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The Johnston Harvester Co.

Let's Talk Rusty Iron

| December 2009

  • The office staff of the Johnston Harvester Co. in 1904
    The office staff of the Johnston Harvester Co. in 1904. Seated second from left is company president Byron Huntley. To Huntley’s left is Edward Atwater, who became president after Huntley’s death.
    courtesy the Richmond Memorial Library in Batavia, N.Y.
  • A circa-1890 Johnston No. 5 Continental rear-cut mower
    A circa-1890 Johnston No. 5 Continental rear-cut mower owned by Cody Olmstead. It’s unlikely the mower is paintedthe correct colors.
    courtesy Cody Olmstead
  • The Johnston Harvester Co., circa 1900
    The Johnston Harvester Co., circa 1900.
  • The Johnston No. 10 gear-drive mower
    The Johnston No. 10 gear-drive mower.
  • A period advertisement for the Johnston Harvester Co.
    A farm wife counsels her husband: “Certainly! Buy a Johnston.”
  • The Johnston Harvester Co. logo
    The Johnston Harvester Co. logo.
  • The Johnston Continental grain binder
    The Johnston Continental grain binder.

  • The office staff of the Johnston Harvester Co. in 1904
  • A circa-1890 Johnston No. 5 Continental rear-cut mower
  • The Johnston Harvester Co., circa 1900
  • The Johnston No. 10 gear-drive mower
  • A period advertisement for the Johnston Harvester Co.
  • The Johnston Harvester Co. logo
  • The Johnston Continental grain binder

One of the largest and oldest independent farm implement manufacturers in the country at the turn of the 20th century was the Johnston Harvester Co.

Located in Batavia, N.Y., the Johnston line of farm machinery is unfamiliar to many collectors.

The son of a doctor, Byron E. Huntley was born in Mexico, N.Y., near the eastern end of Lake Ontario, probably around 1830. By 1844, young Huntley ended up in Brockport, N.Y., a small town on the Erie Canal 25 miles northeast of Rochester, where he attended the Brockport Collegiate Institute. When illness forced him to withdraw, he transferred to Madison University in Hamilton, N.Y.

After leaving college and presumably regaining his health, Huntley went to work in the office of a Brockport factory, Fitch, Barry & Co. It’s unclear what products the firm produced at the time, but in about 1845 Fitch, Barry & Co. began to build the new McCormick reaper. During those early years, Cyrus McCormick had small factories manufacture his reaper under license in several parts of the country before he established his own factory in Chicago.

Huntley worked in the office for several years. In 1850 he bought into the company, which was renamed Ganson, Huntley & Co. The firm didn’t do much for a couple of years, but may have taken on a new partner, because in 1853, Huntley, Bowman & Co. began to make the Palmer & Williams self-rake reaper as well as the hand-rake Brockport reaper.

Starting with a hand-held husker

Meanwhile, in 1860, a man named Samuel Johnston (about whom nothing much is known) began a long string of inventions in a tiny New York hamlet called West Shelby by patenting a hand-held corn husker.

Johnston next turns up in 1862 in Buffalo, N.Y., where he patented a one-man hand-rake reaper with a swinging, cantilevered hand rake that could be easily operated solely by the driver (most hand-rake reapers of the day required a second man to work the rake). On the same date Johnston received a patent for a corn-harvesting attachment for the reaper that not only cut the corn, but also left it in bundles ready for tying.



In 1864 a patent was issued to William Shaw and John Manz, Wilmington, Del., for a self-rake reaper with gearing to cause the rakes to sweep gavels of grain from the semi-circular platform. This patent was reissued in 1868 to Johnston, by now in Syracuse, N.Y., as the assignee of Shaw and Manz.

In 1868, Johnston, Huntley & Co. was established in Brockport to make the Johnston Sweepstakes harvester. Two years later, a joint stock company was organized, with Johnston as president and Byron Huntley as secretary-treasurer.



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