Remembering the Rude Brothers

Read about a little-known manufacturer of farm implements and the mark it left on the history of early American agriculture.

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An advertisement for the Indiana five-hoe, one-horse grain drill from the 1883 Rude catalog.

Not long ago, I had an email from a gentleman that asked, “Do you know anything about the Jewel horse-drawn wheat drill 5-hole?”

Rude Bros. Mfg. Co., Liberty, Indiana, made the Indiana brand grain drills, one of which was the 5-hole Jewel model. If planted after corn, wheat or barley needed to be sown in the fall before the corn was typically harvested. That was the reason for the 3- and 5-row walk-behind drills that were popular during the late 19th century and well into the 20th. At one time, farmers walked between the corn rows and sowed seed by hand – not an easy task. In fact, in 1878, a Freedom Home, Kentucky, farmer named Frank Lee wrote to the Rude brothers in a testimonial, “Gents: I am much better pleased with the drill than I expected to be. I have hired it to a couple of neighbors and they are perfectly delighted with it. It saved me more than half my expenses (and) putting corn in wheat is no longer a dread.”

A Rude Bros. ad from 1911 tell us that the firm was established in 1865 while in the Union County, Indiana, public library there is a brief history of Rude Bros. that dates from around the turn of the 20th century.

The history states that “three young men whose genius for mechanics was applied to the repair and construction of simple farm implements” began in an 18- by 24-foot building on a farm 3-1/2 miles northwest of Liberty. The “three young men” were brothers John R., Squire B., and George W. Rude.

The history went on: “Success with these early simple farm implements stimulated their ambition to attempt greater things and the united efforts of these three young men originated one of Liberty’s leading enterprises, commonly known as Rudes’ Shop.”

In 1869, the brothers’ success led them to move their enterprise to a “small frame building” on the edge of Liberty, where it was still located at the time of writing this history. We learn that “the original shop had no steam power and the only machine used was a hand drill, which all parts were put together with the hand-powered drawing knife and hand plane. The first machine made was a one-horse wheat drill on which Letters Patent were granted by the U.S. Patent Office in 1866. Steam power was installed in 1875 and with the advent of this, they began to make implements of a higher order.”

As happened so frequently in those days, the frame shop burned down in 1878, but “people worked with a will to save the documents, deeds and rights to furnish orders to all parts of the world.” The Rude brothers, apparently after some urging by the people of Liberty, decided to rebuild and a larger, two-story factory was built on the site the following year. The 1883 Rude catalog brags that, “Our shops and machinery are all new, as we were burned out in July 1878, losing shops and machinery.”

In 1881, the remaining two Rude brothers (the account doesn’t say which two or what became of the third) reorganized as a stock company and changed the name from Rude Bros. to Rude Bros. Mfg. Co., the name it operated under until the end.

Another fire in 1886 destroyed a large warehouse, which was rebuilt of brick and at the time of the account being written, “the present factory covers an area of approximately 280 by 220 feet, exclusive of the two-story warehouse which is just across the street from the main building. This warehouse is 60 by 90 feet and is a recent addition to the plant.”

Apparently Rude Bros. had a lively trade as the story mentions product placement that extended “from the Rocky Mountains on the west to New England on the east, from Canada on the north to Central America on the south, having an especially fine trade in Mexico.” That’s the end of the published history.

Over the years, Rude Bros. produced Indiana, Indiana Jr., Jewel, Royal and Rude grain drills; Duplex Gem and I.X.L. one-row and Rex two-row corn drills; Front Rank, Indiana and Little Darling riding cultivators; I.X.L., Q.I.C. and Successor walking cultivators; Rude manure spreaders; and Mascot and Sunshine hand-dump sulky hay rakes.

Rude Bros. is listed in the 1911 Farm Implement News Buyer’s Guide but not in the 1921 edition, so the firm must have been a victim of the agricultural depression of the 1920s. The 1930 guide lists repair parts for Rude machines as being available from Liberty Spreader Mfg. Co., Liberty, Indiana, which may be the name of a reorganized Rude Bros. Mfg. Co. The Liberty Spreader Mfg. Co. didn’t survive for long: The 1939 guide lists Rude parts as being available from the General Implement Co. out of Cleveland. General lists a factory in Liberty, Indiana, where their Soilfitter manure spreaders were probably built.

Rude Bros. was just one of the smaller farm implement manufacturers that were plentiful during those years but that are largely forgotten today.

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