Threshing machine

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Canada's first threshing machine was built by John Fisher, a Yankee who hailed originally from New York State, in 1836.

The enterprise which he originated grew through the years to become the Sawyer & Massey Co., Ltd., with headquarters at Hamilton, Ont., the town in which he settled.

The story of the first 70 years of Sawyer & Massey is told in a volume published by the firm in 1906. This is now available in a handsome reprint.

John Fisher came to Hamilton at a time when no threshing or reaping machines were available. The farmer scattered his seed by hand or with the simplest of aids; he used the cradle to harvest it, and then it was 'tramped out by oxen or horses or else beaten out with a flail'.

Fisher based his thresher on the Maikle machine made in Scotland in 1786. He built one machine at a time, and as his work grew he added workmen and facilities which would today be considered very primitive. The few castings he used were made in a foundry which was fed with scrap iron and pig iron by a man who climbed a ladder to the roof. He dropped in the iron 'a bucketful at a time, til enough was melted to pour it off'.

Dr. Calvin McQuesten, a physician who was a Fisher relative in Lockport, N. Y., invested $1,500 and gave up medicine to take on the sales job. He got more orders in a year than Fisher could fill and the company prospered. Other products were added.

L. D. Sawyer, a machinist related to Dr. McQuesten, joined up in the 1840's; so did his brothers, Payson and Samuel. The Sawyers became very active, enlarging the business to make steam engines and other kinds of farm machinery. Other relatives entered the business.

In 1889 H. A. Massey, president of Massey-Harris Co., Ltd., became president of this firm as well. The company continued to attract family members. H. P. Coburn, general manager and vice president of Sawyer-Massey in 1906, was a nephew of L. D. Sawyer.

This is only a brief summary of the story related in the 70th anniversary volume. The book includes photos of the founders, factory and workmen, and excellent engravings of engines. The reprint has a handsome brilliant red cover with the company name stamped in gold.

Two sidelights are very interesting. John Fisher became mayor of Hamilton, and his foundry made the city's first hand fire engine. He gave this to the fire company and it was preserved as a memorial to the donor. Jonathan Ames, who later became affiliated with the firm, as a young man went to Central America where he located a mining claim for which he was offered $1 million. He refused, but 'finally lost the mine and everything he had invested in it'.

The volume was selected for reprint by Dave Hooton, of the Restoration Dept. of the Ontario Agricultural Museum, from the collection of Gordon W. Bridgen, of Hornby, Ont. It was published by the Boston Mills Press, of Erin, Ont., a heritage Canada award winner. Aid on publication was given by the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council.