Legacy of Ohio Cultivator Co.
The Ohio Cultivator Co. built a name off its riding cultivator
A Famous Ohio pulverizer behind what appears to be a Hart-Parr tractor
Among the lesser-known farm machinery manufacturers that thrived during the first half of the 20th century, the Ohio Cultivator Co., located in Bellevue, Ohio, stands as an interesting – if not forgotten – story in farm equipment history.
Harlow Case Stahl, the firm's founder, was born in 1849 in a log cabin on a farm near Fremont, Ohio. As a very young man, Stahl raised hops, which require extensive cultivation. Stahl grew weary of plodding along behind the one- and two-shovel cultivators of the day that worked only one side of a single row in each pass. Putting his mind to the problem, the young man devised a wheeled machine that straddled the row and cultivated both sides. Best of all, a hammock-like seat at the rear end allowed the operator to ride while he worked.
Stahl is credited with not only designing the first successful riding cultivator, but also manufacturing and selling it as well. Starting about 1878, Stahl – with the help of a local blacksmith – built a "Fremont Cultivator," hitched it behind his buggy and towed the machine through the surrounding countryside to show it to farmers. At first, the farmers thought Stahl's riding cultivator was a lot of foolishness, but eventually a few saw the advantages of riding while they plowed corn. During the first year, Stahl built 85 machines and sold 81.
In 1882, Stahl sold 1,000 Fremont cultivators, and production quickly exceeded his small factory's capabilities. In Bellevue, Ohio, about 15 miles east of Fremont, the McKim Bros, barrel plant had been empty since 1880 due to bankruptcy, and city officials offered the vacant plant to Harlow Stahl for $2,000, an offer he accepted. The old McKim works was remodeled, and the Fremont operation moved to Bellevue, where the Fremont cultivator began production on Dec. 21, 1885. The Lear Manufacturing Co. assumed the old Fremont plant and began building a cultivator also named the Fremont. Rather than fight the situation in court, as so many farm equipment manufacturers did in those days, Stahl changed the name of his machine to the "Famous Ohio Cultivator."
In those early years, the plant operated seasonally since cultivator demand lasted only a few months each year. During the national panic of 1892-1893, money was very tight, and the banks wouldn't loan operating capital to manufacturers, causing most to lay off workers or halt operations. Mr. Stahl's reputation for dependability among his suppliers gave him advanced credit that supplied him with the materials needed to keep building cultivators. This credit exception was not only a boon to the Ohio Cultivator Co. workers and the town of Bellevue, but it allowed Stahl the opportunity to have a backlog of implements to sell when the economy picked up again, positioning him ahead of his competitors.
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