History of Aultman & Taylor, Part VI

This installment of a serialized history of the Aultman-Taylor farm equipment company recounts the origins of its starved rooster emblem and describes fires that broke out at company facilities in 1896, 1903, and 1914.

Aultman & Taylor - paint works

Paint shop of the Aultman & Taylor thresher department.

Farm Collector Magazine Staff

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This is the sixth installment of the late Dr. Bixler's history of the Aultman & Taylor Company, edited by Dr. Robert T. Rhode. During his lifetime, Dr. Bixler, a professor at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, published a few of his chapters as separate articles in Iron Men Album magazine and others, but the bulk of his book remained unpublished until now. Dr. Bixler's considerable story-telling skills prompted Dr. Rhode to compare the discovery of his manuscript to finding a lost city of gold.

Click here for part I of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part II of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part III of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part IV of the history of Aultman & Taylor.
Click here for part V of the history of Aultman & Taylor. 

The Starved Rooster Emblem

The role of the trademark [of the starved rooster] was to epitomize graphically the admirable qualities ... of the manufactured products [of the Aultman & Taylor Company]. It is a plain fact that companies and their products have often been known primarily by their trademarks. ...

The origin of ... the starved rooster as a trademark was one of those ... innocent experiences that occur only [rarely]. The writer is indebted to Lyle Hoffmaster, who shared with him a fragment of the story of the "starved rooster." As he suggests, the story may perhaps be legendary, yet it seems to possess sufficient authenticity to warrant the belief that the incident may ... be more factual than legendary. It had its origin in the vicinity of Benedict, Nebraska. But whether legendary or factual, let Hoffmaster relate the story as his father told [it] to him on several occasions:

"A thresherman and a proponent of Aultman & Taylor machinery was threshing one day and noticed this emaciated rooster picking up grain around the separator. ... [A] practical joker, he caught the old fellow, put him in a crate, and shipped him to Aultman & Taylor with the caption 'Fattened on an Aultman & Taylor straw stack.' The factory people got quite a kick out of it and kept the old [rooster]. Shortly, they conceived the idea of using him for a trademark. The old rooster lived for some time, a sort of mascot around the plant and, upon his death, was buried on the hill where the old office stood. Both the building and hill are now gone."1 

... It was the brilliant and imaginative Michael D. Harter, ... treasurer and general manager of the company, who conceived the idea of using the starved rooster for a trademark. This was during the latter part of 1875 and the early part of 1876. It is quite possible that the inspiration for this trademark came to him upon the arrival of the rooster at the factory. At any rate an application was made for registration of this trademark in the United States Patent Office on February 11, 1876, and was completed on March 7th of that year.

The purpose of the trademark was clearly set forth in the registration papers. The description of the trademark ... appears as follows:

"Said trademark is designed for use in connection with threshing machines, and it is intended to indicate that the straw [that] has been threshed by our machines has all the grain so thoroughly and entirely removed from it that no carnivorous animal could get a living out of it but on the contrary would soon starve, even though allowed to pick over an entire stack of straw. In order to illustrate the idea, the figure of an animal is employed, or, at least thin in flesh or poor in health and general appearance in combination with the words 'Fattened on an Aultman & Taylor straw stack.''2 

As already noted, the company's largest building was a warehouse that was built in 1869. On it was painted a starved rooster. If a line had been drawn from its head to its farthest extremity, it would have been almost one hundred feet in length. Travelers on the railroads leading into Mansfield, Ohio remembered the large warehouse with the starved rooster on each end of the building. It was plainly visible for a long distance, and, upon approaching Mansfield, it was the first point of interest to catch the eyes of those who traveled by railroad.3 

The anecdote relative to the painting of the starved rooster assumed various forms as it was transmitted from one person to another, but what appears to be the most authentic one was related to the author by Kenneth Dirlim, who was a highly respected citizen of Mansfield and a local historian. Dirlim was acquainted with M. D. Harter and other prominent personages in the company, and ... he was in a position to have acquired firsthand information. The events culminating in the painting of the starved rooster may be chronicled as follows.

