofing and wallboard, along with clothing for men, women and children.

The “Little Wonder Vodaphone” and records such as “The Parson and the Turkey,” “I Want a Girl,” “When I Was 21 and You Were Sweet 16,” and “Ragging the Baby to Sleep,” promised to “Open Your Doors to a Whole World of Entertainment.” There were firearms, baseballs and gloves, tennis rackets and roller skates, as well as bicycles in men’s and women’s versions, with or without coaster brakes.

Beginning in 1908, Galloway experimented with passenger cars and trucks, telling his customers it was a waste of money to feed horses “... corn worth 75 cents a day and oats worth 35 to 40 cents, and hay worth $14 to $20 a ton ...” when they could buy “Galloway’s New Auto Transport,” which “Puts Town Next Door to Your Farm for less than $36 a Year.”

The vehicle was a high-wheel “motor car and truck in one” and sold for $595, “Complete and Ready to Run.” A 2-cylinder opposed engine that put out 14 hp was mounted under the truck and drove the 36-inch rear wheels through a 2-speed planetary transmission and roller chains. The truck had a top speed of 20 mph and a load capacity of 1,500 pounds. Galloway said at the end of the truck ad: “After You Have Used It a Month You Will Thank Me for It” and “If You Think You Can’t Afford This, Just Write Me About It.” The response must not have been good as by 1915 or ’16 he was out of the car and truck business.

Galloway also tried his hand at building a tractor. A 1917 Galloway catalog lists the Galloway’s Farmobile 12-20 tractor that somewhat resembled a Waterloo Boy. The price of the tractor was $995, and it had a 4-1/2-by-5-inch engine and a 2-speed transmission. The ad says the Farmobile “Pulls Anything, Anywhere, Anytime.”

Legend has it that during the Great War, England tested different tractors and chose the Galloway after it won first prize at an exhibition at the royal palace. A tractor importer named Garner supposedly ordered $1,600,000 worth of Galloway tractors and then reneged on the payment, causing Galloway to declare bankruptcy in 1920. British publications I’ve read are very skeptical of the story since no Galloways have been found in the British Isles and the Garner tractor looks nothing at all like the Galloway.

About the time the war ended, the Galloway company’s large offices and shops covered more than 14 acres of floor space and stood in beautifully landscaped surroundings. The company was said to employ between 800 and 900 people, “... easily obtaining the best of help because of the excellent surroundings and working conditions.” The buildings and equipment were appraised at $1,462,000 and the firm averaged $2,000,000 worth of business per year. In 1917, Galloway was wealthy enough to build a magnificent 20-room mansion of red brick that contained five bedrooms with sleeping porches, a large playroom, servants’ quarters, a spacious living area and six bathrooms, as well as outdoor lighting and electricity.

Whether the English tractor fiasco actually happened or not, by 1920 William Galloway Co. had gone broke. The most likely reason for the firm’s demise was wartime over-extension and the sudden business downturn and agricultural recession that began in 1920.

In about 1927, Galloway’s sons resurrected the William Galloway Co., and continued the business on a more modest scale until sometime in the 1940s. A 1939 catalog lists cream separators, manure spreaders, harrows, gas engines ( read about Galloway's foray into engine manufacturing ), feed grinders and hammer mills, wagons, barn equipment, poultry equipment, and paint.

William Galloway was a big, handsome man with a black moustache who apparently loved his own image, as his catalogs have his smiling face on many of the pages. In an early 1900s history of Black Hawk County, Iowa, he was said to be “... an individual embodying all the elements of what in this country we term a ‘square’ man – one in whom to have confidence, a dependable man in any relation and any emergency.” William Galloway died in 1952 and is largely forgotten today. FC