1 / 10
1. Oliver Smith Kelly, as he appeared in the 1884 Biographical Encyclopedia of Ohio.
2 / 10
3 / 10
10. Cut of O. S. Kelly's open-faced driver wheel, similar to those manufactured by the Bird sall Company.
4 / 10
5 / 10
6 / 10
5. Woodcut of a thresher built by the O. S. Kelly Company. Note complicated belt dynamics.
7 / 10
6. Draftsman's sketch of an O.S. Kelly 12 HP traction engine.
8 / 10
9 / 10
10 / 10
9. Cut of flywheel side of an O. S. Kelly in 1902 catalog

3982 Ballard Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45209-1716

Oliver Smith Kelly stuck it rich. He had worked as a carpenter,
but the lure of gold proved too strong to resist. He left behind
his home in Springfield, Ohio, looped through Nicaragua, and
arrived in California gold fields. He spent the better part of 1852
through 1856 mining ‘placers,’ deposits of gravel
containing small particles of ore which can be washed out. Luck
smiled on Kelly. The man who returned to Springfield was wealthy
(Springfield Daily Republic 12 and Yester Year in Clark County,
Ohio 29).
Oliver had ample capital to risk in establishing a
series of industrial enterprises. The Kelly name would come to be
associated with steam engines, threshing machines, road rollers,
pianos, trucks, and tires. Like the Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and
Rockefeller stories, the account of Kelly’s life invited
readers back to an era when it was possible to become rich through
good fortune and to stay rich through inventiveness and hard

Born in 1824, Oliver was the grandson of James Kelly, an Irish
immigrant who first settled in Virginia. James felt the despair at
Valley Forge and the exhilaration at Yorktown while serving under
General George Washington. Hazarding the privations of a trek
through the Cumberland Gap and across the rugged highlands of
Kentucky, this patriot of the Revolution and his dozen children
arrived in Springfield in 1808 (Springfield Daily Republic
To look then at the hamlet situated on the wooded knolls
of the Mad River would have given James Kelly no glimpse of the
sprawling city of factories which Springfield would become, his own
grandson contributing significantly to that future growth.

John Kelly had been born in 1789. He fought in the War of 1812
then returned to farming in Clark County, Ohio. His untimely death
in 1825 left one-year-old Oliver without a father. Other members of
the large Kelly familywhich Oliver later called ‘the Kelly
neighborhood’helped to raise the infant (Yester Year

Oliver’s earliest recollections were of the log house on the
farm which his father carved from the wilderness four miles south
of town (Yester Year 27 and Kelly Springfield Today Part
. Oliver’s grandfather lived a half mile to the north.
Most of James’ seven surviving sons and four daughters resided
in the vicinity (Yester Year 28). Patches of cleared land
floated like islands amid forests of oak and black walnut, mammoth
sycamores sheltered the river, and every boy and girl quickly
learned to handle a gun, supplementing the larder with wild game.
Oliver’s aunt was a crack shot: ‘… she could bring down a
deer or anything else that crossed her path, any day,’ Oliver
would recall (Yester Year 28). He would also remember the
self-sufficiency of pioneer families: ‘…we raised the flax
and wool from which our mother spun our clothes; we raised the
cattle and killed the beeves, from which we got the hides that we
took to the tanner, who tanned them on shares, and in the fall a
shoemaker would come to the house and stay several weeks, making
shoes for all the family’ (Yester Year 28).

Woodcut of an early Springfield portable steam engine, built in
Springfield, Ohio, in the early 1880s. Note how engraver made trial
gouges in black margins, which would be removed before printing.
All woodcuts and copper cuts here reproduced are from the
collection of Dr. Robert T. Rhode and have been printed by Otto
Printing of Newport, Kentucky.

As a lad, Oliver enjoyed the responsibility of riding the horse
to Springfield to run errands for his family. In the center of the
village, a corduroy bridge, made by stringing together rough-hewn
logs, crossed the marshes. Years later, Oliver recalled, ‘as
you rode along on it, the swamp would shake fifty feet on each side
of the bridge, and if your horse got off, he would mire down in it
in a short time, so that you could hardly get him out’
(Yester Year 27). In 1830, the town of five-hundred
inhabitants boasts two woolen mills, a flour mill established by
Simon Kenton, a market house, and a distillery. When he was ten,
Oliver and his family moved into the Adam Baker mill in the Mad
River Valley.

In the mid-1830s and early 1840s, Oliver was fascinated with the
bustling energy of Springfield. He admired the fire department with
its ‘double-deckers’ on which the men stood to operate the
pumps. Brigades of volunteers brought water to the double-deckers
in over a hundred leather buckets. The building of the new National
Road also captured young Oliver’s attention. In the political
convention of 1840, the parade for ‘Old Tippecanoe’ General
William Henry Harrison came from Columbus along the new road;
Oliver would remember the campaign tableau which included ‘log
cabins with coons clambering over them. The poles of toll houses
had to be removed to allow the procession to pass (yester year

In those early years, schooner wagons took six to eight weeks to
bring dry goods from Baltimore. Most cattle were driven to
Pittsburgh, hogs to Cincinnati. Eggs were two and half cents a
dozen (Yester Year 30,). At age fourteen, Oliver decided
to leave the farming and milling operation and to seek his fortune
in Springfield. Completing his apprenticeship as a carpenter in
1845, Oliver did his first professional work as a contractor
helping to build ‘an over-shot water wheel for James Leffel,
the inventor of the turbine wheel!’ (Yester Year 30)
Also in 1845, ‘it was a great day for Springfield when James
Wiggins came into town with the first locomotive’ (Yester
Year 30);
the Little Miami Railroad had opened, an event
marking vast change.

