Pennsylvania's Part in Developing Power Machinery

| September/October 1975

This article, published January 10, 1948, by the Pennsylvania Farmer, was written by the late Arthur S. Young, implement dealer and founder of the Rough and Tumble Engineers at Kinzers, Pennsylvania. It is reprinted with permission of Pennsylvania Farmer, as background information for today's historians of farm power machinery. If you have history in your own state's contributions to this development, send it along with pictures Gerald S. Lestz, Editor.

Many columns could be written on the history of power farming. However, in this article we shall confine ourselves to the part that Pennsylvania played in this development. Although Pennsylvania was slow to adopt power farming methods, possibly on account of its rough contour, it really played a large part in the development of power farming machinery.

Harvesting and threshing machinery got more attention than tillage machinery for a long time. This was because quite a large acreage could be plowed and seeded by using man and horse power. But when it came to getting the grain crops harvested and threshed the hand methods were very slow, even with a large labor force. Consequently about 1870 in various parts of Pennsylvania many small thresher plants began operating. The following are a few of the well-known names: Andes, Weaver, Davis, Hebner, Fleetwood, Doylestown, Leberknecht, Pottstown, Geiser, Frick, Farquhar, Chalfant, Orangeville and Messinger. All these were built in eastern Pennsylvania. Messinger Company at Tatamy, Pennsylvania, are now extensive builders of power dusting machinery.

Some of the more progressive shops also manufactured sweep and tread horse powers, and a few began building steam portable engines in the 1870's, Frick, Farquhar, Geiser, Paxton and John Best were the leaders. However, real development did not begin until the traction engine made its appearance. It soon took the lead and replaced horse power and portable engines. traction engine the ranks of the manufacturers began to thin. Only three actually reached out into territory beyond their home locality. These three are the ones who really played a large part in the development of the vaat wheat lands of the West. In 1882 we find that the Geiser Manufacturing Company of Waynesboro, Franklin county, Pennsylvania, had developed a steam plowing outfit and in 1884 entered it in a public contest held at St. Louis, Missouri. They received a gold medal for outstanding performance and quite a large article was published in 'Country Gentleman' regarding this outfit.

The Geiser Company continued to develop and improve their plowing outfit by adding steam lift and heavier, more efficient engines. In the late '80's they also developed a large combined harvester-thresher drawn by their traction engine, using straw from the combine for fuel. However, they did not develop the combine to any great extent, but turned their attention to steam plowing outfits with such success that the Geiser Steam Lift Plow outfit was equal to if not the largest and most efficient outfit in the world. So extensive was their activity that they truthfully used the slogan 'The sun never sets on Geiser machinery.' At the same time this concern built large quantities of threshers and sawmills. They continued until 1911 when the entire plant and business was sold to the Emerson Brandingham Company of Rockford, Illinois. As this company already had a gas tractor and plow outfit and also owned the Reeves Company of Columbus, Indiana they seemed to slow down, and Geiser machinery did not make further progress.

Beginning in 1853, Frick Company, also of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, began building steam engines and later added threshers and sawmills to their line. They, too, played a very prominent part in the development of power farming. A letter written July 3, 1883, by Joseph Mills of Dakota territory tells of his experience with a Frick steam plowing outfit. The letter reads in part as follows: