In 1856 a young Arthur Briggs Farquhar went to work for the W.W. Dingee & Co., a small manufacturer of agricultural implements in York, Pa.
Born Sept. 28, 1838, Farquhar was not quite 18 years old at the time. In spite of his young age Farquhar took to the business rapidly, and a brief 18 months after joining the W.W. Dingee & Co. Farquhar informed his employers of his intention to start his own business.
“The firm,” Farquhar wrote in his autobiography, “laughed at my notion that I might start in business, but asked me not to leave for a month. At the end of that month, as I was getting ready to leave, they offered me a partnership.” Farquhar’s skills, it would appear, were needed for the company to stay in business.
After a disastrous fire burned down the factory during the period of the Civil War (the exact date is not known), Farquhar took over all liabilities and assets of the W.W. Dingee & Co., and it was evidently around this time that the company became known as the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works.
Interestingly, it was not until 1899 that the company was formally incorporated as the A.B. Farquhar Co. Ltd., and evidently only because Farquhar wanted to facilitate the distribution of his estate when the time came.
Born a businessman
From his boyhood days, Farquhar had been interested with the manufacture of agricultural machinery and implements.
He was intimately acquainted with the real needs of farmers and planters, and being a practical mechanic and inventor, as well as a man of rare business capacity, he was peculiarly successful in the production of machines and implements.
His particular abilities enabled him to produce standard agricultural implements and steam traction engines and other special machinery in large quantities and at minimum cost.
Pennsylvania Agricultural Works
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Works covered a number of acres, and embraced machine, engine and boiler shops, a bolt and nut factory, planting and saw mills, foundries for brass and iron forging, shearing and polishing rooms, not to mention warehouses and lumber yards to supply his various enterprises.
Items manufactured included steam engines, saw mills, threshing machines, plows, agricultural steels, cultivators, grain drills, corn planters, horse powers, and other equipment in almost endless variety.
Among the well-known specialties manufactured at the works were the Farquhar Ajax steam traction engines and portable engines. The fireboxes were steel, and the boilers themselves had a remarkable record for not having one ever explode.
The company was also well-known for its vertical baler, arranged with wheels when desired, and for the Farquhar vibrators and rake separators, claimed to be the best merchant threshing machines in existence at that time, and saw mills with patent feed, set works and clogs of a most improved kind.
Among the leading implements manufactured there were the Pennsylvania drill and corn planter, with perfect force-feed and phosphate attachment, the Farquhar celebrated wheel or sulky plow, power hay presses and the Farquhar improved cotton planter.
The Farquhar improved cotton planter was very simple in operation, dropping the unrolled seed with remarkable regularity and in any desired amount.
The Keystone corn planter would plant from 10 to 12 acres of corn per day, dropping kernels in drills or in hills at any desired distance apart, and sowing at the same time — it used any kind of pulverized fertilizer.
The Pennsylvania force-feed fertilizer grain drill would not only sow the grain evenly, but equally important, it would also distribute phosphate fertilizer with the same precision, doing the work without any loss of either seed or fertilizer.
A.B. Farquhar sold his agricultural implements all around the globe, and demand for Farquhar’s products increased yearly. In every state and territory of the U.S., and from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Europe, customers sought out the company’s products. Customers called from South America, France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan and Africa, and there was constant demand for implements and machinery from the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works.
It may truly be said that A.B. Farquhar’s name spread to every civilized nation in the world. Farquhar was also known throughout the U.S. and abroad as a student of and authority on questions of political economy, with special reference to finance and tariff legislation.
Farquhar machinery had been awarded premiums at all the leading expositions, including the Centennial at Philadelphia, the Paris Exposition, the New Orleans Cotton Exposition, the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Pan-American at Buffalo and the World’s Fair at St. Louis. In 1952 the Oliver Corp. acquired the A.B. Farquhar Company Ltd. of York, Pa. IMARead about a 1924 Farquhar independent-mounted 15-45 engine: “1924 Farquhar Model K.” Information for this article came from A.B. Farquhar’s 1921 autobiography, The First Million is the Hardest, and from The Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, by Jack C. Norbeck. Special thanks to Lemar Mathew, senior director of Museum Service at the Industrial and Agricultural Museum, York, Pa., and Pete Adomis, who carries out restorations for the museum. Iron-Men Album editor Richard Backus contributed to this story.