Company History: A. B. Farquhar

| September/October 1992

  • Traction engine

    Maura Fulton
  • Factory
    1899 view of the factory complex.
  • # Picture 02

  • Farm traction engine

  • Traction engine
  • Threshing machine
    Rake separator threshing machine, for horsepower or engine.
  • Crank portable
    Ajax center crank portable.
  • # Picture 01
    From the cover of Scientific American, January 12, 1884.
  • Gas tractor
    4-30 gas tractor.
  • Gas engine
    Portable 7 HP gas engine.

  • Traction engine
  • Factory
  • # Picture 02
  • Farm traction engine
  • Traction engine
  • Threshing machine
  • Crank portable
  • # Picture 01
  • Gas tractor
  • Gas engine

Wilford Markey of Dallastown, Pennsylvania owns this 15 HP Style K farm traction engine manufactured by the A. B. Farquhar Company of York, Pa. in 1919. Maura Fulton photographed the engine at the York Fair, September 1991.

The A. B. Farquhar Company, manufacturers of steam traction engines, gasoline farm tractors and agricultural implements, has its roots planted deeply in the industrial history of the city of York, in south central Pennsylvania.

Arthur Briggs Farquhar was born to William Henry and Margaret (Briggs) Farquhar on September 28, 1838, in Sandy Springs, Maryland, approximately 18 miles outside of our nation's capital at Washington. A. B., as he came to be known, was very studious, and was greatly interested in mechanics. After managing the family farm for a year, arrangements were made for A. B. to move to York and find work as an apprentice in a foundry or machine shop.

The Farquhars were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), whose ancestors had fled Scotland in the early 1700's to escape religious persecution. A. B. Farquhar's paternal grandmother, Mary Elgar Farquhar, was a sister to inventor John Elgar, who lived in York, as did many other Quakers. (John Elgar is known as the builder of the first iron steamboat, the 'Codorus,' which he launched on November 14, 1825.) Through his network of Quaker friends, Elgar arranged for A. B. to take up residence in York with the family of Edward Jessop, a friend of William Farquhar.

A. B. moved to York on April 4, 1856, and three days later became an apprentice in the shop of W. W. Dingee and Company, manufacturers of farm equipment and heavy machinery. At this time the company employed about 10 men in a small shop which contained lathes, planers, and some woodworking machinery. The average wage was 90 cents to a dollar a day, with the highest paid machinist earning $1.12 per day. A plain, rough drill sold for $60, and a simple thresher without cleaning attachment sold for $150, including a horsepower.

At age 20, having been with W.W. Dingee for 18 months, A. B. received an advance of money from his father, with which he bought an interest in the company, and he became a partner. The company was shortly thereafter renamed the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works. Farquhar's position with the company was as sales agent; trade was largely in the Southern states. He never kept written orders or a notebook when he went on sales trips, preferring to keep the details of all transactions in his head rather than on paper.

1919 15 HP Style K farm traction engine, owned by Wilford Markey of Dallastown, Pa., on display at the 1991 York Fair; Ervine Gummel, engineer.

On September 26, 1860, A. B. married Elizabeth Jessop, with whose family he had been staying since coming to York. Her grandfather, Jonathan Jessop, a clock-maker, was famous for developing the York Imperial apple. Jessop also gave a leg up to his clock making apprentice, Phineas Davis, who developed the 'York,' the first coal-burning steam locomotive in the United States. With such friends as these, A. B. Farquhar was destined to become an important force in local industry.

With the Civil War approaching, business was slow for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works. Added to this, upon returning from a sales trip A. B. found that the factory had burned down. The company had little insurance, and it was a near-total loss. The partnership with Dingee was dissolved, and A. B. restarted the company as sole proprietor.

To keep the business going during the war, Farquhar traveled to Washington and secured a government contract to supply chairs and stretchers for hospitals during the conflict.

The city of York found itself in a difficult position during the Civil War. Many of its manufactories and enterprises did a great deal of business throughout the South, owing to York's location so close to Baltimore, Maryland, and to major trade routes to the south. Politically conservative Democrats, the voters of the city had voted against Lincoln in his bid for the White House.

In the summer of 1863, as Confederate troops were advancing closer to Pennsylvania, York's prominent businessmen had formed a Committee of Safety, of which A. B. Farquhar was a member. A. B. proposed a meeting between the committee and the approaching Confederate generals, to work out terms under which the city could be spared the destruction which had occurred in other Northern towns which had been 'visited' by the Southern troops. The Committee of Safety nixed Farquhar's idea, seeing it as too direct and simple a plan to work. Undeterred, Farquhar took it upon himself to ride out and strike a deal with Confederate General John B. Gordon. It was agreed that York would be spared major damage to property as long as the citizens honored Gordon's requisitions for supplies for his troops. Upon hearing of Farquhar's success with Gordon, the Committee of Safety then sent a group of men to meet with Gordon and make the agreement official.

