History of Aultman & Taylor, Part II

Dr. Bixler continues the history of Aultman & Taylor

Woodworking room of the Aultman & Taylor separator department

Woodworking room of the Aultman & Taylor separator department.

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This issue of the Album contains the second installment of the late Dr. Bixler's history of the Aultman & Taylor Company, edited by Dr. Robert T. Rhode. (Click here to read the first installment from the November/December 2000 issue) The Album is serializing Dr. Bixler's book. During his lifetime, Dr. Bixler, a professor at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, published a few of his chapters as separate articles in this magazine and others, but the bulk of his book remained unpublished until now. Dr. Bixler's thoroughly documented manuscript offers rare insights into a major manufacturing firm and the people who made it famous.

Chapter 2 The Founding of the Aultman & Taylor Company

... [M]en of similar tastes and interests often associate themselves with each other to achieve common goals. So ... an appropriate inquiry arises as to what were the basic ... reasons which impelled ... two men [Cornelius Aultman and Henry Taylor] to join in the founding of [a] new company. Even though there is a dearth of information upon which to base a firm and altogether satisfactory answer to such an inquiry, yet on the basis of the evidence that is available several apparently plausible inferences may be drawn. To begin with, there are those who claim that Aultman persuaded Taylor to join him in that venture, while others assert that Taylor did the persuading. Be that as it may, for the purposes at hand the question [of] who did the persuading is immaterial. What is significant is that there were common interests held by [the] two men that led them to undertake the [enterprise].

As already observed, the two men had been [well] acquainted through business associations extending over a period of many years, and so it is not surprising that they became partners in the founding of the company. Moreover, [they] were closely associated with John Nichols and David Shepard and company. At the time of his death Cornelius Aultman was president of [Nichols & Shepard] ... Taylor accumulated an enormous reservoir of invaluable information, and he became one of the most experienced, competent, and knowledgeable salesmen in the field.

... As closely associated as were ... Aultman, Taylor, Nichols, and Shepard, it is not unreasonable to surmise that they shared many of their ideas and problems with each other ... The history of inventions shows that they usually [do] not occur overnight, but rather ... a prolonged period of time [is] required for the testing of a machine followed by modifications and trials prior to the time when an application [is] made for a patent. Like most innovations, the fulfillment of the need [is] not met by one man but by many usually working independently of each other. Available evidence indicates that this was in truth the situation with respect to the vibrator thresher.

A recital of the issuance of patents by the United States Patent Office makes this point crystal clear, and it has special relevance to the particular events that [culminated] in the founding of the Aultman & Taylor Manufacturing Company. The Pitts brothers, Hiram and John of Winthrop, Maine, built the first practical thresher in 1834 and had it patented in 1837. It was the original of a long line of "endless apron" threshers. One of the most popular of those threshers was the "Sweepstakes" manufactured by C. Aultman & Co. of Canton, Ohio.1 At about the same time Jacob W. A. Temple built a combined bull-thresher with a fanning device and secured a patent on it. He then went into partnership with George Westinghouse for the purpose of building those machines.

During 1848 John Cox and Cyrus Roberts founded a company and began building "groundhog" threshers. It was during the period from 1850 to 1856 that they experimented with, developed, and built a vibrator thresher. Roberts was granted patent #9140 dated July 20, 1852 ...

The main features of the machine may be outlined briefly as follows. [It] had a set of adjustable tracks, as shown in the drawings, that acted in connection with a jumping roller. The separator trough, or pan, rested upon that roller. That device set up a longitudinal vibration, and that was one of the first instances where the term "vibrator" was used. The second aspect of [the] invention consisted of a series of adjustable angular rails. [They] were arranged in the separating trough so as to facilitate the movement of the grain and insure its separation from the straw. The cleaning apparatus was located beneath the back end of the trough. The important features of this part of the machine consisted of a fine screen, fan, and fan shaft, all of which were connected with belts and pulleys.

When the grain was fed into the thresher, it passed into the separating trough and over the rails. Here it was tossed up and down by means of the jump trough. The grain and other materials passed through the rails and fell to the bottom of the pan while the straw moved toward the back of the thresher to the cleaning apparatus. It should be observed that the cleaned grain passed into a hopper at the side of the machine.2 

One may rest assured that both Aultman and Taylor were in on the ground floor of [these] developments. At any rate all of them possessed firsthand information and knowledge, as well as the foresight to envision the opportunities and possibilities for manufacturing the new vibrator separator.

