Farm Collector

Company History: A. B. Farquhar

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

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 6×8 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

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

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

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

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′

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,

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

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

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, 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

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.

Gerry Lestz

  • Published on Sep 1, 1992
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