Let's Talk Rusty Iron

Must-See Show: Paris Universal Exposition in 1900 was a crucial showplace for agriculture equipment manufacturers

The Deering Retrospective exhibit

The Deering Retrospective exhibit. This exhibit consisted of more than 100 models, representing such machines as Hussey's reaper, Marsh's harvester and Peck's corn binder, all in glass diaplay cases. The models were "... beautifully finished in natural woods, and metals highly polished and lacquered." The models were set up so "... that visiors may cause any machine to operate by simply grasping a silk cord ..." Wouldn't it be great to find one of these models today?

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The grand opening of the Paris Universal Exposition was April 14, 1900, although very few buildings or exhibits were complete, and scaffolding had to be hurriedly (and temporarily) removed so the President of France could cut the ribbon. Meant to be a glittering showcase of the industrial and technological might of the Western World on the eve of a new century, the exposition drew 76,000 exhibitors from all over the world who did their best to impress more than 50 million visitors. These visitors, also from all over the world, saw such wonders as a moving sidewalk, wireless telegraphy and a moving staircase called an "escalator."

The June 7, 1900, issue of Farm Implement News describes the large American contribution to the extensive agricultural portion of the event, even though all the machinery had to be sent to New York and loaded on ships for the voyage to Le Havre, France, before being transported overland to the Expo site in Paris.

As might be expected, Deering and McCormick, the two titans of the U.S. harvesting machinery business in that era, went all out. The harvester wars were playing havoc with profits at home and both firms hoped to increase their lucrative export trade.

The Deering Harvester Co. set up an elaborate display in the U.S. Agricultural Annex building as pictured in the woodcut illustration shown above. In addition, the French government gave Deering the honor of setting up the "Official Retrospective Exhibit" in the U.S. section of the Palace of Agriculture. This exhibit was "… a review of the methods employed in harvesting grain at various stages of the world's progress, but more particularly during the past century."

Other exhibitors in the Annex included D.M. Osborne Co., Johnson Harvester, Piano Manufacturing, Aultman, Miller Co., Warder, Bushnell & Glessner Co., Adriance, Platt & Co., Walter A. Wood, Oliver Chilled Plow Works, Milwaukee Harvester, Stover Manufacturing, Aermotor, F.E. Meyers and Reliable Incubator & Brooder.

Deere & Co. ran into some bad luck with its exhibit, which was lost at sea during the Atlantic crossing. The Deere machinery was loaded aboard the freight steamer Poyak, which sailed from New York and was due in Le Havre on March 15. The article says, "From the day it passed out of the American port to the present it has never been seen or heard of and no clue to its fate has been found. It is supposed it sank in mid-ocean and all on board were lost." Apparently, a replacement shipment was made, as a John Deere ad from October 1900 claims a gold medal for "Efficiency and Merit" was awarded to the firm's Victor plow at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Predictably, McCormick Harvesting Co. one-upped the other exhibitors by erecting its own building, in which were housed full-sized specimens of all the company's machines, including a self-binding harvester, self-raking Daisy reaper, one-horse mower, New No. 4 mower and Big 4 mower, hand and self-dump steel hay rakes, self-binding corn harvester, corn husker and shredder, header, and manual-delivery reaper. In addition, full-sized models of Mccormick's first reaper were displayed, and several "… other machines perfected and developed by him and his successors."

Mimicking the Deering display (or maybe it was the other way around), the McCormick building featured a "… scenic panorama (that) represents, in a realistic way, the mammoth works of the McCormick company in Chicago, with moving boats and cars bringing the lumber, coal and iron to the works, and carrying away the finished product; while the other side of this panorama contains a typical American farm scene, with moving harvesters cutting the grain and grass."

On a balcony around the inside of the building were "… several hundred photographs of harvesting scenes, procured at large expense from all the grain-growing regions of the world." And all, no doubt, featured McCormick harvesting machines.

In the U.S. Agricultural Annex building were "… beautifully finished specimens of the McCormick self-binding harvester, self-raking reaper and New No. 4 mower. Facsimile reproductions of 70 of the most important medals won by the McCormick machines at great international expositions are also exhibited here, with original diplomas and objects of art."

Also in the Annex, "To illustrate in a striking way the immense output of the great McCormick works there is exhibited a scenic panorama of the gates of the works, and in the distance a country landscape. The gates are opened each 30 seconds at the sound of a gong, when a team drawing a tiny harvesting machine appears and quickly moves across the foreground of the scene from the gates to the country beyond, disappearing behind the hills. Each 30 seconds the operation is repeated throughout the entire day, the intention being to bring forcibly to mind the fact that from the mammoth McCormick works in Chicago more than 1,200 completely finished machines are produced each day."

On the third floor of the Annex was a series of models showing the progress of grain harvesting methods from Cyrus' first reaper to the present day. The author gushes, "Each of these models is perfect in the minutest details and cost several times as much as full-sized machines. Each of them has a team, beautifully harnessed, hitched to it, and a driver in the seat gives the exhibit the look of a miniature outfit ready for the field. These models are in glass cases and are all belted to a shaft driven by an electric motor which revolves the reels and rakes and sends the knives swiftly through the guards."

In the U.S. section of the Palace of Agriculture, McCormick had its twine exhibit. "Artistically modeled figures of the natives who grow and prepare the fiber show the steps in the work of obtaining it, while by photographs of the machines, and examples of the products of these machines, the various steps in preparing and spinning are shown. A relief model of the McCormick twine mill is also shown, while surmounting all is a figure of an American farmer holding in his hands a tag taken from a ball of McCormick twine." Kind of gets you right there, doesn't it?

In the Canadian government building, the largest manufacturer in Canada, Massey-Harris, had a large exhibit of machines, which were "… remarkable for their beauty of finish. What can't be polished wood in them is nickel silver, so that they make a most brilliant appearance." There was a "Right hand binder finished in curly birch and nickel. Left hand binder in white ash and nickel. Imperial reaper in cherry and nickel. Thirteen-tine cultivator, in cherry and nickel. Tedder in nickel and maroon finish." In addition MH showed one- and two-horse mowers, several different hay rakes, and a whole range of plows and scufflers.

The Cockshutt Plow Co. exhibited plows of all types, along with disc and diamond harrows. Peter Hamilton Manufacturing Co. showed a drill and two cultivators, while several other Canadian firms showed plows and harrows, seeders, harvesting and haying machines, barrel churns and lawn mowers.

A glaring omission from the account was the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. It seems inconceivable there wasn't a Case thresher and steam traction engine among the exhibits. Although I can find no mention of the Case Threshing Machine Co. being at the Expo, the Russian government did order 100 25 hp Case engines in July 1900. Is it possible the czar, or one of his representatives, saw the machines exhibited at Paris? I guess we'll never know.

One of my long-held fantasies is to possess a time machine in which I could travel back to a specific time in history, stay a little while and then get safely back to the present. If ever I acquire such a machine, the 1900 Paris Exposition is one place I'll surely go. FC

- 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 e-mail at letstalkrustyiron@copper.net