The J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company vs. the J.I. Case Plow Works Co.

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: Sam Moore examines the fallout between two companies founded by Jerome Increase Case.

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Detail from an ad from the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company.

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Someone sent me the following email: 'I was just reading an old ad, circa 1928, for the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. of Racine, Wis. In fine print at the bottom is this disclaimer: 'We want the public to know that our plows and harrows are not the Case plows and harrows made by the J.I. Case Plow Works Co.' What's this all about?'

As most of you know, Jerome Increase Case became rich and famous by designing, perfecting and manufacturing a machine to separate and clean grain. His company was located in Racine and, as of 1881, was known as the J.I. Case Threshing Company. During the 1870s, Jerome Case, although still company president, virtually withdrew from an active participation in the day-to-day management of the firm, leaving the job to his brother, Stephen Bull, who was company vice president. Case involved himself in cattle farming, banking, Great Lakes shipping and horse racing, among other interests.

About 1876, Mr. Case became interested in and financed a new venture to build a center-draft plow that had been designed by Ebenezer Whiting. Originally named Case, Whiting and Company, the new factory was located right next to the J.I. Case T.M. Co., but was a completely separate firm. After buying out Whiting, Case renamed the firm the J.I. Case Plow Company in 1878 and became company president, meanwhile retaining presidency of the T.M. Co. In 1884, the company became the J.I. Case Plow Works, offering a full line of walking and sulky plows, along with the other tillage tools. In 1890, J.I. Case resigned as president of the Plow Works and named his son, Jackson I. Case to the post. Jackson wasn't really interested in building plows either, so in 1892, Henry M. Wallis became president. H.M. Wallis was married to one of old J.I.'s daughters and ran the J.I. Case Plow Works Company until its demise in 1928.

At the time of his death in 1891, J.I. Case stipulated in his will that his stock in the J.I. Case T.M. Co. be sold, while his stock in the Plow Works Company was to be left to his family. As a result of the will, the Bulls, Stephen (now president of the T.M. Co.) and his son, Frank Bull, managed to acquire all the T.M. stock. Case's son, Jackson I. Case, along with son-in-law H.M. Wallis, and his son, owned the Plow Works.

As long as J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. sold threshers, horse-powers and steam engines, and the J.I. Case Plow Works made tillage tools, the two firms existed side-by-side peacefully. That changed in about 1912, when the T.M. company started experimenting with plows to be pulled by their steam traction engines. The T.M. Co. also began selling relatively lightweight gas tractors about that time, along with the plows to go with them. These plows had the Case name prominently displayed on the beams. The Plow Works Company protested, and filed a lawsuit against the T.M. company for using the Case name on their plows. To get around the problem, the Bulls planned to change the corporate name to 'J.I. Case Company.' Getting wind of the scheme, the Wallises and Jackson Case beat them to the punch and formed a J.I. Case company of their own.

Another bone of contention between the two firms developed over incoming mail. Many farmers and other potential customers addressed letters to J.I. Case, or just 'Case Co.' Wallis demanded that the Racine Post Office forward any mail addressed like that to the new J.I. Case company, which was actually the Plow Works. The T.M. Co. naturally protested, and more lawsuits were filed. The Postmaster General and the courts finally ruled that all mail addressed to the Case of the J.I. Case company without a street address, had to be opened at the post office in the presence of a representative from each firm. Any disputed mail was to be submitted to the court for determination of ownership. This sad state of affairs continued until 1928 when the Plow Works was sold.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court also ruled, in 1915, that the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company could build and sell plows, but they couldn't put the Case name on them. Partly as a result of that ruling, in 1919, The J.I. Case T.M. Co. bought the Grand Detour Plow Company, one of the country's largest plow manufacturers. The T.M. company then used the Grand Detour names on their plow, disks and harrows for many years, besides featuring the disclaimer that began this column in all their ads. The Plow Works used a similar disclaimer in their ads.

About 1912, the Wallis Tractor Co. was formed, and after that, the revolutionary Wallis Cub was introduced. The Cub was the first tractor to use unit construction, in that the engine crankcase and the transmission case formed the frame of the tractor. The Wallis Cub Junior, which followed the Cub, pioneered the use of fully enclosed final drive gears, as well as Wyatt roller bearings throughout the machine. In 1919, the Wallis Tractor Co. was merged into the J.I. Case Plow Works. Henry Wallis even introduced a threshing machine about 1920. This separator was called the Wallis, and was built by Sawyer-Massey Co., of Hamilton, Ontario.

The Plow Works had a good tractor. But the 1920 depression hit hard, and the firm was in trouble during most of the decade. In 1927, the Massey-Harris Co. began to sell Wallis tractors in Canada with a lot of success. That led Massey-Harris to buy the J.I. Case Plow Works for a reported $1.3 million in cash and the assumption of another $1.1 million in debt. Not having any use for the Case name, Massey-Harris sold it to the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. for $70,000.

That was the end of the J.I. Case Plow Works Company and the Wallis tractor. The J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co., now the exclusive owner of the Case name, promptly dropped the 'Threshing Machine' and became the J.I. Case Company with the right to use 'Case' on all their products. FC 

Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.