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Innovative Design Launches New Idea Farm Machinery Line

The history behind New Idea farm machinery.

| June 2016

  • The long popular New Idea 1-row corn picker with a New Idea wagon in tow.
    Farm Collector Archives
  • Joseph Oppenheim.
    Farm Collector Archives
  • Wedding photo of Henry Synck and Wilhelmina Oppenheim, 1903.
    Farm Collector Archives
  • Circa-1912 New Idea Size C manure spreader with the optional (since 1903) steel distributor paddles.
    Farm Collector Archives
  • Oppenheim's first factory in Maria Stein, Ohio.
    Farm Collector Archives
  • A commemorative coin issued by the firm on the occasion of New Idea's 50th anniversary.
    Farm Collector Archives

Anyone with a farming background is familiar with New Idea farm machinery, particularly the famous orange-and-green manure spreaders made by the company. In fact, manure spreaders are how New Idea got its start.

In 1833, three German immigrant families met in Baltimore and decided to move to northwestern Ohio, where they established a farming community named St. John. In the 1840s, Father Francis Brunner, a Swiss Catholic priest, built a convent near St. John, which he named Maria Stein.

In 1899, Joseph Oppenheim was teaching at the Catholic school in Maria Stein and raising a family, while John Kramer ran a nearby grain elevator, machine shop and lumberyard. Kramer had patented a manure spreader called the Champion, which he hand-built in his machine shop. In 1896, the shop burned and Kramer had no insurance. He borrowed $1,200 (most of Mrs. Oppenheim’s dowry) from Joseph Oppenheim and rebuilt, but was unable to get back on his feet and repay the loan. To clear the debt, Kramer signed over the manure spreader patent to Joseph Oppenheim in 1899.

Oppenheim owned land near the railroad station west of Maria Stein. In late 1899, he built a small frame factory building there. The actual factory work was done by Fred Heckman and Henry Synck, who had both been associated with John Kramer. Even though Oppenheim visited the factory only after his school day was completed, the school directors refused to renew his contract on the grounds that he couldn’t teach and run a business at the same time.

This put Oppenheim in a serious financial bind, as the factory was barely making enough to cover expenses, so he began to sell Empire cream separators to surrounding dairy farmers. He was so successful at selling cream separators that he won a trip to the World’s Fair in Buffalo, all the while working to improve his manure spreader.

Innovative design features

Manure spreaders of the day had a single-toothed cylinder at the rear of the spreader box and just dropped large chunks of the stuff directly behind in a swath only as wide as the box. Oppenheim came up with an idea for a wide-spreading device and with part of a cigar box and the help of his son, Ben, built a model that worked.


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