Joseph Oppenheim’s New Idea

Joseph Oppenheim built New Idea on manure spreader featuring a paddle concept.

| May 2013

Joseph Oppenheim never intended to get into the farm implement business. Emigrating from Germany in 1879 at age 20, he initially studied for the priesthood but then changed course and became a teacher. His first teaching job was in Putnam County, Ohio, and it was there that Oppenheim conceived of what would become the first successful mechanical manure spreader.

While teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Maria Stein, Ohio, Oppenheim was concerned by the number of absences that resulted when farm boys were kept home to help with the back-breaking work of spreading manure. He seized on a solution while watching his students play a game of “tom ball” at recess. When the ball was struck with a paddle-shaped bat, the ball was deflected to one side or the other, depending on the angle of the paddle. That gave the teacher the idea for a manure spreader using a paddle concept.

Beginning with a prototype fashioned from a wooden cigar box, Oppenheim developed the idea into a working unit and applied for a patent. By late 1899 he’d resigned his teaching job and launched construction of a factory in Maria Stein. Interested neighbors described his first product as “Oppenheim’s new idea,” leading to a diverse product line that endured for more than a century.

After Oppenheim’s untimely death in 1901, his widow, oldest son and other family members kept the company going. Eventually based in Coldwater, Ohio, New Idea Spreader Co. created thousands of jobs for local residents. The company built on its success with manure spreaders, expanding its line to include hay loaders, corn husker/shredders, corn pickers and wagons.

New Idea lived up to its name, producing the first pull-type picker built exclusively for tractor operation with a power takeoff (and the first to successfully pick, husk and load two rows of corn onto a wagon) and the first all-steel wagon with automotive-type steering and a telescopic, tubular steel coupling pole and sealed wheel hubs.

In 1969, the Ohio Agriculture Hall of Fame named Oppenheim inventor of the first modern widespreading manure spreader. FC