California's impressive hay press history

| August 2004

Bolstered by the discovery of gold in the mid-1800s, California's early cities experienced extremely rapid growth both in population and commerce, which created a big demand for hay to fuel an increasingly large horse-powered transportation system. Luckily, the sunny California climate and soil produced large amounts of high-quality grain hay, but it also produced a great need for good hay presses so the product could be more efficiently delivered to the point of use. In 1862, Jacob Price addressed that need with a horse-powered, one-charge hay press that he patent ed and built for several years in Petaluma, Calif., before moving his company to San Leandro, Calif.

Jacob Price produced two models of hay presses in the mid-1880s, the Monarch and Junior Monarch. Little is known about the Monarch model except that advertising stated it was 'heavier and made smaller bales.' Built for more than 20 years in San Leandro, the Junior Monarch was run by a circular horse-powered winch.

Price's 1885 design quickly became the most popular baler in California until well after the turn of the 20th century. No records exist, but it's reasonable to assume that hundreds of these wood-framed machines were built, and that they are an important -but largely forgotten - part of California's agricultural history.

These vertical-box hay presses produced big bales tied with five wires each. The bales weighed about 250 pounds, but they weren't too difficult to move and stack. Because of their weight, however, they were usually hoisted onto the tier being filled on the wagon or in the barn using a derrick and 'fork horse.'

The Junior Monarch dump-off press more than doubled the capacity of the first 'Petaluma' model and became the company's principle product, although the firm was also developing steam engines.

They became known as 'dump-off rigs' because the press box had no wheels of its own and had to be tipped across a heavy wagon running gear for trans port and then 'dumped-off' to work. By 1890, Jacob Price apparently sold his Price Hay Press Co., and the Junior Monarch Hay Press Co. was formed to build and sell presses and other equipment. The Junior Monarch Hay Press Co. stayed in business manufacturing sever al newer versions of steel, vertical five-wire presses and both vertical and horizontal three-wire machines until closing in 1950.