Circa-1900 World Agriculture: Firsthand Account from a McCormick Harvester Co. Salesman

McCormick Harvester Co. salesman’s letters home paint picture of international agriculture in the early 1900s

| March 2010

When American and Canadian farm equipment manufacturers began an aggressive export program in the early 1900s, it transformed agriculture around the world.

Farmers who routinely harvested with scythes suddenly had access to mechanized threshers. Set against a backdrop of rapidly evolving social change, the introduction of farm mechanization took the world by storm – and a man from Iowa had a front row seat.

Daniel B. Klopfenstein was born in 1857 in Henry County, Iowa. In the 1890s, he began working as a farm equipment salesman. In the early 1900s, by then an accomplished machinist and proven salesman, he took a new job: representing McCormick Harvester Co. in international sales.

Klopfenstein quickly became a world traveler, spending much of the year in Europe and South America. But he never forgot the home folks. He routinely wrote long and richly detailed letters to newspapers (the Washington Democrat and the Evening Journal) in his hometown of Washington, Iowa. Both newspapers published the letters as a window to the world for the residents of a small Midwestern farm town.

Decades later, Washington resident Richard Stout discovered the letters while working on an unrelated research project. Collaborating with his granddaughter, Ashley Stout, he delved in to Klopfenstein’s travelogues. The resulting 16-page transcription captures a unique glimpse of agriculture, commerce and society around the world more than a century ago (read Richard and Ashley’s full transcription). A few of the letters are excerpted below.

Dec. 25, 1902, Carhue, Argentina, from the Democrat

“Well, today is Christmas, but it does not seem so, as the day is just like a July day, nice and bright. I just came in from the harvest fields. They go right ahead today, the same as any other day. We have been cutting wheat for over a week now, and it will take another week and then they will be through here and we will go further south. I was on one ranch a few days where there was 30 square miles of wheat and oats and they have 250 binders and six steam threshing outfits and 1,400 men working on the ranch. They kill 25,000 sheep every year for food alone.

“This is one of the largest wheat farms in Argentina. I was on a larger ranch for sheep and cattle, where they shear 165,000 head of sheep, all by clippers, the same as clippers used to cut hair, only larger and run by steam. They shear a sheep every two minutes. On the same place were 65,000 black cattle and 15,000 branded mares, mostly Clydes and Normans and English Coach, and they are good ones. It makes one think he is in Iowa when he sees all these good horses. They are as fat as hogs.”


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