The city was relatively spared, especially after Gen. Gordon and Gen. Jubal Early were ordered to Gettysburg. Farquhar himself went to Gettysburg, where he worked with the hospital service taking care of the wounded after the battle there.

As a result of his negotiations with Gen. Gordon, Farquhar was looked on by many as being a Rebel sympathizer, having opened the negotiations. He was accused in essence of 'selling out' the town. This situation caused Farquhar so much distress that he went to Washington to meet with President Lincoln and find out if the president thought he had done the right thing. Lincoln indicated that Farquhar had indeed done the honorable thing. Nonetheless, Farquhar was still occasionally ridiculed by certain townspeople for some time after the end of the war.

Following the Civil War, the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works expanded steadily. During periods of slack U. S. trade, the company was carried by a growing export trade. The first export order was a shipment of plows to Paraguay in 1870, at which time Farquhar claimed that his company was the first American manufacturer to export farm implements to South America. In 1876, a rice thresher was shipped to a buyer in Japan. On checking with the Japanese buyer as to whether the machine had proven satisfactory, Farquhar was informed that, indeed, the machine was so good that the Japanese were now manufacturing it themselves, and would not therefore need to purchase any more!

An export office was established in New York City in 1878, which was transferred to York in 1931.

The company shops were again destroyed by fire in 1876, but were again rebuilt; all the reconstruction, with the exception of the bricklaying, was completed by the company's own men.

By 1884, the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works was the most important industry in town, occupying nearly an entire city block bounded by North Duke, North George, East Court and East Gay Streets in the heart of downtown York. The company's address was 142 N. Duke Street, York.

The January 12, 1884 issue of Scientific American included a lengthy article on the thriving company; the issue's cover featured engravings of all aspects of production at the factory. Around 1883, large additions to the works had been made, bringing the total floor space of the shops to a half million square feet. The plant covered several acres, and included machine, engine and boiler shops, bolt and nut factory, planning and saw mills, brass and iron foundries, and forging, shearing and polishing rooms. The buildings were all brick or iron, with slate or metal roofs. The plant had its own system of water mains and hydrants and hosepipe for fire protection, along with a system of perforated 'sprinkler' pipes in the woodworking shops. All buildings were lighted with electricity.

The weekly consumption of materials averaged over 150,000 lbs. of iron, 10,000 lbs. of steel, and 50,000 to 100,000 feet of lumber. All output was fully warranted, and the business was recording average annual increases of 15-20 percent. Increasing southern trade had necessitated the opening of a branch store and factory, the Central City Iron Works in Macon, Georgia. This southern trade was reflected in the manufacture of rice threshers, cotton gin horse powers, and cotton planters.

Among the products manufactured by the company were the Ajax and Pennsylvania steam engines. The Ajax traction engine was made with a steel boiler, and had springs in the wheel hubs to prevent jarring. The Ajax portable, a center crank type engine, was noted for having its pedestals and cross-head guides cast solid with the bedplate, making 'give' of the engine impossible. The company also manufactured a vertical engine, in 2 to 6 HP, just right for situations where light power was needed. A 6 HP vertical engine, 150-180 r.p.m., with 6x8 bore and stroke, 36' flywheel, 6' 6' boiler height, 26' boiler diameter, weighing 2500 lbs. complete and mounted on two wheels, sold for $510 in the 1884 catalog. Special note was made that not one of the company's boilers had ever been known to explode.

The company's separator was awarded first premium and medal at the Centennial and Paris Expositions. The machine had a self-regulating blast, which cleaned the grain and made the output market-ready. Farquhar was quoted in the catalog as follows: 'I furnish all sizes of the Geiser separator at same price as Farquhar machines, but recommend the Farquhar as embracing all its advantages without its faults.'

The Works made numerous other machines, including sulky plows, cotton and corn planters, horsepowers, etc. The 1884 catalog listed a fully trimmed chilled plow with jointer, clevis and wheel at $12. Both treadmill and rotary (sweep) horsepowers were offered, with such names as 'Climax,' 'Pennsylvania,' and 'Railway.'

Stationary steam engines were listed, with boilers made of charcoal iron, and the cylinder head cast in one piece with the guides.

From the late 1880s to the mid 1920s, steam engines and boilers were the principal products of the company.

In 1889, under the terms of a limited partnership agreement, the company changed its name to A. B. Farquhar Co., Ltd.

