For many old iron enthusiasts, the history of early farm equipment manufacturers is as intriguing as the pieces they produced. In this issue of Farm Collector, we consider the industry behind the inventions and the toil behind the profits.
The Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum – housing what was long known as the Soulé Steam Feed Works – gives a rare glimpse into what is believed to be America’s last intact steam engine factory. Opened in 1892, the Soulé works was a leading local employer in Meridian, Mississippi, for more than a century.
Today, the factory lives on as a museum, one that puts a high priority on education. “A lot of kids today are not exposed to work or manufacturing,” founder Jim McRae says. “We’re presenting something here to spark their interest, to help them decide what it is they want to do.”
Indeed, when the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum completed an extensive historical documentation and research project in 2005, the report noted that Soulé Steam Feed Works was one of only five remaining late-19th/early-20th-century foundry/machine shop/factories with original workings in the U.S. Before World War II, there were more than 1,000 such businesses in this country.
Today, the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum keeps that legacy alive, and you can read all about it in this issue. This issue also tells the story of restoration of a mammoth 1917 Vilter Corliss, one of three 150-ton workhorses in a meatpacking plant until its closure in 1979. Earlier industrial workers – draftsmen, iron molders, machinists, woodworkers, blacksmiths and painters – are the focus of this issue’s Iron Age Ads.
In his column, Sam Moore delves into the history of the Hart-Parr organization, down to and including an early labor conflict. And Don McKinley takes us back to the era when bluegrass seed was a cash crop in the Midwest. For a time, local manufacturers produced ground-driven machinery for local producers, a far cry from the 1880s, when women and young boys harvested the crop by hand.
The Industrial Revolution put an end to that kind of labor, provided employment for millions and made this country a global leader in technology and industrial processes. The proud legacy of early American industry endures today, and provides a firm foundation for this country as it faces the challenges of the future.
Leslie C. McManus