A final reason that Aultman may have been interested in joining with Taylor in establishing the new company may well have been a financial one. The country had not yet recovered from a depleted currency and was in the midst of the reconstruction period. Under those conditions, money was scarce and difficult to obtain. The founding of the company during 1867 required a sizable outlay of funds. [Also] involved [were] the acquisition of a site, erection of buildings, [and] the purchase of machinery and equipment essential to the building of threshing machinery. While at that time Aultman was well on the way to becoming a wealthy man, yet in view of [his] substantial interests in C. Aultman & Co., Aultman, Miller and Company, and Nichols, Shepard and Company, as well as a number of other companies, it may well be that he did not choose to undergo the risk of jeopardizing the financial stability of his other companies ... [A]t that particular time he sought additional capital. Biographical information on Taylor implies that he accumulated a ... fortune and no doubt was in such an advantageous financial position that he was able to assist in the conjectured undertaking. ...

[T]he great Civil War had recently come to an end, and the uncertainty of the economic conditions ... was not propitious for such an exploit. ... [O]nly men with stout hearts would even have contemplated such an undertaking. ... Aultman and Taylor ... envisioned the opening of the West then underway that it would bring opportunities for expansion and growth that would require threshing machinery to meet the demands unprecedented in the ... history of the nation. ... [T]he times indeed required men undaunted and endowed with an abiding faith in the future of this country and its latent possibilities.

At that time the bulk of the small grains such as wheat and oats were grown almost entirely in the states east of the Mississippi River. The West consisted largely of territories since only a few of those territories had been organized as states and admitted into the union. [The territories] were sparsely settled due in part to the prevailing financial conditions, as well as to continuous crop failures caused by drought and grasshoppers. ... [T]he company's prospective customers were in no ... mood to purchase machinery except on extended credit.

... [D]espite [such] adverse conditions, there was another side to the picture that gave encouragement to those men to go forward with their plans to establish a new company. Two laws of momentous significance were enacted by the United States Congress that accelerated the opening of the West. One of them gave impetus to the building of the railroads. Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Bill into law on July 1, 1862. That law provided that, with government assistance, the Union Pacific and [the] Central Pacific railroad companies were to build a railroad from the western Iowa line to the Francisco Bay. That made possible the transportation of machinery to the far West.

Still another event of even greater importance ... was the Homestead Bill, which was signed into law by President Lincoln on May 20, 1862. It provided that the federal government would deed a farm of 160 acres, or a quarter section of land, to any man who would plow the unbroken sod. When a man took up such a tract of land, he agreed to pay a fee of ten dollars and was required to live on the same place for five years. At the end of that time the government gave him title papers and made him owner of the land. Thousands of [British], Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians came exclaiming, "What a good country where they give away farms!"3 

... Aultman and Taylor believed that the vibrator thresher would prevent wasteful threshing and that their adventure in the end would be crowned with success.4 The preceding discussion leaves little doubt that those two were extraordinary men. ... [They] ... had built an enviable reputation for the "endless apron" thresher, or the Pitts style of machine. As previously noted C. Aultman & Co. had enjoyed phenomenal success with their "Sweepstakes" apron threshers. Those two men were also keenly aware of its deficiencies .... And so, dissatisfied as they were with the current threshing machines, ... beginning in 1860, they ... set about the building of a vibrator style of threshing machine.

By now it should be ... understandable that the [enterprise] was not a sudden impulse. As a matter of fact there are compelling reasons to warrant the belief that the founders of [the] company had been contemplating such an adventure for some years prior to its establishment. That is borne out by the fact that Huntington Brown and William Ackerman were the first representatives of the company. ... [B]y horseback, buggy, and railroad they traveled all over the West. Everywhere they went they sought to introduce the new company to agents and prospective customers. Those people were informed that a new company was soon to come into being that would build a vibrator thresher, ... an entirely new type of machine. ...

