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The Merger of Massey and Harris

Author Photo
By Sam Moore

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Left clockwise: 1. The Massey-Harris Co. “Plow-in-Hand” trademark logo. From Massey-Harris General Catalog No. 82, circa 1932.2. Harris’ popular Brantford open-end grain binder.3. Daniel Massey’s first factory at Newcastle, Ontario. From a Massey-Harris French language catalog, Instruments Aratoires de Qualité Supérieure, circa 1934.4. The first Harris factory at Beamsville, Ontario, in 1857. From Massey-Harris French language catalog, Instruments Aratoires de Qualité Supérieure, circa 1934.
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Left: 2007 Canadian plowing champion Nelson Sage, Thamesville, Ontario, competing with a Canadian Massey-Harris plow behind a team of Belgian horses. Photo by Sam Moore.
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Daniel Massey (above) and Alanson Harris.
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Massey-Harris history starts in southern Ontario, Canada, since just before the middle of the 19th century. Daniel Massey was 49 in 1847 when he turned over operation of his successful farm on the northern shore of Lake Ontario to his 21-year-old son, Hart. The elder Massey had become interested in labor-saving farm machinery (some accounts characterize it as more of an obsession) and determined to become a manufacturer. He took a partner, R.F. Vaughan, who owned a small foundry and machine shop, but who was starving for capital. The two men began the manufacture, using iron castings and wood, of simple implements such as plows, harrows, scufflers (cultivators) and rollers.

In a daguerreotype taken in about 1850, Daniel Massey projects a stern, lantern-jawed visage, with bright, piercing eyes. His English great-great-great-great-grandfather landed in Salem, Mass., in 1630, and his descendants migrated steadily westward, ending up in Watertown, N.Y., where Daniel was born in 1798. A year later, the family moved across Lake Ontario and home-steaded 200 acres of virgin forest in Haldimand Township in what is now the province of Ontario.

At age 19, Massey rented land of his own. By 1820, he owned 200 acres. Over the next 10 years he bought and cleared more than 1,200 acres of land and sold the timber. He later sold the land at a nice profit. By 1830, the lumber and land speculation business was in decline so Massey turned to raising wheat full time. To thresh his wheat, Massey visited Watertown, N.Y., and brought back a crude threshing machine and a horse power.

The acquisition of the thresher seems to have spurred local interest in modern farm implements of the day and Massey imported many into Ontario from the U.S., before opening a factory in 1847 to build his own. The new company prospered, with Massey buying out his partner after only a year. In 1849, he moved the plant to larger quarters in nearby Newcastle, Ontario, on the main road into Toronto.

By 1851, business was so brisk that Massey brought his son, Hart, into the business as factory superintendent. The Massey company was already building a reaper and Hart obtained rights to build the Ketchum mower as well. The business continued to grow. In 1855, Daniel Massey retired and Hart became the boss.

Alanson Harris’ ancestors also came from England, landing in Connecticut in 1700 and settling in eastern New York. Early in the 19th century, the Rev. John Harris moved to western Ontario, not far from Brantford where Alanson was born in 1816. Mechanically inclined, Alanson ran a sawmill for 15 years before moving to Beamsville, a small town near the southwestern shore of Lake Ontario just east of Hamilton, Ontario. In 1857, Harris bought a small factory powered by a horse power to manufacture a wooden revolving hay rake that had been invented by his father, plus a few other simple farm implements.

Soon Harris was able to buy a steam engine for the shop. He took his son, John, into the business in 1863. John Harris acquired the rights to the Kirby mower and reaper and before long the Harris firm was a strong competitor to Massey.

The Harris and Massey enterprises expanded rapidly and soon the second generation made its presence felt. John Harris visited Auburn, N.Y., and formed a connection with D.M. Osborne Co., with rights to build its harvesting machines in Canada. Meanwhile, Hart Massey formed the same sort of alliance with Walter A. Wood, Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and soon the Massey factory was building “Wood’s Celebrated Patent System of Harvesting Machinery.”

During the 1870s and 1880s, Canada levied a very high tariff on imported farm machinery, which kept McCormick and the Deering harvesting machines from being much of a threat to the two Canadian firms. However, as the Harris and Massey companies prospered, they waged their own version of the same “harvester wars” that were decimating grain binder manufacturers in the U.S. In his book Harvest Triumphant, Merrill Denison says Canadian farmers were divided into three camps: “… those who swore by Massey, those who swore by Harris and those who swore at both of them.”

Although Harris had always been a strong competitor, Massey retained the edge in binder sales until Harris introduced the Brantford open-end binder in 1890. The open-end design of the new machine allowed grain in any length of straw to be successfully cut and tied. This feature didn’t mean much to North American or Australian farmers, who usually burned the straw. In Europe and Great Britain, however, long, unbroken straw was valuable for roof thatch, as well as cattle feed and bedding, and Harris began to overtake Massey in the lucrative export market.

That got Hart Massey’s attention and he made overtures to the Harris family. In spring 1891, after lengthy and very secret negotiations, the North American public and the implement industry were astonished by the announcement that Massey and Harris would henceforth be known as the Massey-Harris Co., Ltd.

MH bought Verity Plow Co. in 1892, Bain Wagon Company in 1895, the Canadian branch of Kemp Manure Spreader Co. in 1904, and Johnston Harvester Co., the company’s first U.S. acquisition, in 1910. In 1914, MH arranged to sell U.S.-built Big Bull tractors in Canada, and sold its first combine in the U.S. in 1917. The Massey-Harris No. 1 tractor, designed by Dent Parrett, was built from 1919 to 1922. In 1928, MH bought the J.I. Case Plow Works at Racine, Wis., along with the firm’s Wallis tractors that became the forerunners of Massey-Harris’ long, successful line of tractors. The J.I. Case name was sold to the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co.

Today, 161 years after the first plow came out of Daniel Massey’s tiny shop, the company now named Massey Ferguson (a branch of AGCO Corp.) makes 40 percent of all farm machinery sold in the world. Massey Ferguson tractors have long been the leader in world tractor sales and MF machinery can be found in virtually every country on earth. FC

Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail at letstalkrustyiron@att.net.

Published on Nov 1, 2008

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment