Robert Avery: Imprisoned Visionary

Confined in a military prison, Robert Avery kept his wits by designing farm equipment during the Civil War.


| January 2003



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Avery steam engine shows

Union soldier Robert Avery of Galesburg, Ill., survived confinement in the infamous Confederate military prison at Andersonville, Ga., where 13,000 of his fellow prisoners died. One of the ways he kept his wits about him was by sketching a corn planter of his own design.

The detailed sketch of this planter eventually became the basis of the Avery Co. of Peoria, Ill, and half a century later, the firm was calling itself 'The Largest Tractor Company in the World,' employing 2,600 men and producing eight different tractors, as well as motor cultivators, trucks, combines and other farm machinery.

Robert Avery was released from Andersonville at the end of the Civil War, and he and his brother, Cyrus M. Avery, soon organized the R.H. and CM. Avery Co., in Galesburg. By 1874, they had perfected Robert's corn planter and were fully involved in the business of manufacturing that machine, and by 1878, according to a booklet in the Peoria, Ill., public library titled The Avery Farm Machinery Company, 'Their product had gained a high reputation among the farmers and was an acknowledged success.'

An Avery Six-Cylinder Model 'C' Tractor and 'Yellow-Baby' Thresher Makes an Ideal Small Threshing Outfit.

Avery Tractor Sizes

The Avery Co. manufactured a dozen different sizes of tractors in only 15 years' time. Here's the rundown:

5-10 18-36
8-16 20-35
12-20 25-50
12-25 40-65
14-28 45-65
15-30 40-80

Also: Model C Motor cultivator Nursery tractor Track Runner 15-25 Ro-Trak

By 1882, the Averys had moved their growing business to Peoria to take advantage of better shipping opportunities. They built a three-story plant and produced corn planters, check rowers, stalk cutters, cultivators and hand tools.