Beginning [in] 1859 and 1860, other events ... were taking place in Battlecreek, Michigan, [that] exerted a tremendous influence on the establishment of the Aultman & Taylor Manufacturing Company. ... John Nichols and David Shepard ... brought the new thresher to full fruition by making the changes that radically improved its operation. The vibrator thresher that Nichols & Shepard built differed in several respects from those that preceded it, and those differences are apparent from the following [explanation of the thresher's construction]: "... two shakers [extended] from the cylinder to practically the rear of the thresher, the upper one open so as to permit the grain to fall through it upon the lower shaker, which upper shaker was provided with fingers which tossed the beat straw as the shakers swung back and forth. The grain and fine chaff fell through the shaker or grain pan, as more commonly called, which vibrated lengthwise of the machine carrying the grain and chaff to the fanning or cleaning mill, to which it was delivered for the purpose of thoroughly cleaning from dust and chaff. This machine was such an innovation that it met the aggressive opposition of the old builders. But not withstanding that fact it became rapidly popular."5 

To distinguish the new machine from the old "endless apron" type, Nichols coined the term "Vibrator," by which Nichols & Shepard machines were known. The Nichols & Shepard Company copyrighted that term and was the first to use it.

Nichols & Shepard began [testing] the Vibrator thresher in 1859 ... During 1860 they built five of [the] machines, the second year they built ten, and the third year twenty-five were built. The success ... was so remarkable that Nichols in 1863 made the following prediction in substantially these words: "If we continue to manage our business with diligence and care and to build and improve the Vibrator in its construction, here a little and there a little as may be necessary, the time will come when Nichols and Shepard will build and sell one hundred of these Vibrator threshing machines in one year."6 He did not have to wait long, for within three years the prediction that he made had been realized. It is a matter of record that ... the Nichols & Shepard Company enjoyed a rapid growth in the production of Vibrator threshers.7 

The invention and introduction of the Vibrator thresher marked the dawn of a new era in the threshing of ... grain ... With the "apron" thresher variation in speed and power did not materially alter the efficiency of threshing, but with the Vibrator thresher that was no longer true. To accomplish satisfactory threshing the new type of threshing machine required even, steady power. That was difficult and well nigh impossible to achieve with horse powers.

Consequently, with a strong insistence on the part of the threshermen and farmers for a more satisfactory type of power, the threshing machine companies were under pressure and impelled to search for a more reliable source of power. . . . [T]here arose an insistent demand for steam engines. The first steam engines used for threshing were portable and drawn by a team of horses, but within a few years [of] their introduction traction engines were built and, for the most part, replaced the horse-drawn portable engines.

... [I]n spite of the meritorious qualities ... of the Vibrator thresher, it was met with determined opposition. ... [M]any of the theshermen and farmers were reluctant ... to change to the new type of machine. ... Being conservative men who lived close to the soil, they were ... in no mood to purchase a machine that had been so recently invented and placed on the market.

... [T]hey were men who had to be convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that the new separator would function as the inventors and manufacturers claimed. ... [A] number of years passed before ... the thresher-men and farmers were assured of the validity of the claims made for the Vibrator separator and that their money would not be wasted on impractical machinery. ... [O]pposition also emerged from many of the [rival] companies who viewed the new machine with disdain and considered it to be a threat to their business. Their advertisements portrayed the new machine as a hoax and warned the farmers against buying one of those new-fangled machines.8 

Notwithstanding the strong opposition that came from competitors and others, within twenty years of the advent of the Vibrator, the "endless apron" type of machine became obsolete and [was] abandoned. Only a few of them are left today, and they have become very valuable antiques. ...

Out of the stream of historical events presented in the preceding pages at least one conclusion is inescapable. The avowed purpose for ... establishing the new company in Mansfield, Ohio, was to build a separator embodying the features peculiar to the vibrator type of threshers. One of the crucial problems that confronted the new company at its outset was that of securing patent rights. Aultman was a ... master in securing patent rights, buying and altering them to satisfy his own needs and purposes. Accordingly he assumed the responsibility of completing that task. Prior to and during the founding of the company he pursued those ends with a vengeance, and it became one of his major contributions to the initial success of the company. ... [H]e bought [and] reissued ... the entire series of patents involving the vibrator system. Those efforts resulted in substantial improvements over previous machines and made the Aultman & Taylor separator unique, as well as a success at the very beginning. ... [I]t should be observed ... that ... those efforts entailed considerable expense. Apparently the contributions to the improvement of the vibrator [thresher] were recognized by other companies, for ... Aultman granted the privilege to use that line of patents to several companies in Michigan, one in Missouri, and one in Illinois.