An interesting side note: In May of 1892, a man named Frederick Flinchbaugh completed his apprenticeship at A. B. Farquhar Ltd. By 1896 he had developed the York gas and gasoline engine, and in 1900 he formed the Flinchbaugh Manufacturing Company.

The 1899 Farquhar catalog was titled as follows: Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue of Agricultural Implements and Machinery manufactured by A. B. Farquhar Co., Limited, Pennsylvania Agricultural Works, York, Pennsylvania, and listed steam engines, saw mills, and threshing machines as specialties, as well as standard agricultural implements generally. The firm had also expanded its physical plant around this time (1897), nearly doubling the shops' capacity.

Francis Farquhar, A. B.'s son, joined the company in 1900. A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, he would later become president of the company.

In 1911, A. B.'s esteemed position in the York business community was evidenced by his election to the presidency of the York Chamber of Commerce, an office he held for three years.

The company ventured briefly into the manufacture of gasoline powered tractors and portable gas engines, starting in 1915. The 1916 catalog listed gas engines in 7 and 9 HP. The 7 HP engine had a 6' diameter cylinder, with a 9' stroke, 300 r.p.m., complete weight of outfit 2830 lbs. The 9 HP engine had 7' cylinder diameter, 10' stroke, 280 r.p.m., complete weight of outfit 3100 lbs. Each outfit was furnished with a truck (including brake, tongue, eveners, and neck yoke), magneto,oil cups, sight feed oilier for the cylinder, wrenches, and one friction clutch with belt pulley. The standard belt pulley was 24', which was suited for driving the Farquhar Rake Separator; 16' or 20' belt pulleys could be provided on request. The 7 HP engine had an 18 gallon water hopper. The frame was made of two pieces of heavy channel steel 6' 6' long, set I61/2 apart.

The catalog also listed a 2 HP hand portable gas engine. This engine had a 4' x 6 7/8' bore and stroke, a 1/8' diameter crankshaft, and came furnished with a 6' diameter, 4' face belt pulley. The unit was recommended for driving pumps, corn shelters, light feed grinders and cutters, small saws, pea hullers and other small farm implements. Ignition was by battery and spark plug; the engine was water-cooled.

Gas tractors offered in 1916 were the 4-30 and 4-40 models. Ignition was by Reamy heavy duty ball bearing magneto, carburetion by the Kingston 2' carburetor. Both tractors were water-cooled, the 4-30 having a pump with a capacity of 16 gallons per minute to circulate water through the engine, the 4-40 equipped with a tubular radiator and fan and a 16 gallon per minute pump. The belt pulley was 32 inches in diameter, with a 9' face, and would operate at 250-275 r.p.m. The tractors' drive wheels were 7 feet in diameter, with round spokes set into a cast iron hub. The front wheels were 48 inches in diameter. The road speed listed in the catalog was 2 3/10 miles per hour. The 4-30 had a 6' x 8' cylinder, the 4-40 a 7' x 8' cylinder.

Most Farquhar gas tractors were sold locally. The tractor line was eventually purchased by Oliver in 1925.

In late 1915, York industrialists began to express concern that the city was not profiting from European war contracts as much as it might. A.B. Farquhar was a declared pacifist, saying 'We do not care to make things that kill people,' but as German aggression in Europe began to take its toll, patriotism surged, and even A. B. supported a flag-raising ceremony at his plant.

An article in the York Dispatch of February 3, 1917, inspired by the cutoff of diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany, outlined various York manufacturing enterprises and what each could contribute to the war effort. Included was this statement: 'Few cities could probably boast a plant such as that of the A. B. Farquhar Company, which would be able to turn out the huge armored tractor, the formidable 'land dreadnought,' which has served European armies well, and upon which the U. S. government is now experimenting.' The company's actual wartime contribution consisted primarily of hydraulic powder presses, boilers, sterilizers, shot trucks, and machine tools.

The brief economic depression which followed World War I brought about the first employee layoffs in the history of the Farquhar company. The rise in popularity of the internal combustion engine during this period, along with widespread electrification, caused a decline in engine and boiler markets through the 1920s.

It was in this decade that management of the company passed to Francis Farquhar, upon the death of A. B. Farquhar on March 5, 1925.

The diminishing steam boiler market made it necessary for Farquhar to expand its product line. This they accomplished by acquiring manufacturing rights to the Iron Age line of farm implements (developed by Fred Bateman) in 1930, and the Portable Machinery Company's line of conveyors in 1931. Production of steam traction engines was gradually phased out throughout the 1930s, and the company made a successful transition to the manufacture of implements and conveyors. By 1938, business was good enough to warrant operating the plant 24 hours per day.

