The Esterly Reaper
(Page 2 of 5)
From an August 1857 issue of the Whitewater Register:
"Esterly has received orders for 50 of his reapers and mowers which he will be unable to fill. He has already manufactured over 200 more machines than he intended to make this season, and with his present facilities, he finds it impossible to increase the number. Next year he will try hard to turn out sufficient to meet all demands."
At a field trial in 1857, the Esterly was used to cut 16 acres in seven hours. The Whitewater Register's Aug. 22, 1857 account of the event was almost breathless:
"It may be doubted whether so large a field of grain was ever before cut by one team in the same number of hours, and if any machine has ever performed so much work, we should like to hear of it."
Esterly's business was not without its setbacks. In 1859, Esterly built his first self-raking reaper. The unit was initially a failure: Three years later, Esterly's son discovered that the company was $100,000 in debt. It took 10 years, but Esterly ultimately paid all creditors.
Then, in the first week of January of 1867, disaster struck. A late-night fire in the machine shop and furniture manufactory destroyed the building and its contents. The total loss was estimated at $40,000. From an account in the Whitewater Register:
"This loss will fall very heavily upon Mr. Esterly at this time, and still more heavily upon the 120 men whom he had in his employ, and upon their families. It is also a terrible blow to the business interests of the whole town ... Meantime, we hear it intimated that he is not likely to rebuild. We hope this is not correct. This town cannot afford to lose so valuable an institution as Esterly's Reaper Works. It virtually supports nearly one-sixth of our people ..."
By 1869, construction was underway on a one-story brick shop to replace the building damaged in the fire. Meanwhile, production at the plant proceeded at a furious pace.
Early in the next decade, seeder production was job number one. From the Register of Feb. 16, 1872:
"The whole force of the factory is at present engaged in making seeders. (Driven by a workforce of 125 men and equipment powered by a 40 hp engine) ... a perfect machine is turned out every 30 minutes, or 20 each working day. 1,200 seeders will be manufactured this season, only limited by the need to produce reapers: The harvest must be provided for as well as the seedtime."
Production of self-binders was a priority in 1879-80, but the company's heaviest business came in 1883-84, at a time when the plant produced almost nothing but mowers, and could not keep up with orders. Esterly's largest monthly payroll came in 1889-90, when 525 paychecks were issued. Production peak for harvesters came in perhaps 1889, when about 5,000 were manufactured.
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