As already indicated, Nichols granted to the new company certain patent rights, ... yet it was not all one-sided. A few years later the Nichols, Shepard and Company paid the Aultman & Taylor Manufacturing Company a sum of money and became half owner in the patent rights as they existed at that time. That is to say there was an interchange of ideas and patent rights between the two companies.9 

Still another concern that required the attention of the founders ... was to discover a suitable location for their factory. Careful consideration was given to several [places] including Mansfield, Ohio, all of which gave ... promise of fulfilling their needs. In due time, however, all were eliminated except Mansfield, which became the choice for [situating] the company's plant.

The decision to locate the factory in Mansfield was influenced largely by two factors. First of all [was] the desire of the founders to [place] their factory where there was an abundant supply of the best material obtainable. One of the foremost assets of Mansfield was its location in a geographic area where there was some of the best hardwood in the country. In that vicinity there was available an abundance of ash, oak, poplar, and red elm. If one item were to be selected that contributed most to the wide and favorable reputation of the Aultman & Taylor thresher, it was the excellent quality of lumber that was utilized in its construction. The company bought only the choicest ... lumber, which was sawed out in the nearby forests. ...

A second factor ... of even greater influence in the selection of Mansfield for the location of their plant was the availability of splendid railroad facilities. At that time a large proportion of the business between the East and [the] West, the great prairie regions of the West and Northwest, [and] Europe passed through Mansfield. The city was traversed by three important railroad trunk lines: ... the Baltimore and the Ohio, the Pennsylvania, and the Erie. In addition to those three, two other railroads within close proximity north of the city were also available for the shipment of their machinery. Those railroads provided ample facilities for the shipment of their machinery to all parts of the world where grain was grown. ... The ... growth of the company during the succeeding years constitutes positive ... proof of the wisdom, as well as the foresight, in the selection of that locale for the new factory.

In 1867 Mansfield was a small community with a population numbering 1,715. With the coming of the new factory the community began to grow immediately, and there was a steady increase in the population. By 1876 it had grown to 2,700, and in 1880 it was 3,500. During [a] period of thirteen years the population of Mansfield had almost doubled. That ... was due in large measure to the enormous growth of the most important industry of the community, which was none other than the Aultman & Taylor Company. By 1920 the population of Mansfield stood at 27,224. In the meantime other industries grew up; ... nevertheless, the Aultman & Taylor Company continued to occupy first place as the outstanding industry in the city.10 

Once the decision was reached to build the factory in Mansfield, one of the most important items in the chain of events was to purchase lands conveniently located to the railroad facilities. It was also essential that ... the shops ... be arranged [so] that the manufactured machinery could be loaded on each of the railroads previously mentioned. It was likewise imperative that this should be accomplished without leaving the grounds of the Aultman & Taylor Manufacturing Company. The lands ultimately acquired met those requirements.

The deeds to the lands, which are recorded in the Richland County courthouse, show that at least thirteen persons owned parcels ... that were needed by the company. In addition to deeding tracts of land to the company, another interesting deed was concerned with a race, or canal. The legal document pertaining thereto was executed by John and Margaret Ann Sherry and provided that the company was to have the use of the waterway. That the ... canal might be kept in good repair, the company was permitted to take stones and clay from the adjoining land to make the necessary repairs to the waterway. Acquisition of the tracts of land occurred at intermittent occasions between 1861 and 1867. When all of the parcels of land had been purchased and deeds executed, the total amount of land in the possession of the company was approximately seven acres.11 

There are several instances in the deeds where mention is made of Toby's Run as a line of demarcation. The name of that stream, which still flows through the grounds of the old plant, had its origin in Indian lore. A warrior whose name was Toby attempted to escape an encampment of soldiers stationed in Mansfield. He was shot and wounded, after which he made his way to the stream and lay down in it. Later the soldiers returned, found the warrior still alive, and killed him with a tomahawk. Thereafter, the stream was known as Toby's Run.12 

Construction of the buildings began in 1861, but the first buildings were erected during 1865, 1866, 1867, and 1868. ... [T]he warehouse was not built until 1869 and ... was said to have been the largest frame building of its kind in the country. It was 252 feet in length, 90 feet in width, and 4 stories in height. It contained 90,720 square feet of storage space and stood on the north line of the company's property. An elevator was placed in the building that was used to hoist the threshing machines from the ground floor to the other floors of the building. Within a few years following its [construction] the production of the company outgrew ... the capacity of the building, and so it became necessary to secure additional improvised storage space.

