Cornelius Aultman firms fade into history
The1880s left C. Aultman & Co. of Canton, Ohio, reeling from the repercussions of an inadequate machinery design associated with the Buckeye Binder, and growing labor problems. During the same period, Aultman, Miller & Co. in Akron maintained a steady stream of business and Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company in Mansfield prospered even more vigorously. Both outlasted their Canton counterpart, but not by many years.
To meet the competition of the 1880s harvester wars, C. Aultman & Co. in Canton introduced the Buckeye Banner Binder, a low machine that eliminated elevating canvases. Unfortunately, the design had not been adequately tested before introduction and hundreds were judged defective by their purchasers and returned to the factory.
Also in the 1880s, the Canton company cut its workers’ wages by 10 percent, claiming they were paid considerably more than competitors’ employees. The firm also began closing down its factory from November to January each year, leaving workers unpaid for that period. Both actions placed a great hardship on the workers, their families and the city of Canton, where Cornelius Aultman was the largest employer.
In 1890, shortly after the binder fiasco, the manufacture of all mowers, reapers and binders was transferred from Canton to Aultman, Miller & Co. in Akron. The Canton company continued to build steam engines, threshers, horsepowers, straw stackers and saw mills.
In Akron, Aultman, Miller & Co. prospered in 1891 and 1892, offsetting some of the Canton losses, and prospects for 1893 were so promising that Lewis and Mary Miller set off on a second honeymoon, traveling into the South and West and stopping at the Chicago Exposition.
Unfortunately, the financial panic of 1893 struck while the Millers were in California, causing 15,000 business failures and throwing 4 million people out of work in the United States, and cutting the Millers’ special trip short.
Farm Implement News wrote, “Business is so dead that the mourners have not even the heart to hold a wake.” C. Aultman & Co. creditors called in their loans, most of which Miller personally had endorsed.
Upon his return home, Miller put all of his remaining stock into an escrow account and arranged a deal with his bankers for more time. The quick bar gain kept the Akron plant going but Canton could not be saved. In December 1893, C. Aultman & Co. declared bankruptcy and was placed under new management through 1894. In February 1895, the Canton plant and all its assets were sold at auction for $300,000 to W.W. Clark, representing the creditors.
Reorganized and renamed the Aultman Company, the firm continued to make the Star, Monitor, Mogul and Phoenix steam engines, as well as threshers, stackers, weighers, clover hullers, water tanks and saw mills. During the late 1890s, the product line was diversified by adding the manufacture of Priestman safety oil engines, ice-making machines for the Arctic Ice Machine Co. of Akron and a line of road building machinery. In 1904, a double under-mounted engine called the Double-Star also was introduced, although there’s no evidence that many of these were built.
Meanwhile, Miller’s financial losses, his struggle to keep Aultman, Miller & Co. afloat and the death of his youngest son, Theodore, in the Battle of San Juan Hill, in Cuba, combined to ruin his health, and he died in February 1899.
His Akron firm struggled on, deteriorating financially until the International Harvester Company bought controlling interest and took over the Buckeye Works. By 1906, the Buckeye line was dropped, and in 1907, Harvester began building its AutoBuggies and passenger cars at that factory, renamed the International Harvester Company Akron Works. In Mansfield, the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company continued to prosper despite the other Aultman firms’ problems. In 1898, Aultman & Taylor offered Eureka Jr., Eureka and Hercules engines, as well as the straw-burning, return flue Cyclone and Columbia Jr. engines. All of these machines, except for the Cyclone, could be ordered as simple or compound engines, which provided more power than the simple versions. The Mansfield firm also built portable slide valve engines from 6 to 20 hp in size, as well as straw stackers, clover hullers, horsepowers, water tanks, water pumps and saw mills. Aultman & Taylor’s threshing machines, the Dixie and the Columbia, were sold under the famous ‘Starved Rooster’ trademark, which depicted the image of a skinny, bedraggled rooster.
The workers at the Aultman Company in Canton, who had been dissatisfied ever since the 1880s pay cuts, went on strike in June 1903. The company responded by importing strike breakers to keep operating; after being out for more than a year, the union capitulated and ended the strike. Chronically short of capital, and rapidly earning a reputation for poor workmanship and defective machines – probably due to the labor unrest, this Aultman company also declared bankruptcy in September 1904.
The next May, another public auction was held. This time, the factory and most assets were sold for $262,500 to a man named Tillotson, also representing creditors. The new firm was renamed the Aultman Engine and Thresher Company; it built engines and threshers until all parts and raw materials on hand were liquidated at the end of 1906.
With the exception of the Aultman & Taylor Company in Mansfield, the closing of the Aultman Engine and Thresher Company seemed the final chapter in the history of Cornelius Aultman’s once-proud company. But early in 1907, a couple of long-time Aultman employees, Martin J. Hogan and J.A. Houser, offered one last gasp.
Hogan was the former general plant superintendent and Houser was former head of the repair and shipping departments; they formed the Engine and Machinery Company. The firm manufactured only repair parts for all patterns of Aultman threshing machines and engines. It operated until 1925 and closed because of waning demand.
Meanwhile, the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company in Mansfield continued on. In 1910, the firm introduced a gasoline-powered tractor called the Aultman-Taylor 30-60. This huge tractor, with its round tubular radiator, was an impressive machine. Powered by a 4-cylinder engine of 7-inch bore and 9-inch stroke, it weighed more than 12 tons and, according to Nebraska test No. 30, could put out 80 hp on the belt and 58 on the drawbar when burning gasoline.
Unfortunately, the demand for big tractors was decreasing, and by the depression of the early 1920s, Aultman & Taylor also had fallen on hard times. In 1924, Advance-Rumely Thresher Co. of La Porte, Ind., bought the firm, and in 1931, Advance-Rumely was bought by Allis-Chalmers.
For interested readers, Iron-Men Album, a Farm Collector sister magazine, carries an in-depth report of the various steam engines made by the Aultman & Taylor Company. FC
Sam Moore became interested in agricultural machinery while growing up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items.