Oliver Smith Kelly

"The Head of the Herd," "Dean of the Chapel"

Oliver smith kelly

Oliver Smith Kelly (1824–c.1902)

American Thresherman, December 1902

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The December 1902 issue of the American Thresherman has this to say about Mr. Oliver Smith Kelly:

"Mr. OLIVER SMITH Kelly, president of the O. S. Kelly Manufacturing Company, of Springfield, Ohio, and connected with the O. S. Kelly Western Manufacturing Company of Iowa City, Iowa. Mr. Kelly is the oldest active member of the thresher builders in the United States, being seventy-eight years of age. He is considered the Father of the Chapel, and at the last annual meeting of the thresher manufacturers, at Indianapolis, was present and was greeted with cheers by the association when he responded to a toast proposed to 'The Head of the Herd' by E. F. Kenaston, president of the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company, who paid a tribute to the sterling worth of the grand old man.

"Mr. Kelly was born in 1824 and was left an orphan at the age of one year. At the age of fourteen, he began making his own living on the farm. At the age of seventeen, he served one year as apprentice at the carpenter trade and a year later began work as a contractor. In 1857, he became a member of the firm of Whitley, Fasseler & Kelly, manufacturing mowers and reapers. When the firm dissolved, he organized the O. S. Kelly Company out of the old Rinehart, Ballard & Co., and afterwards the Springfield Engine and Thresher Company. He was married in 1847, and is yet hale and hearty and bids fair to reach one hundred years."

Then in the American Thresherman of May 1904, we find the announcement of his death and we quote (omitting some of which is a duplication of the above):

"The grim reaper of death has again invaded the ranks of thresher builders and claimed an honored member and another philanthropist, in the person of Oliver Smith Kelly, head of the O. S. Kelly Manufacturing Company of Springfield, Ohio, and Iowa City, Iowa. Mr. Kelly celebrated his seventy-eighth birthday and fifty-sixth wedding anniversary on Dec. 23rd, 1902. He was one of the moving spirits in the great Champion Harvester Works, which operated for years under the name of Whitely, Fassler & Kelly. Mr. Kelly became identified with the thresher business in 1882. The old thresher factory of Rinehart, Ballard & Company was acquired by Mr. Kelly and was organized under the name of Springfield Engine and Thresher Company and afterwards the O. S. Kelly Company.

"During the nearly fourscore and ten years of his life Oliver S. Kelly was a man who made the world better by his being here. He was generous to a fault and gave freely of his means to all public enterprises. Among the gifts which remain a monument to his generosity is the Esplanade fountain in his home city. He was a man beloved by all men, and against whose good name no word was ever spoken. Born of Scotch-Irish parents, he inherited a strong constitution and was an indefatigable worker. He loved to make money for the good he could do with it and no person ever called on him in vain.

"To have lived to a ripe old age with the knowledge that one has accomplished much good and has been a help to mankind, is a precious in-heritage, and such is due to the memory of Oliver Smith Kelly."

Again we note in the Threshermen's Review of December 1902 while listening to Mr. Kelly's speech at the Indianapolis Meeting a Review representative got the idea it would be interesting to have Mr. Kelly write an article about threshing in the early day. Here it is, we quote it in full:

"I am in receipt of yours of the 15th requesting me to give you my recollections of seventy-one years back regarding the manner of threshing wheat of that day, and following it down and comparing it with the present day. I am sorry that I could not have more time in which to prepare an article that would be more comprehensive than this which I am now writing to you.

"When I was a boy six or seven years old, which was about seventy-one or seventy-two years ago, the farmers of the country raised small crops of wheat each year, say five to ten to twelve acres on each farm. This was about all the wheat that was raised and the land being strong and new, the wheat grew very rank and most generally was down and lodged when it was harvested. It was usually cut by sickles or 'reap-hooks.' Half a dozen farmers would go together and would join one day and cut one man's crop by means of the old sickle. The next day they would go to another neighbor, and so on around until they had harvested all the wheat. At that time there was nothing in the shape of a threshing machine in the vicinity where I lived; along in the fall and winter the grain was threshed out on the barn floor ordinarily by four horses tramping around in a circle on the wheat, and by this means the wheat was shelled from the head. When a boy of seven years I was called into service when the threshing season commenced. It was my duty to ride a horse and guide him around this floor, leading three other horses that were in the rear, making four horses all together; and by this means we could thresh out a crop that grew upon ten acres of land in about four days. Now, Mr. Editor, you can imagine what condition that portion of a boy's body that rested upon that horse was in at the end of those four days. I assure you I was glad when those four days were up and the wheat was threshed out; although it placed me in such a condition that I was unable to slide down cellar doors for the next two weeks. This was hard on the boys, but such hardships as these in a very early day have turned out many good, solid men in spite of getting their schooling three months in the winter in a log cabin and having to work the balance of the nine months upon the farm; and while the writer was not one of those fortunate ones to make very much out of himself, there are a great many good men that have been turned out with no better preparation than this, and some of the country's greatest men were brought up in just this same manner.

