The Cider Press: A Colonial Resurgence

Springfield, Ohio, was home to many cider press manufacturers, including P.P. Mast & Co.

| June 2014

Today, it seems, there’s a single-cup coffee maker in every house. But in the late 1800s, the hand-cranked cider press was one of the most common household appliances in the U.S. The press not only supplied fresh cider in season but also made possible the extended life of what is commonly referred to as “cider” in Europe — better known in the U.S. as “hard cider.”

A few key individuals provided the basic steps of engineering necessary to launch cider press production in the U.S. to unimaginable levels. These were prolific inventors with numerous patents to their credit, including innovations in windmills, pumps, grain drills, cultivators, corn planters, mowers, reapers, grinders, engines, silos, elevators, mills, horsepowers, sweep mills, road rollers, oil field equipment and hand implements.

The convergence for the cider press boom appears to have taken place in Springfield, Ohio. How these like-minded individuals happened to land there at the same time will probably remain a mystery, but the contributions of Phineas Mast, John Thomas, I.W. Rodgers, Gustavus Foos, Abe Ludlow, Ben Warder, Ross Mitchell and Charles Patrick will long endure.

Many of the key ingredients for success were readily available in Springfield. Abundant water power, metals, coal, a talented work force and a seemingly endless old growth forest of white oak were helpful, but something more was needed to propel manufacturing into overdrive. Even the massive iron foundries and the expertise to operate them were not quite enough. A new railroad network proved to be the key to transforming Springfield (west of Columbus) and Lancaster (southeast of Columbus) into manufacturing giants in the late 1800s.

Competition leads to consolidation

Phineas P. Mast arrived in Springfield in 1856 from Urbana, Ohio. Soon after, Mast and local attorney John Thomas formed a partnership, Thomas & Mast. In 1865, the company was awarded patent no. 51,101 for its improved cider mill. Thomas & Mast built mainly grain drills and cider presses, but during the 1860s the company expanded its product line, introducing cultivators and other implements. The partnership was dissolved in 1871; the product line continued through the newly formed P.P. Mast & Co. 

Consolidation came to the marketplace with the founding of American Seeding Machine Co. in 1903. The company was created through the merger of seven local grain drill manufacturers: P.P. Mast & Co., Hoosier Drill Co. (previously of Richmond, Ind.), Empire Drill Co., Brennan & Co., Bickford & Huffman, A.C. Evans Mfg. Co. and Superior Drill Co., the latter being the leading corporate component of the group. American Seeding was absorbed by Oliver Farm Equipment Co. in 1929 and continued as the Oliver Superior line of drills.