Walter A. Wood: An Early Leader in Farm Equipment Manufacture

A brief history of Walter A. Wood and the company that made him a leader of farm equipment manufacture during his time.

| March 2015

In the 1830s, John Deere built his first plow and Cyrus McCormick’s reaper burst onto the scene. Jerome Increase Case began building threshers in the early 1840s. These three gentlemen are well remembered today, mostly due to the successful and long-lived companies they established. Many other pioneering farm machinery manufacturers are largely forgotten.

One of these is Walter A. Wood, whose mowing and reaping machine factory in Hoosick Falls, New York, was, by 1890, employing some 2,000 men and turning out about 90,000 machines per year. Many of those were shipped overseas.

Wood was born in October 1815, in Mason, New Hampshire. A year later the family moved to Rensselaerville, New York, where his blacksmith father built wagons and plows. The boy worked in his father’s shop, learned the blacksmith trade, and in 1836 relocated to Hoosick Falls, where he worked at Parsons & Wilder machine shop and became a skilled machinist.

In about 1840, Wood relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked at building wagons and carriages, reportedly ironing a new carriage for James K. Polk, probably when that worthy was governor of Tennessee and before he became the 11th president of the U.S. A couple of years later Wood returned to Hoosick Falls, married Bessie Parsons (daughter of his former boss) and opened a foundry and machine shop with John White.

Manufacturing the Manny

Inventors had been trying for decades to develop a successful mechanical means of cutting hay and grain, a slow, hard job with a scythe or a cradle. By the early 1850s several machines on the market showed promise.

Sometime during those years, Wood and his brother-in-law, J. Russell Parsons, attended a farm machinery trial sponsored by the Geneva, New York, Agricultural Society where, in the estimation of the two men, the mower-harvester patented and demonstrated by John H. Manny of Illinois made the best showing. Wood and Parsons bought the rights to manufacture the Manny machine in New York and then divided the state, with Parsons and Chandler Ball taking the eastern half, and Wood the western, with manufacturing being done in two separate shops in Hoosick Falls.