"Now this is the way wheat was threshed seventy-two years ago in this country, [now 128 years ago]. A little later on, I have a distinct recollection of the first threshing machine that I had ever seen. I believe I was then about twelve years old, which was about 1836. It was a machine placed on a wagon. In the main wheels of the wagon was the gearing and when the wagon was put in motion, it drove the cylinder of the machine and threshed the grain as it was thrown into the machines by wagons following it up. This machine was hauled over the ground in the field by from four to six horses, and the wheat was loaded on the wagons from the shock in the field, following the thresher up and throwing the sheaves on to a man who fed it into the machine. This, however, did not clean the grain, but it separated it after a fashion from the straw, whence it fell into a receptacle and was afterwards fanned out by a fanning mill. This was a very crude apparatus; yet from it the more modern machines were suggested. I never heard of but this one of that kind of a machine being built, and this I saw on my grandfather's farm in 1836.

"The next practical threshing machine I can recollect, was that gotten up by John A. Pitts, known as the 'Pitts' machine, and also designated as the 'Apron' machine. This was very successful at that date, which was about 1845. In 1840 Messrs. James and Samuel Barnett built a large flour mill in Springfield which had a very fine water power to operate it. They induced others to come and rent water from them. Among the number who came here was Mr. John A. Pitts to build his threshing machines. He erected a small shop, a part of which the O. S. Kelly Co. now occupies, enlarged, and he built the Pitts apron machine All older threshermen will know what kind of a machine Mr. Pitts built at that date. It would to-day be called a very good separator, and while it was not up to the modern ones, yet it was a good machine and farmers were satisfied with it. In fact it took so well with some that the Pitts apron machines were built in the factory of O. S. Kelly Co. until 1884 and 1885, at which time it was superseded by other styles of machines.

"As we advanced, such machines as the vibrator came into use and were very popular for a time. They did good work, but as you well know as editor of your paper, they have also had to retire for a still more modern type of machine. And now we have come to a point where we look back and manufacturers and the world are astonished at the progress that has been made in the last seventy-two years in this line of business. Necessity has been the mother of invention, our country improving so rapidly that the wheat could not be raised to feed the people unless there was some modern way of not only harvesting it, but threshing it after it had been harvested. Consequently great progress in improvement of harvesting and threshing machinery has been made and our factories have been crowded to the front until to-day we stand at the head of every country in the world in that industry.

"The traction engine has now become a part of every threshing outfit. The first in my recollection was built in this city by George Barnett, a son of the Samuel Barnett who built the flouring machine above mentioned, in Springfield. He made a traction engine in 1859, and while it was not an entire success, it was pointing in the direction of just what we are building to-day good, practical working engines and if he had continued his efforts along the lines on which he started and improved upon them, he might have been the first man to get together a good practical traction engine. But he became discouraged and let the thing go. This Mr. George Barnett lives somewhere in the State of Illinois, I don't know at just what point.

"It will be remembered that Mr. John A. Pitts, when he first started in Springfield, built but a few machines and that they were driven by horse power. But his machines became so popular and his business increased so rapidly that he was compelled to leave Springfield and go to Buffalo, where he could get more room to build factories of larger capacity, and his plant has grown to be one of the leading factories in the United States. But while this was being done, other great industries have grown up the J. I. Case Co., probably the largest threshing machine business in the country; Nichols & Shepard, the Reeves people, Robinson, Russell, Huber, Gaar-Scott, the Minneapolis people, and others too numerous to mention in this article, have grown to immense establishments and are sending the products of their factories to all parts of the world. This every American citizen should be proud of. We are the grain field of the world, and we should be able to furnish the machinery to put our product in proper shape for market and at the same time furnish that machinery to other people who do is little in the line of raising wheat. This I believe is being done, and ever increasingly.

"Going back to the early days of threshing machines, the development of this machinery was slow and was brought about by hard mental and physical labor, and this is chiefly the way all new things are brought to perfection. But with the great number of inventors that can be found in the United States, it is not at all surprising that we should lead the world in this particular line."

Very respectfully yours, O S. KELLY