Chapter 13: Enlargement of the Plant and Labor Relations
The 13th installment of Dr. Blxler's history of the Aultman & Taylor Company, as edited by Robert T. Rhode, appears in this issue of the Iron-Men Album, which is serializing Dr. Bixler's book. Dr. Bixler, a professor at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, passed away before he could publish the manuscript to which he had devoted considerable energy. Several manuscripts belonging to Dr. Bixler are in the Sherman Room of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in Mansfield, Ohio. This installment presents detailed factual data, supplying a vital resource for researchers.
It will be recalled that the Aultman & Taylor Company began building water tube boilers in 1895. That part of the firm's business required additional facilities. At the same time there was a marked increase in the company's threshing machine business, including engines, separators, clover hullers, sawmills, water tanks and all of the other appurtenances that belonged to that part of their business. In fact their business outgrew the capacity of the plant to meet the demands for their products. It was at once apparent that there was only one way to solve the problem, and that was to enlarge the plant by the erection of new buildings and the addition of modern equipment.
At the board of directors meeting on Sept. 25, 1894, there was common agreement that the outlook on the company's boiler trade necessitated an increase in the plant's facilities. The directors decided to build a new boiler shop and to equip it with modern machinery. Bids were solicited for the foundation, brickwork, iron structure and machinery. Upon its completion it was one of the most modern boiler plants in the country. In 1896 the plant was enlarged by the erection of a brick building west of Main Street in Mansfield that was used exclusively for the building of water tube boilers. The expenditure for the enlargement of the boiler plant and installation of machinery amounted to $37,000.
The company's efforts to meet the increased market for its products are demonstrated by the following account. It will be remembered that the company lost its huge warehouse in the fire of 1896. In February of 1897 the subject of replacing the old warehouse came before the board of directors. Following a discussion of how to acquire more storage space, the decision was reached to build one-story sheds. These were erected immediately, one on the west side of the creek and the other on the east side. The erection of those two sheds required an outlay of $4,000.
On Jan. 18, 1900, it was reported that during the previous year the company had contemplated the selling of their thresher department. It was even thought that, within the six weeks following the above date, their thresher department might be sold. Since the sale of their thresher business did not materialize, the company was unable to use those buildings or even to adapt them to the firm's boiler business.
The company was confronted with still other disturbing circumstances. So long as the firm had two departments, the officials of the company were of the opinion that they could get along by buying a considerable amount of their castings from outside foundries, but, if they had sold that part of the plant east of Main Street, they would have had no foundry whatever belonging to the plant. The firm had already contracted with outside boiler shops for the year of 1900 to build all the company's firebox boilers for their engines. That must have been an unusual situation into which the firm was forced, since it was not the practice of the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company to contract with outside companies to build boilers for the firm's engines.
It was during those years that the company became involved in tax litigation with Richland County. President James E. Brown stated that, while conditions in Mansfield were against further investments on the part of the company, yet it was confronted with the actuality that, in spite of unfavorable local conditions, investment in the enlargement of the plant could no longer be delayed, or the firm would lose an immense business and suffer a heavy loss from damages for non-fulfillment of contracts with the company's customers and agents. Following the settlement of the 'tax graft' suits, the company gradually enlarged its plant, so that it was able to increase its capacity for turning out its products.
Meeting the Need
First of all the board of directors decided that a suitable addition to the foundry should be built. That was done, and it was equipped to provide an increased output. The addition to the foundry was made at a cost of $6,000. At the same time an addition was built to the carpenter shop for the purpose of storing materials, and a new storage room for machinery was erected. With the rapid increase in business, it became imperative to employ more personnel for the office force. The office building had remained unchanged for many years, and working conditions became such that the efficiency of that area was greatly reduced. To relieve the overcrowded conditions of the drafting and bookkeeping departments, the board of directors decided on Jan. 1, 1901, to have a third story added to the main office building. A bay window was included, so as to provide more light for the close work that was done.
Mansfield Machine Works
For many years the Mansfield Machine Works built portable engines, sawmills and fire engines. In 1900 that company was placed in the hands of a receiver, A. A. Peck. Soon thereafter overtures were made by the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company for the purchase of that company's plant.
