The John Bean Mfg. Co.

One major player in the agricultural sprayer business was the John Bean Mfg. Co. of San Jose, California, and Lansing, Michigan.

Bean Tank

A Bean tank sprayer at the Heidrick Ag History Center, Woodland, California.

Photo by Sam Moore

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Insect pests such as cutworms, corn borers, Hessian flies and potato beetles have long been a serious problem for farmers and orchardists.

During the mid-19th century, it was discovered that many of these pests could be controlled by exposing them to poisons such as Paris green, hellebore, Bordeaux mixture and arsenate of lead. An extract made by soaking tobacco leaves in water was useful against aphids and other soft-bodied insects. A kerosene emulsion and a foul-smelling lime/sulphur solution were effective on fruit trees to control a parasite that caused scale. However, a means of applying these concoctions to plants and trees was needed.

During the 1860s and ’70s, sprayers with hand-operated pumps were developed, but they were slow and tedious to use. Around the turn of the century, small gasoline engines had become reliable and relatively inexpensive, and came into widespread use. It wasn’t long before pumps were being driven by these engines, and powered spraying equipment became available.

Inventive Industrial Genius

One large player in the sprayer business was the John Bean Mfg. Co. of San Jose, California and Lansing, Michigan. Bean was born in 1821 in Montville, Maine, where he later married and had three children. The family moved to Hudson, Michigan, where, from 1855 to 1872, Bean received many patents for continuous flow pumps, as well as for a hand-operated fire-engine pump, a grain grinder, a fanning mill and a straw cutter.

In 1879, the Beans relocated to Springfield, Ohio, where John Bean apparently worked for the Tricycle Mfg. Co., as his patents for wheelbarrows, a velocipede and a hobbyhorse were assigned to them. Bean’s daughter, Addie, met and married David C. Crummey, who was a salesman for Mast, Foos & Co., makers of windmills and pumps.

Bean had invented a double-acting force pump for use in deep wells that was powered by a windmill. It was the sale of this patent to Mast, Foos & Co. for $25,000 ($ today) plus 25 cents per pump manufactured that allowed Bean, who was suffering from tuberculosis, to move to Los Gatos in the Santa Clara Valley of California for his health in 1883.

In Business by Accident

The Santa Clara Valley was chock full of fruit orchards that had recently been attacked by a tiny Asian insect that caused a disease called San Jose scale, resulting in discolored and malformed fruit. To keep busy, Bean bought a 10-acre almond orchard that he found was also afflicted with the disease and he began a program of spraying with a lime and sulphur solution. The only sprayers available were hand-operated, single-action pumps that shot the liquid out in spurts and with inadequate pressure to reach the tree tops. Bean got busy and built a sprayer of his own, based on the double-acting, continuous flow pumps he’d invented back in Michigan.

The high pressure constant stream afforded by this device proved very effective against the deadly scale and Bean’s sprayer was soon in great demand among other Valley orchardists. In 1884, the retired inventor reluctantly established Bean Spray Pump Co. and began to manufacture his sprayer. For several years Bean tried unsuccessfully to interest his son-in-law, David Crummey, in coming west and taking over the business. In 1888, Crummey finally gave in, joining the firm as vice president. Two years later, Bean retired and Crummey took over. John Bean continued to invent until dying at his Los Gatos home in 1909.

Crummey struggled for a while until his son John, who had a much better head for business than his father, joined the firm and got his grandfather to design a radically new vertical pump which John then relentlessly promoted. The Bean “Magic Pump,” as the new device was called, quickly proved its superiority in the war against San Jose scale. The company couldn’t keep up with demand, necessitating incorporation for the mostly borrowed sum of $15,000.

Business soared and the growing firm was moved to San Jose in 1905, just in time for the great San Francisco earthquake to seriously damage the plant. However, John expanded the sales territory into all the fruit districts of the West, and began to make inroads farther east. About 1910 a power sprayer with a gasoline engine eliminated the tedious hand-operated sprayers and the Cushman brothers were hired to design engines for the firm.

The Bean 6-10 TrackPull

Alfred C. Johnson, Winters, California, patented an unusual tractor in 1915 and the Crummeys bought the rights to the thing. Called the Bean 6-10 TrackPull, the little tractor had a single crawler track at the front. To the right of the track was a LeRoi 4-cylinder, distillate-burning engine (with 3-1/8- by 4-1/2-inch bore and stroke), while to the left was the radiator.

The track presented a 12- by 32-inch traction surface to the ground and the operator perched on a two-wheeled sulky at the rear to which the pulled implements were hitched. There was just one speed – 2 mph – and the tractor would turn in a 10-foot circle. The TrackPull was 8-1/2 feet long, 44 inches high and weighed 3,200 pounds.

One source tells us that the Bean tractor “was soon in great demand; sales soared to more than $723,000 in 1917 from $419,000 in 1916.” A somewhat larger 8-16 model was offered in about 1920, but lower-priced competition, the growing popularity of standard four-wheel tractors and the post-war agricultural Depression all conspired to convince Bean to discontinue tractor manufacturing.

Diversified Operation

By 1928, John Bean Mfg. Co. was doing well with its engines, agricultural sprayers and dusters, turbine pumps and Bugo spray products, as well as car washers and clothes washers.

Meanwhile, the Crummeys bought a couple of concerns that made canning machinery and in 1928 San Jose-based food industry equipment manufacturer Anderson-Barngrover was merged with John Bean Mfg. Co. The company now became the world’s largest food processing machinery manufacturer and the name was changed to Food Machinery Corporation, or FMC. The John Bean name still appeared on the firm’s pumps and sprayers until 1972 when FMC divested itself of the Pump Division. FMC is still in business making agricultural, industrial and specialty chemicals, and is deeply involved in the shale oil and deep sea oil drilling industry.

Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at