The Threshing Machine King

J.I. Case and the steam behemoths


| March 2000



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Case 20x36 12-bar cylinder steel threshing machine, about 1919, roughly 75 years after the invention of J.I. Case's first thresher.

From the earliest eons of time, man has been a farmer.

The transition from nomadic hunter to agriculturist is hard to pinpoint. Thousands of years ago, a primitive farmer began plowing with a crooked stick and some type of power source, perhaps a combination of humans and draft animals. As recently as the middle of the 19th century, farm implements were little advanced from those used in Biblical times.

Only in the past several centuries has there been a breakthrough in the development of power sources other than beasts or humans. Building upon the groundwork done by James Watt in 1785, tremendous advancement was made in the 1850s. One of the individuals in the forefront of the development of a new power source was Jerome Increase Case, a man who came to be designated the “Threshing Machine King.”

Recognizing a need

Threshing machines obviously needed a source of power. Finding that a horse-power sweep or a horse treadmill would not furnish the power needed to operate his threshers properly, Case began manufacturing stationary steam engines early on and, ultimately, great steam traction engines.

J.I. Case came naturally to the love and manufacturing of farm implements. His father, Caleb Case, was a dealer for a rather primitive piece of threshing machinery called the “Ground Hog,” which was manufactured in England. After spending six seasons custom threshing with the Ground Hog in Oswego County, N.Y., Jerome moved to Wisconsin, where more grain was grown. He took along six Ground Hogs bought on credit. Perhaps Case was in part inspired to go west by the eloquent, romantic cry of newspaper editor Horace Greeley: “Fly, fly, scatter through the country, to the great West. It is your destination.”

Beginnings of a company

Arriving in Rochester with but one Ground Hog thresher, having sold the other five, Case began to work at making improvements on the implement. A local named Richard Ela was manufacturing and selling fanning mills. Case hit upon the idea of combining the threshing and fanning operation into one machine. During his stay in Rochester, he developed a thresher-separator, completing it in the spring of 1844. Case planned a factory for building his threshing machines in Rochester, but water rights on the river could not be obtained. Taking his thresher, he moved to Racine and launched the Racine Threshing Machine Works, J.I. Case, Proprietor.

In 1869 Case brought out what was touted as a highly improved thresher, a no-apron machine called the Case Eclipse. The appearance of this thresher was significant for two reasons. First, the new Eagle trademark appeared on each Eclipse thresher, and, second, Case recognized that in order to realize the full potential of the new thresher, some power source other than horse treadmills or sweeps must be developed.