Company History: A. B. Farquhar


| September/October 1992



Traction engine

Maura Fulton

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.