Farquhar employees were unionized in 1939. A Labor-Management Committee was formed in 1942, the same year that the shops were opened to women. All records indicate that this was a smooth process.

During World War II, Farquhar was one of 10 official plants whose whistles were to be used for Civilian Defense warningsa steady three-minute blast would serve as a first warning, an up-and-down wavy alert meant 'take cover,' to be followed when appropriate by a three-minute 'all clear.'

The men and women of A. B. Farquhar Co., Ltd., were awarded the Army-Navy Production Award (known as the 'E for Excellence Award') on February 8,1943 during ceremonies at York's William Penn Senior High School. The award recognized the company's high achievement in producing such necessary war materials as 81 mm mortars and mounts, smokeless powder presses, decontaminating units, material handling conveyors, and sterilizers. The award consisted of a U. S. flag to be flown over the plant, and a flag lapel pin for every employee. Only 2% of American industrial plants had received this award to that date. The company continued to maintain outstanding production figures, and was subsequently honored with a total of four service stars, which were added to the award banner.

On January 1, 1944, another change in corporate structure changed the company name to A. B. Farquhar Company, a Pennsylvania corporation. Francis Farquhar's tenure as president came to an end in this year, and he was replaced by William J. Fisher. Fisher had been with the company since January 1901, when he started as a machinist apprentice in the shops. He transferred to engineering in 1905, and worked his way up through the ranks, becoming vice president and general manager in 1932, and finally president in 1944.

The company issued stock and went public in late March of 1947. President Fisher listed the company's principal products at that time as 40% farm implements, 30% material handling conveyors, 20% hydraulic presses, and the remaining 10% a combination of saw mills and special machinery for the food handling industry. There were 1150 people on the payroll in 1947.

By 1948, the company still showed profit, but sales were down. There were some layoffs in late 1948 and early 1949. A report dated May 1950 showed that net sales for January-September 1949 were down 27.4%, in a very competitive market.

The A. B. Farquhar Company was sold to the Oliver Corporation in 1952. Oliver continued to go through various corporate changes,and gradually phased out all manufacturing operations at the old Farquhar plant. When the White Motor Corporation acquired Oliver Corporation as a wholly-owned subsidiary on November 1, 1960, the A. B. Farquhar Company was not included in the transaction. The complex of buildings which once housed York's most vital manufacturing company would remain vacant for several years. Finally, in the York Sunday News of November 22, 1970, a banner headline appeared: 'A Landmark in York Will Soon Be GoneFarquhar Tract Buildings Being Torn Down.' York Mayor Eli Bchelberger viewed the project as one of the most important his administration would undertake, stating that the demolition of the buildings would 'rid the city of an eyesore.'

The site of the A. B. Farquhar Company is now occupied by the modern offices of the York Dispatch newspaper, an apartment building, and several parking areas.

Farquhar engine on display at Agricultural Exhibit Hall in York.

York, Pennsylvania, Develops Farm Museum

'Made in York' is the theme of the Agricultural and Industrial Museum of York County's Agricultural Exhibit Hall at York, Pa., which has opened as a vast educational museum in the eastern end of the city.

A huge Farquhar engine, typifying the kind of industrial production that contributed mightily to the advance of farming, stands outside the building at 480 E. Market St., where long ago farmers sold their vegetables and fruits to York customers.

Even though it has wheels, the Farquhar was not a traction engine; although it was powered by steam it was not self-propelled, we are told by Howard A. Mayo, Jr., associate director, who is fully familiar with the exhibits. The Farquhar is a giant piece of engineering, red and black with a tall stack Mayo says is original. It was rated at 50 to 55 HP.

Originally, all exhibits acquired for museum purposes, either by gift, purchase, or loan, were housed in the market house. Now, in accordance with long term plans, the industrial elements (all except those classified as agricultural) are being moved to another location, the Motter Complex, made up of six buildings at Princess Street and Pershing Avenue in the western part of the city.

Exhibits which are retained in the former market building, according to the museum newsletter, are:The Laucks Farm Collection, on loan from the Historical Society of York County; the farm kitchen, farm machinery, dairy farming, tobacco farming industry exhibits including powder and cigar manufacturing, York County farm implements and machinery, and textile weaving and rural transportation of the 19th century.

The museum newsletter issue, Spring 1992, has a drawing of an Ajax steam traction engine made by Farquhar.

In the museum, during a tour, we saw other Farquhar products, such as a thresher, and a 7 HP gas engine. A Farquhar steam engine provides power for some of the exhibits which are run via belts.

Anyone interested in farm antiques, and the oldtime way of doing things, will enjoy a tour such as the one we were given by Mr. Mayo.

Gerry Lestz


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