Oliver was restless. As a boy, he had dreamed of becoming a Pony
Express rider. Now, as a man of twenty-eight, he wanted to ride the
crest of industrial innovation, but he needed capital.

Cut of a skid engine built by the Springfield Engine and
Thresher Company sometime between 1882 and 1889. Note capacity to
transform engine into a double-simple, if owner wanted another
cylinder attached.

Cut of a skid engine, probably a Springfield. Note vertical
pump. Note also that the artist has taken liberties with the steam
gauge. Stand back!

With a pioneering spirit and a hope worthy of his grandfather,
Oliver, in 1852, dared to depart for California. He left behind a
wife and children. Readers already know the happy outcome of
Oliver’s journey to the American West; he returned to his
family with thousands of dollars in gold. With a small portion of
his earnings, he bought a wholesale grocery business (Kelly
Springfield Today Part 1).

In 1857, Oliver relinquished the grocery to join the
farm-implement firm of William Whitely and Jerome Fassler. The name
soon changed to Whitely, Fassler & Kelly. The works built a
well-received line of reapers and mowers. A full-color poster which
advertised this company hangs in the house of the Clark County,
Ohio, Historical Society and shows the firm’s spacious
buildings and convenient railroad spur tracks. Shrewdly detecting
subtle fluctuations in business, Oliver developed himself into a
leader ready to adjust to new conditions before competitors were
aware that change was in the wind. Satisfied with the progress of
Whitely, Fassler & Kelly, Oliver stayed with this manufacturing
company until 1881.

His sons coming of age, Kelly now felt that the time was ripe to
focus his energies in a new direction. In 1882, he invested part of
his wealth in the Rhine hart and Ballard Threshing Machine Works.
With Oliver as president and son Oliver W. as superintendent, the
firm reorganized as the Springfield Engine and Thresher Company.
Profits increased, and the business expanded. In 1889 or 1890, the
name changed again, this time to the O. S. Kelly Company
(Industries of Springfield 27 and Kelly Springfield Today
Part 1).The firm had a capital stock of $350,000 (Industries
and Wealth of Ohio 117)

Cut of an O. S. Kelly 12 HP traction engine and Fuller tender.
Placard reads, ‘Manufactured by the O. S. Kelly Mfg Co., Iowa
City, Iowa.’ Cut appeared in 1902 catalog. Note wide vertical
swing of reverse lever.

Around the time when Oliver s lucrative firm bore his name, he
became enamored with British steam engines. His designers and
mechanical engineers began to replace the Springfield engines with
a new style of Kelly engine, closely modeled on British concepts.
Locating the valve above the cylinder, encasing both in a large
steam jacket, fitting the shafts on thick horn plates, and
supplying a man stand with a box entered from the engine’s left
side were only a few of the British innovations to appear in Kelly
manufacture. The company even tried to promote cable plowing, a
British strategy of positioning the engine beside the field,
equipping it with a winding drum, playing out cable to the plow,
and retracting the cable to pull the plow across the field. The
most efficient cable plowing involved placing two steam engines on
opposite sides of the field and drawing the plow back and forth
between them. The large acreages in the United States, however,
precluded the practice of cable plowing. For perhaps the only time
in his career, Oliver had failed to identify a profitable

Cut of an O. S. Kelly rig: engine probably 12 HP, thresher with
the word ‘TELESCOPE’ on elevator, and independent stacker
pulled behind thresher.

He was, nonetheless, ‘an industrialist of a visionary
nature’ (Kelly Springfield Today Part 1). He
recognized that his company’s sales would increase if threshing
equipment were manufactured in ‘America’s heartland where
it received the greatest use’ (Kelly Springfield Today
Part 1). Consequently, Oliver authorized opening an O. S. Kelly
plant in Iowa City, Iowa. This factory built threshing machines,
feed mills, and (eventually) gasoline engines. Cast into the fancy
top-hinged smoke boxes of steam engines sold through the Iowa City
office were the words, ‘O. S. Kelly Mfg. Co., Iowa City,

Wise in selecting his staff, Oliver appointed James H. Maggard
General Manager of Kelly’s Western Branch. What Julia Child is
to French cooking Maggard is to agricultural steam power.
Steam-engine aficionados prize their copies of Maggard’s
popular book, Rough and Tumble Engineering, and, in
Kinzers, Pennsylvania, Rough and Tumble Engineers, an organization
named after Maggard’s book, annually hosts one of the oldest
and most widely publicized summertime exhibits of antique machinery
in North America. Rough and Tumble Engineering underwent
numerous editions in Maggard’s day and is still available in
paperback. Maggard once made a few minor revisions in the text (for
example, deleting his earlier advice to dump a hatful of potatoes
in an engine’s boiler to prevent scale), included his
proverbial two cents’ worth of suggestions on gas and gasoline
engines, added a thin section on threshing machines and how to run
them, and reissued the book under a new title, The Traction
Engine: Its Use and Abuse.
The near clone of his bestseller
also sold, going through new edition after new edition.

The book’s phenomenal success originates in Maggard’s
inimitable writing style. For instance, Maggard begins a chapter
entitled ‘What to Do and What Not to Do’ by stating:


Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment