The History of a Foundry

Factory side view in 1976

Factory side view in 1976.

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Peter Street Mildmay, Ontario N0G 2J0

Around 1870, John Beam, a farmer from Baden, Ontario, patented a balanced sectional deck thresher which operated by a double set of crankshafts driven by two spur gears on the outside of the separator. This improvement was used by Simpson Merner on his New Hamburg threshers and the rights were also purchased by Jacob Bricker.

Jacob Bricker built a small shop in Waterloo, Ontario in 1850 and made tools and implements and, finally, threshing machines. In 1870 he purchased the Buehler Foundry Co. and operated it as the Waterloo Foundry, making threshers exclusively. In 1880 Jacob and his brother Levi formed a partnership under the name of Bricker & Co., and the trade name 'Lion Brand' was used for their product. E.W.B. Snider purchased the Bricker Co. plant and began manufacturing a new threshing machine which he named the 'Champion' and later made traction engines under the name Waterloo Manufacturing Co. The 'Champion' thresher was built until the 1940's, at which time the company took over the distributorship of the 'Belle City' threshing machine in Ontario.

During the 1850's a new section of Western Ontario known as the 'Queens Bush' was being opened up for settlement. In 1863 Samuel Merner arrived in Carrick Township and built the Royal Hotel on a corner and a store across the road. This community became known as Mernersville, and in 1868, with the establishment of a post office, was renamed Mildmay, Ontario.

Samuel Merner had been born in Switzerland in 1823, and came to Canada in 1837. Learning the blacksmith trade in Preston, Ontario, he opened a shop in New Hamburg in 1844 making farm implements and he became very successful. His oldest son, Simpson, established the New Hamburg Manufacturing Co., and Samuel Merner's Waterloo foundry was purchased by the Waterloo Mfg. Company.

A foundry was built beside Otter Creek in Mildmay, Ontario in 1877 and after changing hands several times, with additions and machinery being installed, was purchased by Henry Spitzig, a foundry man from Waterloo, Ontario, in 1883.

Henry Spitzig manufactured the 'Lion' thresher which was also a balanced deck separator similar to the New Hamburg and Waterloo separators. Spitzig was joined in 1886 by Henry Berberich and the business was expanded under the name of Spitzig & Berberich. This partnership operated until 1887 when Jonas Herrgott from St. Agatha, Ontario bought Berberich's half share. The firm was known as Spitzig & Herrgott until 1890 when Herrgott took over Spitzig's half share and operated as J. Herrgott & Co.

Spitzig continued to work with Herrgott for a short time and about 1893 apparently reunited with Berberich when the C. Norsworth & Co., of St. Thomas, Ontario, which manufactured portable steam engines, was purchased by Spitzig, Berberich & Hauck and began the manufacture of stoves.

Meanwhile, Jacob Herrgott, Jonas' cousin, moved to Mildmay and was employed under Jonas. In 1891 they formed a partnership. Their 1891 stock book shows that besides the threshers, they made or repaired choppers, plows, plow points, reapers, turnip pulpers, mowers, and apple grinders, and they repaired steam engines.

Jonas Herrgott had other interests and was involved in a private banking business. However, due to poor management, the bank business went bankrupt, and Jonas lost all his investments, and made an assignment in 1897.

In 1891 Jacob Herrgott signed an agreement to purchase the foundry from Jonas for $2880.00 which was obtained from his parents, who motgaged the family farm in St. Agatha, Ontario. At this time, a one-half share of the business was assigned to his brother Henry Herrgott for $1495.00. This partnership operated as Herrgott Bros., until 1927.

Philip H. Lobsinger (born 1870) was an employee of the firm in 1890 and continued working at the foundry until 1956, a faithful employee for over 66 years.

As there were no blueprints or written information for the 'Lion' threshers, these men passed their knowledge and experience down to successive newcomers. The only guides they had to build the machines were the wooden patterns used to copy the parts from, and the experience passed on from generation to generation.

