In northwestern Ohio is a town of about two thousand people, called Swanton. It is located in Fulton County and is situated on the New York Central Railroad running between Toledo on Lake Erie to the east and Chicago on Lake Michigan to the west.
In memories of many threshermen and those interested in threshing machine history the name Swanton will always be synonomous with Abner D. Baker and the A. D. Baker Company which he founded.
Abner D. Baker was born March 17th, 1861, in Knox County, Ohio. When fifteen years of age he moved with his parents to a farm located a few miles east of Swanton. Although he acquired only a common school education he developed a natural mechanical ability and an unusual interest in steam engines. When he was twenty-three years old he went to Akron where he spent the next three years as a machinist at the Empire Reaper Works. The following year he was employed by the Erie City Iron Works in Pennsylvania. Another three months were spent at the Frontier Iron Works at Detroit before he returned to his father's farm.
Here in 1888 he established a repair shop. A prosperous business developed, repairing the many new machines which were coming into use on the farms. This also included the threshing machinery used by the local custom threshermen. In 1895 he moved his shop to Swanton to be closer to required facilities.
This period was the development stage of the American Steam Traction and to A. D. Baker with his interest in steam engines, it was a period of great learning. These years of working on many makes of steam traction engines involving the ideas of many designers and inventors, gave Abner D. Baker a splendid chance to observe and distinguish the good features from the bad. So, it was only natural that he should from his own experiences and interest decide what features and designs would go to make up a most desirable steam traction engine.
In 1898, we see Abner D. Baker with his idea for a better traction engine, approaching a Toledo bank to obtain a loan which would enable him to build one, thereby proving or disproving his theories! At first the bank turned him down but later when his friend F. E. Pilliod signed the note with him, the bank agrees to let him have the money.
This enables him to start work on the patterns and machine work required. The boiler was purchased from an established boiler shop. Before long we see the new creation a 16 horse steam traction engine bearing the name 'BAKER'.
Soon after its completion a purchaser was found who had the necessary ready cash. Now with the money from the first sale he is able to repay the bank loan and have enough left to plan on building others.
Only one engine was built in 1898, to be followed by two more each year during 1899 and 1900. All these engines were easily disposed of in the immediate neighborhood which led to the belief that it could be successfully manufactured on a large scale.
With this thought in mind, the company which had been founded in 1898 was incorporated in December 1900 as The A. D. Baker Company and was capitalized for $150,000. Mr. Baker served as president at various times but was the Plant Superintendent for the life of the company. His friend, F. E. Pilliod, was also interested in the company and served in the capacities of secretary, treasurer, as well as being General Manager. Others who also had money invested in the company served in various capacities as well as on the board of directors.