Since the trustees appointed by the stockholders of the Mansfield Machine Works were desirous of selling their plant, President Brown was authorized to bid a sum not to exceed $65,000 for the plant, real estate, machinery, patterns and stock of merchandise on hand. Immediately after the meeting of the directors on Nov. 12, 1901, the purchase of the Mansfield Machine Works was completed.
At the next meeting of the board of directors on Dec. 24, 1901, Brown was authorized to sell to the International Fire Engine Company of New York City certain items that had been purchased from Peck. Those items were of little use to the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company and included fire engines, drawings, patterns, etc. Brown executed the bill of sale and also entered into an agreement that the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company would not compete with the International Fire Engine Company in the manufacture and sale of steam fire engines.
Aultman & Taylor sold to the Century Manufacturing Company all of the Mansfield Machine Works' small tools, portable engines, gas engines, patterns and all other materials accept those items pertaining to sawmills for the sum of $13,000. At a subsequent time Aultman & Taylor sold some machinery that was not needed in the manufacture of threshers and portable engines for the sum of $10,000. With the completion of those sales, the net cost to the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company for the Mansfield Machine Works was $51,000. It was further reported that the fire engines, patterns, drawings and good will were sold to the International Fire Engine Company for $60,000 in stock.
At their meeting on March 4, 1901, the board of directors engaged in a discussion of the inadequate facilities of their thresher plant. The president was authorized to prepare plans for an extension of the machine shop that was to be used as an engine shop. The specifications for the buildings were for an engine shop 164-foot long by 40-foot, 8 inches wide, a warehouse 48-foot long by 64-foot, 15 inches wide, an extension of the foundry 200-foot long by 100-foot wide, a new test house 72-foot long by 50-foot wide, and an extension of the Babcock and Wilcox shop 132-foot by 100-foot. All of those extensions were built on the east side of the plant.1
On Jan. 21, 1904, G.W. Gans was instructed to acquire machines that were deemed necessary to increase the company's separator and engine output.
Two additions were made during 1905. The company erected a thresher warehouse designed by Mr. Redding, who was the firm's architect. The estimated cost of that building was $11,000. In October of that year Gans called the attention of the board members to the unsanitary conditions of the water closets that were located between the Main Street foundry and the blacksmith shop. That matter was referred to a special committee, and new water closets were erected at the east end of the carpenter shop.
On Aug. 7, 1912, the officers of the company were authorized to extend the foundry building 100 feet or 150 feet as might be determined, to build a cleaning room and core oven in the foundry, to install a crane, an air compressor and an air compressor motor, to install an approximately 200 HP gas engine and generator, to erect a building for housing the same at the Diamond Street plant, to build an extension to the Diamond Street machine shop, to build a new motor test house, to extend the paint shop and to install sufficient machine tools to give full capacity per week of the four steam engines and eight gas engines.2
It is evident that from 1894 to 1912 the company erected new buildings and added equipment almost every year, so that the firm could increase output.
Labor and Management Relations
Aultman & Taylor was relatively free of labor problems, due in no small measure to the superb leadership of Michael D. Harter. For the most part high morale prevailed among the employees. Consequently most of the employees could see no advantage to be derived from membership in a trade union, and they were unilaterally opposed to strikes. Several attempts to organize a union were met with dismal failure. Yet, a few minor difficulties beset the firm.
During the early part of 1879 the company ordered a reduction in wages for all of their employees. Two reasons were advanced for that action: First, there had been an advance in the price of materials used in the manufacture of machinery; second, the company reduced the prices of its machinery to bring them more in line with those of other companies Those and other reasons for the reduction in wages of the employees seemed justified to the authorities, if the company was to survive and make a profit. This information was transmitted to the employees. Even though disappointed, most of them viewed the action as reasonable, but there was a small minority who were disgruntled. That group incited by outsiders became a vocal minority, which in turn became anathema to the majority of the employees.
That dispute was not confined to the officials and employees of the company. Embittered by the attacks against the company and Harter, those who were friendly to him launched a counterattack. Articles were published in the Mansfield Herald, and it became a newspaper fight. Soon citizens of Mansfield and surrounding communities became aware of the labor controversy. Although it grew out of labor problems, unfortunately it was not confined to those difficulties. Personalities outside of the company became involved in the wrangle resulting in slanderous accusations of the ugliest kind.
