Farm Collector

Work and Wages in the Early 1900s

“Modern money makers” – builders of the Avery Yellow Fellow threshing machine – were depicted in this ad at the Avery Mfg. plant, Peoria, Ill., just after the turn of the last century. From left: draftsman, iron moulder, woodworker, blacksmith and painter.

The workers might have been money makers, but by and large the money made went into corporate coffers, not workers’ pockets. An 1894 wage survey of Illinois plow manufacturers noted the following wages as being about average: blacksmith 1st Class (the best paid worker), at $2.25 a day, followed by moulder, $2.20; woodworker, $1.75; painter, $1.60; assembler, $1.45; common laborer, $1.35. Ten years later, little had changed. In general, the factory worker in 1904 earned about $12 a week (about $307 in 2012).

For the manufacturer of agricultural equipment, the 1890s represented one long slump. As orders declined, many manufacturers resorted to cutting workers’ wages, even in the face of opposition – often in the form of strikes – from the fledgling labor movement. Some manufacturers even toyed with the idea of replacing workers with women.

By the turn of the century, the Agricultural Depression of the mid-1890s had passed and a new prosperity settled over American agriculture. Industry consolidation was underway. The farm implement industry was made up of fewer but larger firms. International Harvester, for instance, was formed in 1902 from a merger of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co., Deering Harvester Co. and Milwaukee Harvester Co. Overnight, 90 percent of total U.S. grain binder production was controlled by one firm … but that is a tale of another “modern money maker.”

Advertisements from many farm publications printed at the turn of the 20th century were more than mere methods to hawk tractors and farm equipment. To share those ads from days gone by, Farm Collector periodically reproduces some of the most-spectacular ads used to promote farm equipment and products.

To submit a vintage advertisement for possible publication, send it to: Iron Age Ads, Farm Collector, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609; or submit high-quality digital images by email:

  • Published on Sep 1, 2007
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