Who painted the starved rooster? A "bum" came to Mansfield, [and] being destitute ... [he] sought a job whereby he might earn a small pittance with which to keep body and soul together. No one learned his name, and there are no records that identify him. In any event he contacted Michael D. Harter and volunteered to paint the rooster on both ends of the warehouse, whereupon he was provided with brushes and paint and went to work. In due time the rooster was painted on both ends of the warehouse.

The sequel to the story is that ... whence he came and whither he went no one ever knew. Only this can be said that, if he left a legacy of any note, it was the huge rooster that he painted on both ends of the warehouse. It was seen by thousands who perhaps remembered Mansfield as the home of the starved rooster, the trademark of [Aultman & Taylor].

The company made extensive ... use of [its] trademark. It appeared at several places on each of their separators, clover hullers, steam engines, and tractors. All of their letterheads carried a picture of the starved rooster. Their advertising materials and catalogs were profusely illustrated with their trademark. An example of this appeared on the front cover of their catalog for 1898. It carries a picture of [the firm's] Columbia separator attached to a Hercules engine showing the outfit traveling on the road. On a rail fence beside the road sits a starved rooster, and nearby is the following poem:

"This is the cock that crowed in the morn,

With features deranged and look forlorn;

For scratch where he might and roam where he may,

He found not a grain his labor to pay.

Aultman & Taylor's thresher had been that way."5 

The company distributed watch fobs and other trinkets with an imprint of the rooster, which each man showed when he went to work and when he left at the close of the working day. ... Many of these original brass trinkets or souvenirs may be found among former employees or their relatives. They have become valuable collectors' items and are highly prized by many people.

The rooster became the butt of a variety of stories, anecdotes, and jokes. These enhanced and embellished the reputation of the starved rooster so that this trademark became ever more popular with the passing of years. Typical of these yarns is the eloquent and almost poetic characterization of the rooster by one imaginative reporter:

"Their witty emblem, the lord of the barnyard, erstwhile of proud mien and clarion voice but now starved, forlorn, bedraggled because trusting in former experience he attempted to find solace in the straw stack passing through the teeth of an Aultman & Taylor thresher, this degenerate and pitiful bird has awakened the sympathy of many a housewife upon the prairies of Illinois and the fertile farms of the sluggish Platte or the broad and blizzard-swept wheat fields of North Dakota, teaching everywhere most impressively the lesson that, [in] Mansfield in the state of Ohio, some things are done well and thoroughly."6 

Following the organization of the new company in 1891, this trademark was transferred to the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company. It was registered in the ... Patent Office so that it was protected not only in the United States but also in every country of the world where grain and threshers were used.

The [mentioning] of Aultman & Taylor is for many to conjure up in their minds the starved rooster, for that trademark ... characterized [the company's] machinery. ... This was ... particularly true of their separators. The starved rooster became inseparable from [the firm's] machinery and was one of the most famous of all trademarks.

Havoc Wrought by Fires

[As mentioned earlier,] 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. That unusual building that had attracted so much favorable attention and that had been admired by so many people was now in ruins and became only a sad memory.

The fire was first seen by a crew with a Pennsylvania switching engine at the east end of the yards. The engineer, John Garber, had pulled his engine in on the south side opposite the Mansfield Buggy Works to permit the midnight trains to go by. While the men were eating their midnight lunch, the lightning struck the warehouse, and immediately it became a cauldron of fire. Newspaper accounts state that the wind was of hurricane proportions; the rain fell in torrents, and the lightning illuminated the city with its gruesome light. ...

Excitement in the city was high. Upon seeing the fire the railroad engineer blew the locomotive whistle and thus awakened the slumbering people of Mansfield. All over the city they observed the red light in the sky that was a spectacular sight. Following the alarm given by the engineer and the signal of the fire department bells, the city was alert and sought to ascertain the location of the fire. It was soon obvious to all that it was in the northern part of the city in the vicinity of the Aultman & Taylor Works. ... Men, women, and children dressed quickly in whatever garments were near at hand and hastened to the fire. ... Within an hour 8,000 people had gathered about the factory anxious to lend a helping hand and assist in any possible way.

