The Rumely Revolution
From industrial revolutionary to rusty relic: Rumely remembered 150 years later
These colorful catalog covers from the 1920s and 1930s touted Rumely's tractors and farm equipment to farmers across the country.
The Rumely Co.'s lively history began with a German immigrant named Meinrad Rumely. Born in 1828 in Adelsburg, Germany, he arrived in America in 1848 with a pocket full of dreams, millwright training and little else. After a few odd jobs in Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest, Meinrad set up a blacksmith shop in La Porte, Ind., with his brother, John, in 1853. Thus, the M. & J. Rumely Co. was born. With heads full of ideas, and the majority of America's agricultural potential still untouched by mechanized farming, the brothers soon entered the burgeoning farm equipment business. Rumely built its first thresher in 1854. From those humble beginnings, Rumely Co. went on to capture a large part of the thresher business in the U.S. and abroad in years to come.
The company erected its first manufacturing building in 1862 and produced its first steam engine by 1869. By the late 1800s, business was great and larger production facilities built in La Porte to keep up with the boom times. When Meinrad finally died in 1904 at age 76, his son, William Rumely, became president while Meinrad's other son, Joseph, assumed the company's financial affairs.
An innovator like his father, William soon proved himself the mechanical brains behind Rumely Co.'s success in those pre-war years. The farm equipment industry had changed greatly since the company first opened its Indiana doors, and a new breed of tractors was needed to maintain its competitiveness in the ever-growing field.
Edward Rumely, Meinrad's grandson, took the helm in about 1907 and entirely changed the company's direction. While studying in Europe, Edward became friends with German engine designer Rudolph Diesel. They sketched an internal combustion engine, but it wasn't until John Secor and his nephew, William Higgins, came to work for Rumely that the company's internal combustion-driven tractor became a reality. That invention carried the company well into the 20th century.
Both men worked with similar engines in Germany, and Secor and Higgins brought their expertise to Rumely in 1907. By 1909, they'd built and tested the first Rumely kerosene-fueled tractor and named it 'Kerosene Annie.' Secor and Higgins eventually patented a carburetor that became a Rumely mainstay for years. The new kerosene Rumely tractors could pull a plow and do other important farm work, and full production began in 1910.
Rumely was the first company to use kerosene to fuel its equipment, and the innovation proved both timely and profitable. A mammoth new building was built to produce the new tractors, and the company adopted the famous 'OilPull' name for the modern models. As tractors rolled off the production line, each was used briefly to belt-power a generator that produced electricity for the factory. The machines were marvelous and powerful in an age when most farmers still used horses to cultivate. In fact, the Rumely 30-60 OilPull was the first tractor to pull a 16-furrow plow. There's even a famous picture of three Rumely 30-60 OilPull tractors pulling a 50-furrow plow, which must've been quite a sight in 1911.
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