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.
Though the roots of Superior Drill Co. can be traced to the 1840s, the company didn’t become a major player in the farm equipment industry until the late 1800s. Initially established as Ferrell, Ludlow & Rodgers in 1867, the company became known as Superior Drill Co. in 1883.
Meanwhile, William N. Whiteley and partners Jerome Fassler and Oliver S. Kelly (Whiteley, Fassler & Kelly) began producing Champion reaping and mowing machines. Amos Whiteley (William’s brother) organized Champion Machine Co. in the 1870s. The Champion line was subsequently affiliated with Warder, Mitchell & Co. (later becoming Warder, Bushnell & Glessner, one of the companies that merged in 1902 to form International Harvester Co.).
Very early cider presses were made in a single column or “A-frame” configuration. These units were relatively small in dimension and had very limited capacity. While the bulk of the next generation of cider presses fall into two major categories, a few used conical grinding or simple rotating drum shredders. Nevertheless, these were two-basket presses with separate grinding and pressing functions.
Within the vast majority of common 3-cylinder presses there are two major subcategories: the gear type and the shredder type. These two groups used different configurations in their lower mechanical arrangements. The function of the top roll in each type was to send manageable chunks of apple downward into the lower grinding section. This was done using a single rotating drum with various types of blades to rip off sections of whole apples immediately below the hopper.
The “first” group (although that may be debatable from a chronological point of view) was a gear-type press where the two main parallel cylinders worked essentially as gears, trapping parts of the apple in the tooth gap and mashing them in the bite. The tooth interface was adjustable by shifting the axis of one of the rolls, thereby adjusting the effective mesh of the gears. Obviously, in this arrangement the two cylinders had to rotate at the same speed.
The second type utilized a form of a shredder in the lower section. The upper roll served the same function as before but in the lower section of parallel cylinders, there is a defined and visible gap between the cylinders. Also, the two cylinders were operated at decidedly different speeds, creating a type of shredding as pieces of apple passed between them.
Lancaster, Ohio, was home to both Hocking Valley Mfg. Co. and Eagle Mfg. Co. Hocking Valley made an unusual cider press. Offered in two sizes, it utilized a shredding drum with knives embedded in a wooden cylinder. This machine used significantly less cast iron than those built by competitors.
Eagle used a far more straightforward approach with a very basic medium-size 3-cylinder grinder in a “gear-mesh design” and without ornate castings. These were often sold in bulk to dealers such as Simmons Hardware Co., St. Louis. This concept was expanded to include large catalog sales companies such as Montgomery Ward & Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Co.
What’s old is new again
So, what happened to this boom? There does not seem to be one single smoking gun. A number of factors may have contributed to the industry’s serious decline, including Prohibition, the Great Depression and the evolution of new, large-scale commercial breweries.
Initially, several serious obstacles stood in the way of successful commercial brewing. As time passed, those fell away and commercial brewing met widespread market acceptance. With the advent of tractors and seeding drills, Great Plains barley production blossomed. Issues related to spoilage were overcome by effective pasteurization and modern bottling equipment. The domestic rail system created an efficient shipping network. Eventually, while cider was still made for home use, commercially produced beer became a convenient alternative.
Today, cider is making a serious comeback. Since the recent explosion of microbreweries in the U.S. (there are at least 61 in Indiana alone), increasingly sophisticated American taste buds have embraced cider. As noted in a recent article in the Detroit Free Press, “The fizzy, fermented drink of our colonial American forefathers is back and is the fastest-growing alcoholic beverage in the country, with at least double-digit sales increases the last four years, according to industry data.”
The Boston Globe reports that Boston Beer Co.’s hottest brand is Angry Orchard hard cider. The company produced 690,000 barrels of the stuff in 2012, an increase of nearly 70 percent over the previous year. Cider, says Diane Flynt, owner and cider maker at Foggy Ridge Cider, Dugspur, Va., is the fastest-growing segment in the alcohol industry today. FC