Acme Hay Harvester Company: Giant Among Farm Equipment Manufacturers Nearly Lost to Farm History

Let's Talk Rusty Iron

| May 2010

Recently I corresponded with someone who has an Acme horse-drawn mowing machine.

Acme isn’t exactly a household name among old iron enthusiasts, but during the late 1800s and the first decade of the 1900s, the Acme Hay Harvester Co., Peoria, Ill., was a significant player in the Midwest grain belt.

Starting with a sleigh

The origins of the Acme Harvester Co. lie with an Ohio native named Jonathan Haines who settled in Tazewell County, Ill., in 1826. Although I can find no patent, Haines apparently invented a steam-powered sleigh. During the winter of 1835, he took the sleigh to Galena, Ill., a Mississippi River town, where he hoped to get a contract to carry mail and other cargo up the frozen river to St. Paul and the U.S. Army forts beyond.

The Galena Gazette reported that Haines’ machine was enclosed, with seats and windows, and was “as comfortable as the saloon of a steamboat.” Haines apparently won the right to a trial and made a trip or two between Galena and Dubuque, a distance of about 15 miles. However, as an article in the Gazette observed, “Unfortunately, its engine was too small and there was not sufficient power to make it go.”

While traveling from his home to Galena with the sleigh, Haines had passed through and admired Whiteside County. Thus, when the ice sleigh project failed, he moved to Rock Creek near present-day Morrison in Whiteside County. Haines built a cabin and then a sawmill, which was soon washed away by a spring flood. However, by 1837, Haines erected a second sawmill and built a burr mill to grind flour.

The Illinois Harvester

Later, Haines moved to nearby Union Grove where, during the 1840s, he experimented with a header-type grain-harvesting machine. He invented “a new and useful machine for harvesting grain and grass by horse-power,” which he called the “Illinois Harvester.” The drawing accompanying the patent, which was issued in 1849, shows a 3-wheel affair with a reel and cutter bar at the front ( view the Illinois Harvester in the Image Gallery ).

Behind the cutter bar is a horizontal canvas conveyor that continues up an angled platform to one side. A long strut runs to the rear of the center and terminates in a single wheel steered by a tiller. A horse is hitched on each side of the strut. As the horses push the machine, the operator stands on a platform behind, steering with the tiller and manipulating a long lever that raises and lowers the cutter bar so all the grain heads are harvested, but not too much straw is taken. A wagon is pulled alongside to catch the grain heads that come up the conveyor.