None Knew Him But to Love Him


| August 2001



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John Lauson's 12-25 tractors

For a tractor manufacturer, John Lauson was an unusual man. But then, his early life had not been so usual, either. His life and company of New Holstein, Wis., 'is a history as interesting as it is inspiring,' says the New Holstein Centennial Souvenir Booklet of 1948, 'a history of courage and achievement...'

John Lauson came from hardy Schleswig-Holstein German immigrants who were highly skilled artisans and expert craftsmen in whatever they chose to do. His father, H.A. Lauson, and his four brothers opened a small implement and repair shop, Lauson Brothers Implement Company. In 1882, H.A. Lauson died unexpectedly. Fourteen-year-old John was expected to step into the work void created by his father's sudden death, which he did admirably. In fact, he worked so well that only two years later he became a full-fledged member of a new machine shop, along with his uncle, George Lauson, and J.H. Optenberg. A mere year later, that business burned down, and a new one was organized: John Lauson, H. Optenberg & Co. So, by the age of 17, John Lauson had earned top billing in his firm. John had already made his mark as a first-class machinist and repair man. The company used only a windmill to generate power for its steelwork.

They manufactured boilers, tanks, smoke stacks, as well as other heavy steel and iron products. They also repaired steam traction engines, and soon gained a reputation as a firm which did high-quality work. Everything they did was by hand. As the Centennial booklet says, 'All products were painstakingly built by hand, and consequently it was necessary that each shop employee develop a high degree of hand skill. For example, all their boilers were riveted and hand calked, resulting in a quality seldom equaled by the present day air-hammer process.'

Shortly after the new firm was established, the owners decided to take on new work. With all the work they had done on steam machines, the next natural progression was easy: the manufacture of steam traction engines, the first standardized product ever made by the plant. They manufactured 25 Uncle Sam steam traction engines (one reference says about 150), and in 1891, John Lauson bought out his partners and became John Lauson Company. Whatever the number, John Lauson knew he could manufacture large farm equipment.

As the Centennial booklet says, 'The firm accepted jobs of all types and descriptions, whether it was putting a patch on a boiler, installing a new set of boiler tubes, adjusting and setting the slide valves of steam engines, locating troubles in steam plant operations, or doing a complete job of steam power plant installation.'

Though John Lauson worked long and hard hours on the line with his men (they simply called him 'John'), he also had a life outside the plant. Each spring, for example, as the flowers began to bloom, John gathered up area orphans (it is unclear whether John himself was an orphan after his father died; no mention is made of his mother so it is entirely possible) and took them out into the woods to gather flowers. The New Holstein Reporter wrote in 1922 that 'When the early spring flowers peeped forth from mother earth, Mr. Lauson would load up his big automobile with children, and go to the swamp or woods where great armsful of flowers would be gathered. He enjoyed these annual pilgrimages as much as any of the children.'