Regretfully that huge building fell upon evil days and had a most ... tragic demise. During Monday night of May 26, 1896, ... Mansfield was engulfed by a severe electric storm. It was accompanied by strong winds and a blinding downpour of rain. At approximately eleven o'clock that night a bolt of lightning struck the gigantic warehouse of the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company. The building was [hit] about six feet from the west end, and, within minutes, the [structure] became a mass of flames ... By the end of an hour the roof and walls collapsed. It was all over, and the warehouse ... with the starved rooster [logo] appearing at each end of the building was forever gone.13 ...

A picture of that huge building reveals ... that the warehouse may have been equipped with lightning rods. Why did the rods fail to prevent the fire? ... [N]o firm answer can be given to that question. Ten rods pointing skyward are visible to the naked eye. ... [W]ith the aid of a magnifying glass [one can see) two additional rods ....

As the business of the company continued to grow it began the building of steam engines, and so it became necessary to enlarge the engine shops. With the erection of those shops the company had one of the most complete and modern facilities to be found in the country ... All of the work on their engines from the bending and rolling of the boiler plates to the painting of the finished engine was done under one roof.

To construct additional buildings [required that] new lands ... be purchased, ... [including] a large brick residence on the hill opposite the old office that was known as the McComb residence. Mr. McComb was a brother-in-law of John Sherman, who served as a United States Senator from Ohio and later as Secretary of State during the McKinley administration. [The] residence was built by Mr. Hickox, who was an early resident of Mansfield and a banker in that community. [The] building was altered and became the office of the company. ... That building and hill have long since been removed, and new buildings, including a church, now occupy the area where the old building and office stood.

... [B]y 1880 the plant, including warehouses, additional shops, yards, etc., occupied thirty-five acres of land.

... [T]he preliminaries to the founding of the company extended over a period of seven to eight years. In fact it is reasonably clear that the founding of the company began as early as 1859 and 1860. ... [C]areful thought and meticulous consideration with respect to every detail ... distinguished every step ... on the journey toward ... incorporation. ...

The incorporation papers, which are on file ... in the office of the Secretary of State of Ohio, contain . . . pertinent . . . facts that merit attention. The company was incorporated for the purpose of 'engaging in the manufacture and sale of agricultural and mechanical implements, machinery, wood work, castings, and iron work, including repairing of machinery.'

The company was capitalized at $150,000.00. The number of shares was 1,500, and the value of each share was fixed at $100.00. ...

[T]he document was written in longhand [and] is somewhat faded, yet the signatures are quite clear ... The incorporation papers were signed in the following order: Henry Taylor, C. Aultman, John Turner, H. C. Taylor, E. Aultman, J. H. Wiggle. This then became the legal date of the founding of the Aultman & Taylor Manufacturing Company. Thus was launched on that auspicious day of November 9, 1867, a great and significant enterprise that continued to build machinery for a period of fifty-six years, being liquidated in 1923.14 

Click here to continue reading about the history Aultman & Taylor in Part III. 


1. Bixler, Lorin E. Cornelius Aultman, C. Aultman & Co., and the Aultman Co. Enola, Pennsylvania: STEMGAS Publishing, 1967. 25, 27, 77.

2. The Mansfield Shield, October 25, 1909. Baughman, A. J., ed. Centennial Biographical History of Richland Count], Ohio. Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1901. 609.

3.Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War years. New York: Harcourt, Brace. 300.

4. Brown, J. E. "The History of the Company and its Predecessors." The Rooster, April 1909. 3, 8.

5. Gardner, Washington. History of Calhoun County, Michigan. Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1913. 354-57.

6. Nichols, John. Battlecreek Scrapbook, no date. Brown, J. H. "Battlecreek's Wheat History." Battlecreek Scrapbook, no date. Coller, Ron. Battlecreek Enquirer and News, 1959. 52.

7. Ibid.

8.Graham, Albert Alexander. History of Richland County, Ohio. Chicago: A. A. Graham, 1880. 501-502.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Office of the Clerk of Courts, Richland County courthouse, Mansfield, Ohio.

12. For a complete report of this incident, see Graham.

13. Mansfield Daily News, May 26, 1896.

14. Office of the Secretary of State, Columbus, Ohio.