The elevator shaft in the warehouse became a huge conduit within which the fire was fanned by the fierce wind. When the fire struck the elevator shaft, an enormous flame reached skyward to a great height. It was an awe-inspiring sight. The strong wind from the west impelled the fire toward the eastern end of the building. From the warehouse the fire moved to two of the adjacent lumber yards that were located northwest of [the] building. The sheds were filled with finished lumber ready to be used in the construction of machines. There was a great loss of lumber that hampered seriously the building of threshing machines following the fire.

The [flames] spread rapidly from the warehouse to the new paint shop. It had two parts: a working part where the painting of the machinery was done and another part where the oils and paints were stored. The northern end of this building was destroyed, as well as all of its contents of paints and oils.

The company employed two night watchmen, Conrad Yonger and John Andregg, who were on duty that night. Andregg left the warehouse following his inspection soon after eleven o'clock [and] shortly before the lightning struck. He had gone through the new paint shop and had just entered the old paint shop when the crash came. At once he was aware that a bolt of lightning had struck somewhere in his immediate vicinity. Immediately he ran into the big warehouse and started to go through it, but the intensity of the fire and smoke blinded him so that he could not see his way. He said that the flames resembled a water-spout and disappeared in the elevator shaft. He turned to run and could not see which way to go.

Groping his way back to the door he fell [out of breath] on the outside of the building. Soon he recovered and ran to Yonger and told him to turn in an alarm, but he was unable to operate the fire alarm apparatus. However, an alarm was finally turned in by someone on the corner of Main and Bloom Streets. The next morning, Andregg was almost completely exhausted [from] his exertions during the fire.

No previous fire in Mansfield was as devastating as the one of the night of May 26, 1896. Unfortunately the fire occurred right at the opening of the shipping season, and most of the year's output of threshing machines was reduced to [ashes]. Damage and loss reached great proportions.

The warehouse and its contents were the major losses. In addition to a year's output, a separator and a swinging stacker that the company had exhibited at the [Columbian Exposition of 1893] were in the warehouse and ... were a total loss. It will be recalled that [the firm's] first separator was sold to Mr. Darling and, eleven years later, was bought by the company and brought back for exhibition purposes. It was stored on the upper floor of the warehouse and was [consumed] by the fire. [The firm] also had exhibited at the [Columbian Exposition] a nickel-plated engine, and at first it was thought that this engine was lost along with the other valuable contents of the warehouse. However, ... it turned out that this engine was stored in another building and, for the time being at least, was saved.

... All told, about 250 machines, including separators and clover hullers, were in the warehouse ready for shipment. Besides these, there was a loss of sheet iron that was next to impossible for [the company] to replace in time to be used in the manufacture of machines for that season. Having been subjected to the intense heat of the fire, the steel was worthless. Belting amounting to $8,000.00 was placed in the warehouse a week prior to the fire, and it likewise was a total loss. The price of the separators ranged from $275.00 to $450.00 [each].

There was still another [considerable] loss ... that [the firm] was unable to estimate, and that was the loss in trade. At the time of the fire orders were being filled for July, and shipments were being made daily to ... agents in the South and West. This was especially true with respect to the South, where a lighter grade of machine was used. [The company] lost a large number of machines that should have been ready for delivery in June. ... The total loss from the fire amounted to between $150,000.00 and $200,000.00.7

In one respect the company was fortunate, since its officials had the foresight to carry blanket insurance that covered all parts of the plant. Their insurance in the amounts indicated was carried with the following companies:

Millers National Underwriters' - $22,000
Mutual, Lloyd's - 20,000
Mercantile, Lloyd's - 20,000
Manufacturer's, Lloyd's - 20,000
United Cities - 18,250
Fidelity and Casualty - 15,000
Atlas Mutual - 15,000
Globe - 10,000
Great Western, Lloyd's - 10,000
Trader's Fire, Lloyd's - 10,000
Mutual Fire 10,000
Central and Manufacturers - 7,500
Miller's Manufacturer - 7,250
Manufacturer's, Lloyd's - 6,000
Norwood - 5,000
Merchants and Manufacturers Mutual - 5,000
Merchant and Manufactures - 5,000

[The firm's] total insurance coverage amounted to approximately $206,000.00. ... This covered [the] actual loss from the fire.

The Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company was not the only [firm] to suffer loss from the fire. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company lost a caboose with clothes and all of the equipment that was usually carried in it. They also lost two gondolas. The Big Four lost a gondola that was loaded with machinery consigned to Piqua, Kansas. The B&O had a repair car loaded with trucks that was badly damaged, and seven of their gondolas were destroyed. These were standing near the warehouse. Several additional gondolas were loaded with coal, but [they] were saved.

The Mansfield Buggy Works, ... located across the tracks, [was] in imminent danger, but the fire department with the assistance of bystanders saved this factory. A [large] hole was burnt into the roof, but the fire was quickly extinguished by several men who climbed onto the roof.

The Tremont House was a hotel located only a short distance from the new paint shop. Had it not been for the strong west wind and the rain, the Tremont House might have been destroyed. ... The Tremont House was filled with guests, and one could well imagine that they were badly frightened. However, panic was avoided by the night clerk, Charles Gray, who had the presence of mind to calm the fears of the ... guests and assured them that the hotel was not in danger of burning.

As already indicated, flames from the fire rose high in the air, and fire brands flew over into the Newman's addition, but the heavy rain extinguished them ... as soon as they fell to the ground.

Almost inevitably, errors in judgment emerge on such occasions. An example ... occurred when a crew of an Erie freight train pulled out a car loaded with machinery while it was burning. The ... bed of the gondola was a mass of flames. Acting with keen alertness and good judgment the yard master immediately ordered the crew to take the burning gondola back, since otherwise it might [start] a fire in another section of the plant or yards.

... A telegraph pole that stood across the tracks from the paint shop on the north side of the tracks was on fire at its top. Firemen were unable to reach the fire with their hose. The pole was slippery ... , but, in spite of these conditions, one of the railroad men climbed to the top of the pole and extinguished the fire. ... Two men entered the immense cloud of smoke that was rolling across the Pennsylvania tracks and, by almost superhuman strength, succeeded in moving a caboose and five railroad cars away from the fire. ...

[After the fire,] about sixty of the men who were employed [at] the yards and warehouse were laid off. ... The force in the shipping department was also decreased, until [the company was] able to rebuild and return to full production.

... The ruins from the fire were still burning and smoldering the next day. On the morning following the fire gangs of men were busy cleaning up the rubbish. ... Even though disastrous, the fire failed to dampen the spirits of either the officials or the employees of the company. Immediately they set about the task of rebuilding and carried on the manufacturing of threshing machines with the facilities ... not damaged by the fire. With the resumption of work, the [firm] saved a part of its trade. [The company] had on hand at the time of the fire thirty-four partly finished separators and clover hullers. These were quickly finished and shipped to their agents.

... On the morning following the fire the Russell & Company of Massillon, Ohio, offered to provide any help that their [firm] might render to the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company. ... [The gesture of [Russell] no doubt was appreciated by the Aultman & Taylor people. ... The Russell & Company ... was keenly aware of the...inconvenience caused by fire, since ... in 1878 ... their plant was destroyed by fire. On that occasion, it was C. Aultman & Company of Canton ... that came to the assistance of [Russell] ... by loaning ... equipment and machinery that enabled [the firm] to continue building threshing machinery.

It is worthy of note that, even though these companies were competitors, yet at a time of disaster ... they did not hesitate to proffer assistance. [Such] actions ... constitute a positive commentary on the magnanimity of the leaders of [these] renowned industries.

Fire of 1903

On Saturday evening, February 3, 1903, at about six o'clock, a second fire [began] at the Aultman & Taylor plant. ... It threatened to result in extensive damage to the [factory]. This fire originated in the main boiler room, but less damage occurred than the flames at first indicated. With the exception of one building the plant escaped damage. The alarm was reported by the American District Service, and the men from two fire stations responded. ... The flames rose high in the air and attracted the attention of the residents from all over the city. The firemen secured control of the fire in a remarkably brief period of time.

Daniel Webster, who was at the time superintendent of the company, stated that...the fire started either from an overheated stove in the boiler room or from a hot smokestack. The roof and exterior of the boiler room were burnt out.

Fortunately the fire was confined to the boiler room. Every effort was made toward saving the engine, since it was the most valuable piece of machinery in the plant. If the fire had reached the engine room machinery, such as the air compressor, generators, and engine, it would have been impossible to have replaced them in less than four or five months. As it turned out, [the company] had two boilers left unscathed by the fire ... , and these provided sufficient power to operate the machine shop. ...

