Farm Equipment Manufacturers in St. Louis

Early St. Louis farm equipment companies thrived in bustling river port.


| October 2013



Fulton Iron Works

Fulton Iron Works of St. Louis built diesel engines. 

Illustration Courtesy Bill Vossler

St. Louis was perhaps the first American city that manufactured farm equipment from A to Z, running the gamut from Alligator Equipment Co. to Zelle Tractor Co. Building on its proud heritage as both a leading port on the Mississippi River and as Gateway to the West, St. Louis proved fertile ground for the explosion of manufacturing that launched the 20th century.

McKinney Traction Cultivator Co.

A July 18, 1911, article in Implement Age magazine, headlined “The McKinney Tractor Cultivator,” announced news of a new company in St. Louis. “The (company) is now located in its new factory and has installed a complete line of high grade machinery for the manufacture of the McKinney tractor cultivator. The company writes that it will make deliveries of its tractor cultivator on or about Nov. 1 of this year.

“The McKinney Tractor Cultivator is one of the latest inventions in power machinery for agricultural purposes. It has been thoroughly tested in field work, and its successful operation proven.” Nothing else is known about the company or the cultivator.

Plantation Equipment Co.

The future of Plantation Equipment Co. was written in the last name of the company owners a trio of men with the last name Zelle: Arthur, William and Henry. It is unclear when Plantation began business, though it produced an enormous, ungainly Straddle-Row tractor as early as 1914.

In 1917, Plantation manufactured three Zelle Straddle-Row models: an 8-16, a 12-25 and a 16-32. They weighed 2,500, 3,500 and 4,500 pounds, with respective drawbar pulls of 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 pounds. Very limited information is available, but it appears that these tractors were later called the Ultimate 8-16, Ultimate 12-25 and Ultimate 16-32. Purchase price in 1917 ranged from $850 to $1,050 ($15,500 to $19,150 today).

Zelle Tractor Co.

It was probably not a huge surprise when Plantation Equipment Co. evolved into Zelle Tractor Co. But Zelle built only one model: the 12-25. The Zelle 12-25 tractor was noteworthy for its unlimited visibility. The operator’s platform was completely above the tractor, the seat a full 71 inches above the ground. The steering wheel and control columns were top-mounted.