Hay Carrier Invention Sparks Hardware Line

Henry L. Ferris’ hay carrier launches the Starline.


| November 2014



A hunt, Helm, Ferris hay carrier

A Hunt, Helm, Ferris hay carrier from the collection of Steve Weeber, Iowa City, Iowa.

Photo by Teri McManus

The story of Henry Lakin Ferris and his invention of a hay carrier is one of grit and determination. In the dark and cold of midwinter, Ferris would rise early to tend to chores on his parents’ dairy farm outside Alden, Illinois.

At noon he walked 4 miles down an abandoned railway right-of-way to Harvard, a small town on the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. There he worked on building his hay carrier in the basement of a local hardware store. In late afternoon, as darkness closed in, he again walked 4 miles back to Alden to complete evening chores on the farm. This is the story that has been passed down in the Ferris family for decades and, as such, may have the ring of romanticized fiction. The facts, however, are entirely accurate.

Cold Spring Creamery

Henry L. Ferris was born in a log cabin on his parents’ farm east of Alden on Aug. 24, 1850. Pioneers Sylvanis and Sarrah Ferris had moved west to Alden from Windon in New York’s Catskills. As a boy, Ferris was used to long hours and hard work on his parents’ dairy farm. In 1876, he married Millie F. Mosher, who had been raised on a farm near Sharon, Wisconsin, on the Big Foot Prairie. The two were well suited both in terms of temperament and work ethic. He brought Millie to live with him and his parents on the farm near Alden.

Not long after, Ferris and his father built a factory for production of butter and cheese on the southwest corner of the family farm. Cold Spring Creamery was a successful venture. But Ferris had an inventive mind and often found it occupied with ideas for making work on a dairy farm easier and more efficient. He started by developing a plan for an automatic device that would allow a farmer to open and close a farm gate without getting down from the wagon. He did not manufacture the gate but sold county rights to handymen who sold the gates and then built them onsite. Family lore has it that some of those gates remain in use today in horse breeding country.

The prototype hay carrier

Then came the development of the hay carrier. In that era, the hay harvested on a farm and used to feed livestock was stored under cover in a barn’s loft or haymow. To get the cut hay from the wagon bed up to the mow, it was pitched by hand up from the wagon to the barn’s second story until the entire space was filled. This process was both time-consuming and backbreaking.

A hay carrier was a device supported by overhead track in the barn roof’s peak that functioned with tines and a series of ropes and pulleys to transfer hay from the wagon into the mow. This device made the storing of hay faster, more efficient and far less laborious. William Louden is credited with the first patent issued in the U.S. for a hay carrier, in 1867.