Balloons in the Air: Promoting the Elward Harvester

This chromolithograph poster for the Elward Harvester used text balloons to display the advertiser's message.

| December 2014

Besides showcasing elaborate and beautiful commercial art, this chromolithograph advertising poster broke new ground with use of “balloons” to deliver a promotional message. Printed between 1872 and 1875, the poster promotes the Elward harvester manufactured at St. Paul (Minnesota) Harvester Works. The Elward harvester, invented by John H. Elward, was a direct competitor of Marsh Harvester Co., which started its business in Plano, Illinois. Elward produced 300 harvesters in 1872. Production ramped up dramatically; just four years later the company produced 3,000 units.

 This most unusual and complex image is in two distinct parts. The lower section depicts a Marsh-type harvester with two men standing on the platform. One is hand-tying a sheaf of grain while his partner drinks water from a jug. A third farmer operates the harvester being pulled by a team of horses. A young boy shocks bundles of grain tossed to the ground from the platform.

 The upper panel has a farmstead depicting how much better it will be when the farmer uses the “new” Elward harvester rather than the old-style reapers and droppers made in 1860 and 1865. The “balloons” in the upper panel also have accompanying text. In one, the mother says, “We will save money this year. It is not all going for wages.” In another balloon, a young man says, “Hurrah, I’m going to drive the ‘Elward.’”

The largest balloon contains this message: “I must leave you with these other ‘old timers’ binding grain on the ground, costing over $2 an acre. Besides, wasting grain is ‘played out’ with me when neighbor Smith is cutting over there for less than $1 an acre with the Elward harvester, leaving a clean field.” The lower right panel fairly crows, “We are in luck! Got the last Elward in town!” FC

Grateful acknowledgement is given to David Schnakenberg, who contributed this image from his collection of pre-1910 chromolithographs of farm machinery advertising. For more information, contact him at 10108 Tamarack Dr., Vienna, VA 22182; (703) 938-8606;; view the Schnakenberg Collection at Farm Machinery Advertising Art.

To submit a vintage advertisement for publication, send it to: Iron Age Ads, Farm Collector, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609; or submit high-quality digital images by email: