Let's Talk Rusty Iron

Farm Machinery Paved the Way for Tire Manufacturer


| December 2005



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Top left: The rear cover of a catalog showing the stylized J.F. Seiberling logo.Above: Cover of a catalog (circa 1890) put out by the J.F. Seiberling & Co.

The Akron/Canton/Massillon area of Ohio, just west of where I live, was a hotbed of farm machinery invention and manufacture during the latter half of the 19th century. In the past, I've written about Canton's Cornelius Aultman and Akron's Lewis Miller, and the Russell Co. of Massillon is on my list of future projects.

After 1900, with the rising popularity of the automobile, Akron became more famous for its tires and rubber products than its farm machinery, and today Goodyear - which got its start in Akron - is one of the premier names in automobile tires. While some folks may think the Goodyear company was started by Charles Goodyear, the man who perfected the process of vulcanizing rubber in 1839, it ain't necessarily so, as we'll see later.

But first, a little about John F. Seiberling.

Michael Seuberlich came to America from Germany in 1741. He began farming in Lehigh County, Pa., and the family name eventually became Seiberling. Michael's great-great-grandson, Nathan, whose wife, Catherine, had just inherited $900 (a small fortune in those days) "went West" by covered wagon to Summit County, Ohio, in 1831. Although he was a shoemaker by trade, Nathan established a successful 200-acre farm and sawmill near Norton, a mile or so west of Akron. Nathan was not only a successful farmer, but was prolific as well, siring 15 children, one of whom was John Frederick Seiberling. John was born March 10, 1834, and attended the nearby Western Star Academy before going to work at an Akron drugstore from 1856 to 1858.

In 1859, young Seiberling returned to the farm, where he ran his father's sawmill and tinkered with farm machinery. During this time, John developed a mower-reaper with a dropper attachment that left the cut grain in gavels, from which it could easily be bound into sheaves.

Seiberling received a patent on the machine, which he called the Excelsior, in October 1861. He and a partner, John H. Hower, began manufacturing the Excelsior in nearby Doylestown, Ohio, that year. Due to the Civil War, farmers needed machinery and had the money to buy it, and Seiberling's little factory couldn't keep up with demand.