The powerhouse contained two vertical Cahall and two Babcock and Wilcox boilers. ... All of the framework surrounding the boilers was destroyed. Since the walls of the building [were] constructed of brick, they were left standing. ...The building in the vicinity of the boiler room was badly damaged, but ... the solid casing of brick [permitted] the boilers [to escape] material damage. A small adjoining building that housed ... marine boilers ... that were being tested was ... destroyed. However, the boilers were only slightly damaged. The engine room and the dynamos escaped severe damage. An imminent hazard in fighting the fire was the fact that several barrels of benzene were stored in the building, but fortunately they [were] removed ... before the flames reached that part of the building. The severest damage outside ... was in the breaking of the steam feeds and water mains ... caused by the falling of the roofs and other debris.

On Saturday night immediately following the fire, as well as all day Sunday and Monday, a large force of men were at work clearing away the [wreckage]. ... By Thursday of that week, the plant was again in full operation.

The loss from the fire did not exceed $10,000.00, all of which was covered by insurance. ... There was no loss of manufactured machinery, and so [the company's] business ... did not suffer as [in the] previous fire. ...

Fire of 1914

The Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company plant was involved in a third fire, which occurred at two o'clock on Sunday afternoon, February 1, 1914. Large clouds of smoke accompanied by flashes of angry flames rose skyward in the north end of the city and were visible for many miles. The ringing of the fireballs brought home to the citizens of Mansfield, Ohio [that, once again,] one of its largest manufacturing establishments employing some 650 men was threatened with destruction. [Dr. Rhode notes that, according to a postcard owned by Frank E. Gould of Danville, Ohio, and published in the July/August 2000 issue of The Iron-Men Album Magazine, at least one building of the Aultman & Taylor factory had been destroyed on March 25th of the previous year not by fire but by flood-waters that transformed nearby Toby's Creek into a raging torrent.]

... [A] concerned and anxious community was grateful for the splendid work of the firemen. Through their efforts ... the blaze was confined to the warehouse that [contained] finished materials [and] a considerable quantity of parts of separators.

The exact cause of the fire was unknown. However, it was thought to have [originated in] defective wiring. The blaze was prominent at the location of the company's largest electric motor and where was also concentrated the largest number of wires. ...

The storage building of the company, a two-story tile and frame structure encompassing 100 x 100 feet was ... destroyed on that fateful Sunday afternoon. It was located north of the Union Railroad Station. ... When the company watchman, Andrew Laser, discovered the fire, it was burning fiercely, and he immediately notified the fire department. ... It was too late to save the structure in which the fire originated.

The ruins of the building were still smoldering during the morning after the fire. Twisted bolts, cogs, and chains in the ruins were mute evidence of where the separators once stood. The building and its contents were covered by $36,000.00 ... of insurance.

The officials of the company stated that the time of the year when the fire occurred was when their business was rather slack. Only a part of the workers were affected by the fire, and those men returned to work by the end of a week. In slightly less than a month after the fire the plant was operating to full capacity. By that time repairs to all buildings were completed, and new storage quarters were arranged prior to the rush of the season.

The loss caused by the fire was estimated to have been about $40,000.00. ... The loss was apportioned among a large number of...insurance companies.10 FC

Notes and Sources

1. Letter from Lyle Hoffmaster, December 3, 1967. (Dr. Rhode notes that artist Charles T. Greener of Faulkton, South Dakota, was credited with having created the famous rooster. See Gerry Lestz's 'Can You Help on 'Skinny Rooster'?' in The Iron-Men Album Magazine for May/June 1988, 19.)
2. U.S. Department of Commerce, Patent Office, Washington, D.C.
3. The Rooster, October 1920. 5.
4. Aultman & Taylor catalog, 1898.
5. Graham, Albert Alexander. History of Richland County, Ohio. Chicago: A. A. Graham, 1880. 499-510.
6. The Mansfield News, April 27, 1901.
7. Mansfield Daily News, May 26, 1896.
8. Ibid.
9.  Mansfield Daily Shield, February 23, 1903.
10. Mansfield Daily Shield, February 2, 1914.

Continue to the history of Aultman & Taylor, part VII.