The 'Lion' separator at that time (1890) was a basic separator, with shakers and kickers (agitators), a platform for hand feeding the grain into the cylinder, return elevator, wire sieves, and long straw carriers to take the straw away from the rear of the separator. The first machines were driven by horse power attachments, and later on, the steam traction engine. Delivery was made either by railroad or by a team of horses. In the early 1900's the Mild-may Wind Stacker was added, followed by the Lindsay Feeder, grain elevator, chaff blower, clover recleaner, ball bearings, straw cutter and shredder, and Mildmay grain thrower.

Herrgott Bros, also manufactured a knuckle joint cider press and each fall ran a complete cider mill to make cider and apple butter for the surrounding communities.

Power for the machinery in the foundry was supplied by a Stevens & Burns stationary engine until 1915. A water wheel to power the plant was considered, but it was decided that not enough head of water could be obtained from the Otter Creek at that point to generate the power required. In 1915, a 10 HP electric motor was installed to give the foundry the most modern source of power at that time. This motor kept the lineshafts humming every working day for a period of over 55 years, and was donated to the Ontario Agricultural Museum in 1985 complete with the lineshafts.

By the early 1920's, friction between Henry and Jacob Herrgott increased, due to both having large families and operating on a small scale, making 5 to 10 separators per year, and a few cider presses. They bought the cider mill in Paisley, Ontario and decided to part. Jacob continued to operate the foundry and called it the Herrgott Co., while Henry took over the Paisley Cider Mill, later moving to St. Clements, Ontario, where he set up a furniture store and finally established Herrgott Industries, St. Clements, Ontario, manufacturing a threshing machine much like the thresher built in Mildmay.

Jacob Herrogtt continued to operate the Herrgott Co., on a small scale, inventing a new feeder, the Mildmay Grain Thrower, and perfecting the patented 'Mildmay Straw Cutter and Shredder'. Jacob was getting to be an elderly man, so in 1937 he turned the business over to his son Norman. However, after an eight month trial he again took over the business, and sold it to Charles & Philip Lobsinger in 1938.

During the Great Depression, money and jobs were scarce, and the Lobsinger brothers purchased the foundry with a small down payment and a large mortgage. They decided to build 10 separators the first year, and borrowed heavily to meet the payroll and to buy materials. Jacob Herrgott felt that they were starting too big, and he would have the foundry back in about a year. However, the whole Lobsinger family pitched in with all their savings, and the employees let most of their wages stand, so that after the first year the company began to show a profit.

Charles and Philip Lobsinger operated under the name of Lobsinger Brothers. They were hard workers and could not expand much during World War II due to shortage of materials. However after the war there was a good demand for threshing machines, and they kept putting their earnings back into the business and increasing their output every year until production was up to 100 separators in the year 1951. This was quite a feat for the small foundry, which was bulging at the seams and had only a staff of about 30 men.


However the threshing machine was on its way out, and while sales for the 'Lion' were satisfactory, other Ontario companies were disposing of their thresher business.

Thus Lobsinger Bros. Ltd. acquired the parts for the Waterloo 'Champion' thresher, the #6 George White thresher and the Mt. Forest 'Favorite' thresher during the early 1960's.

As sales were declining due to shortage of farm labor and the trend to the combine the Lobsinger brothers fought back by pioneering the use of the forage harvester to pick up the grain for the threshing machine, and also a kit to use on a haybaler in order to thresh the grain in bales. These new ideas allowed Lobsinger Bros. Ltd. to manufacture threshers for a few more years until sales steadily declined. Charles and Philip Lobsinger retired in 1967 and the business was taken over by John E. Schmidt who had been with the company since 1949. The last new 'Lion' thresher was sold in 1970 and the company has engaged in selling repairs until 1985.

Over the years the 'Lion' has become better known as the Mild-may Thresher, and sales were confined to a 100 mile radius of Mildmay. In some small areas there would be a 'Mildmay' thresher in every barn. A total of over 1685 units were built at the small foundry in Mildmay, and it likely has the distinction of making the 'last threshing machine'.

In the spring of 1986 the old foundry will be torn down and the collection of thresher parts disposed of. The old Mildmay foundry will be well represented in various displays at the Ontario Agricultural Museum, Milton, Ontario by the complete cider mill donated by John E. Schmidt, as well as the plastic sided 'Lion' demonstrator separator, a prototype combine and an 1888 antique thresher and line shafts from the foundry.