In 1917 the Davis Manufacturing Co. engine plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was purchased, becoming Avery Co. Plant No. 3. They were then prepared to build all of their own engines.
The Glide automobile plant in Peoria Heights, Illinois was a side enterprise of J. B. Bartholomew's. He manufactured the Glide automobile for several years and in 1920 decided to bring the plant into the Avery Co. fold as plant No. 4 for the manufacture of trucks.
With four plants comprising the Avery Co. and an employment of four thousand people, it appeared that David McCullough's prophecy was well on the way towards realization.
Times were changing, however, as new developments were given impetus by World War I and competition was becoming a greater challenge in manufacturing industries. In the earlier years new inventions could be incorporated into machines for production as saleable products without any appreciable amount of engineering and development work. The time was now approaching when products had to be built better in order to compete for the customers dollar and to stay sold. An inventor with a few draftsmen could not accomplish this task alone; it required a program of engineering, research and training of young men to execute the program.
The company realized that competition and product obsolescence were challenging their products. Two major developments in the far West were beginning to be felt in the Mid-Western area. The track type tractor and the combine-harvester were challenging the large steel tire wheel tractor and the stationary threshing machine. Mr. Bartholomew was quite capable of conceiving new and advanced ideas for products to create new markets. Here are some of the later developments. In 1917 the small motor cultivator appeared featuring a friction drive transmission with infinitely variable speeds. Later when the power was increased with the use of a six cylinder engine the friction drive was not adequate and a conventional clutch and sliding gear transmission was adopted. They built as high as fifteen hundred units a year. Here was a machine that the farmers were eager to own, but lack of proper engineering follow up in the field left these machines in need of de-bugging and then popularity was retarded as a result.
A blade attachment was made for the motor cultivator and it was sold under the trade name of Road Razer. This one-unit grader idea was later carried further with the development of a larger machine permitting the blade to be placed between the axles. The blade assembly was mounted on a ball bearing slide rail which permitted quick side shifting of the blade.
The 'Trackrunner' was the only attempt at entering the track-type tractor field. The track operated on loose rollers in a continuous channel and the idea was abandoned after a number of unsuccessful applications. You can't blame them for trying for, with our free enterprise system we have the right to fail as well as the right to make a profit.
Their first all steel thresher model was not placed into production as considerable engineering was required to make it commercially practical. That task was left for the successor company.
The Avery Co. reached its key day in 1920 but clouds were appearing on the horizon. The agricultural depression of 1921 gave the company a jolt, and the missing segment in the arch of its organization, engineering, research and training, was making itself felt.
The bubble burst in 1923 followed by bankruptcy and receivership in early 1924. One year later J. B. Bartholomew died, and 1925 was also the year that the Holt Manufacturing Co. of Stockton, California and Peoria, Illinois and the C. L. Best Co. of San Leandro, California merged to form the Caterpillar Tractor Co.
Although popular opinion blamed over expansion for the failure of Peoria's largest manufacturing industry, I believe that it was a case for engineering, research and training programs. I believe this because concentration upon any one of J. B.'s latter day ideas would have assured success. Another company began mass production of the row crop type of tractor, very similar to J.B.'s motor cultivator, the same year the Avery Co. went brankrupt. Other companies were destined to develop and produce the one-unit type of motor grader.
The Avery story would not be complete without telling you about the successor company which was organized in late 1925 as the Avery Power Machinery Co. A group of men, who had done a lot of thinking down stairs in the old company, joined, with the backing of several local business men and bankers, to organize the new company on a considerably smaller scale utilizing the major portion of the old plant No. 1.
All of the other plants and parts of plant No. 1 were disposed of during the receivership.
This new group of men decided to start without the engineering and experimental departments and to delegate proper authority to the various departments throughout the organization. They concentrated upon a line of advanced design steel threshers and combines and they hired two old time inventor-thresher men as consultants to the engineering department.
Here is a statement of policy by the Avery Power Machinery Co. officers. 'Every Avery owner must be a satisfied customer'.
There are four bed rock principles which we believe in and are building upon:
1. Higher quality and simpler machines.
2. Back every machine with real service.
3. Always give a square deal.
4. A friendly spirit.
On the four bed rock principles we have built the four foundation walls.
1. A belief in concentrated energy.
2. A love for truth.
3. A belief in first hand knowledge.
4. A belief in united effort.
We have laid these four corner stones:
1. Strong financing.
2. Advanced engineering.
3. Efficient manufacturing.
4. Economical distribution.
This was indeed a reaction to the policies of the predecessor company. History was their teacher.
This fine group of men did go forward with their avowed policies to develop and manufacture an advanced line of all-steel anti-friction bearing threshers and combine harvesters. They continued to manufacture the Power Road Maintainer and parts for all of the previous machines. Their new products gained wide acceptance and the company made money; the profits being plowed back to reduce indebtedness. Close contact was kept with customers in the field by company officers, design engineers and field engineers.
In 1929 the great depression struck but did not make itself felt to any great degree until 1931 when wheat dropped to 25 cents a bushel. Trading steel for 25 cent wheat was practically out of the question. The company had not been in business long enough to clear their debt and build a reserve fund to carry them through so the banking interests placed a manager in charge in late 1931. Under the bank manager a gradual liquidation policy was pursued.
I am sure that this group of men would have gone forward successfully had they had enough time to gain financial independence. Nearly all the key men left to join another harvester company in similar capacities and they have made a success there these past twenty years.
In 1938, with liquidation complete, two local businessmen purchased the parts manufacturing business for the required 10 year period. They changed the name to Avery Farm Machinery Co. Inc. In 1941 the large plant was sold to R. G. LeTourneau Inc. and the parts business was moved to smaller quarters on South Washington St. in Peoria. In 1949 the corporation was dissolved and, with considerable demand still existing for Avery parts, Mr. Earl K. Smith purchased the parts manufacturing rights. Mr. Smith changed the name to Avery Farm Machinery Co. and is today engaged in both the manufacture of Avery parts and a line of Hart Oil Burners.
I might mention here that the Avery tractor currently being merchandised by Montgomery Ward and Co. is being built by the B. F. Avery Co. of Louisville, Kentucky and has no connection with the former Peoria Company.
Yes, I think that if an engineering, research and training program had been a part of the old Avery Co. policy, David McCullough's prophecy of 1902 might have become a reality. Wouldn't he be amazed if he were here to witness the huge industrial expansion that has taken place in the Peoria of 1952?