Aspinwall Manufacturing Company: First in Potato Machinery Leaves Murky Trail
Two conflicting histories of Aspinwall, a potato machinery manufacturer
An Aspinwall potato planter.
A letter in the May issue of Farm Collector from Walter Pruin asks about a potato planter he owned.
Mr. Pruin writes: “I acquired this potato planter from my uncle’s estate. It was purchased new by my grandfather. I would appreciate any information on this, paint, colors, whatever. The casting has markings that read, ‘New Aspinwall Potato Planter, Aspinwall Patents, Aspinwall Mfg. Co., Jackson, Mich. USA.’”
The questions seemed simple enough; I knew I had some information on the Aspinwall Company. What I didn’t know was that the two main sources for the history, both of whom call themselves “The Reflector,” would offer conflicting stories.
History of the Aspinwall Company, take one
The original “Reflector,” E.J. Baker Jr., who was associated with Implement and Tractor magazine for many years, wrote about the Aspinwall Company in his May 15, 1962, column in that magazine.
Aspinwall potato machinery history goes back to 1878, when the first Aspinwall potato planter was demonstrated in New Jersey. The Aspinwall Manufacturing Company was organized in 1883 to build potato machinery in Jackson, Mich., and later a branch factory was established at Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Baker said he knew the company paid whopping profits relative to its size, because his father once owned some Aspinwall stock.
The Reflector went on to say that the Aspinwall was the first automatic potato planter. In an automatic planter, a star wheel with a series of pickers around its circumference is rotated through a hopper full of cut seed potato pieces. Each picker is a sort of mechanical hand, or jaw, with a sharp point. The point skewers a seed piece and as each opened picker leaves the hopper, the jaws are tripped, allowing the seed piece to drop into a tube which guides it into a furrow made by a furrow opener. Trailing double discs (or shoes) close the soil over the potato pieces.
Sometimes the pickers would fail to close properly on the seed and it dropped back in the hopper, causing a missed hill. Large potato growers felt these misses couldn’t be tolerated, and a man named Fred Bateman, who owned the Iron Age Company at Grenloch, N.J., developed an assisted-feed planter. In the Iron Age planter, the pickers deposited the seed pieces into holes in a revolving “lazy-susan”-type plate before dropping them in the tube. As the plate revolved, a person riding on the planter filled any empty holes by hand, thus eliminating missed hills.
As an aside, the one-row potato planter we had when I was a kid on the farm was an assisted-feed that had a double row of cups on chains that came up through the bottom of the hopper, picked up a seed and carried it up and over, before dropping it into the planting tube. My father rode the planter, and kept the cups filled with potato sections. I don’t remember what make ours was, but Champion brand used similar cups.