During November of 1879 A. Wolf, the editor of the Courier, a Mansfield newspaper, published several articles in which the management of Aultman & Taylor was attacked. He criticized the company's labor practices and accused the management of favoritism in its employment practices. Immediately the situation developed into a fight involving the two local newspapers, a local German newspaper, the Aultman & Taylor Company, its employees and a Catholic priest. Following the appearance of Wolf's articles the company replied with articles published in the Mansfield Herald.
One aspect of the dispute was concerned with the authorship of the stories that appeared in the Courier. A Catholic priest, Father Magehann, was accused of writing the articles, which fomented the labor problems. Several of the writers claimed that only Catholics had obtained employment in certain departments of the Aultman & Taylor works but that a stop had been put to that practice. Prior to the curtailment of that practice, it-was alleged, Father Magehann wandered through the plant as if he owned it. Although not stated directly, the implication was that, in return for securing employment, the members of the church would then enrich its coffers. According to various writers, after the curtailment of unfair hiring practices the priest no longer made visits to the plant. It was implied by some that Wolf was not competent to write the articles attacking Aultman & Taylor's labor practices and that only the priest could have written them. To those accusations the editor of the Courier replied in the following vitriolic language: 'For the articles concerning the labor question no one is responsible but myself, and the man who intimates that anybody else has anything to do with it is a skunk and a man who would murder his mother.'
To that outburst a group of mechanics replied in the same vernacular: 'So says this cabbage head, Wolf of the Courier, and further on he says that since the present proprietors have bought the Courier there has not been a single line furnished by the Rev. Father Magehann nor had the priest ever attempted to influence them one way or another.
'What a barefaced liar! He must have bought an 'indulgence' before he commenced penning the above knowing it to be a lie. If he at all wrote it (for we hardly give him credit of ever writing two lines in English or German without a mistake; we now offer 100 cents if he will in the presence of the editors and at their dictation perform this school boy feat) let us nail the lie.
'Has this stupid blockhead Wolf, whose seat of brain is evidently in that portion of his body which the rest of mankind use to sit on, forgotten the dirty class of literature that appeared in his sheet about a year ago against a certain mechanic of the Aultman & Taylor Company who had caused the wrath of this high stepping Jesuit Priest to fall upon him because he was no longer willing to dance to all the tunes this whimsical priest whistled?'
The exchanges in the newspapers became acrimonious and biased and degenerated into personal attacks termed 'character assassinations.' While the dispute grew out of labor problems, in the end they contributed little to their solution.
A remonstrance was prepared and signed by 61 workmen. There were others who seized the cudgel on behalf of the company and presented other aspects of the dispute. Readers of the newspapers were invited to consider the sources of those articles, as well as the motives that prompted their writing. The whole affair was condemned in the bitterest terms, and indignation was expressed at so gross an outrage on the employees of the Aultman & Taylor Company.
Most of the men claimed the right of going elsewhere, if they became dissatisfied with the wages they were receiving. They assumed the attitude that there was no fence around the factory, and, if there were those who were dissatisfied with their working conditions and wages, there was nothing to prevent them from seeking employment elsewhere.
As already observed, most of the men were content to leave the question of wages in the hands of Harter, since they fully believed on the basis of their experience and knowledge that his action would be fair. Nevertheless, a few of the men were dissatisfied and thought Harter had been in error in making a general cut in wages. Day wages paid by the Aultman & Taylor Company at that time were not above the average range of wages paid by other companies, and for that reason, according to a small minority, should not have been changed. A better plan, according to one mechanic, would have been to have appointed several men to judge the worth of the work, as well as the worth of the men involved. Competent mechanics were called upon to work for less pay than those who called themselves mechanics but could not sustain their calling for a single day. However, most of the men believed that Harter would correct that error, if the people would give him sufficient time and let him do it.
In due time the wages were restored and grievances ameliorated. In fact the episode was soon forgotten, and once again normal conditions prevailed at the Aultman & Taylor Company's plant.3
On Oct. 13, 1900, an awkward incident occurred that involved the company and its employees in a difficult situation. During the afternoon of that day a parade was staged in Mansfield in honor of William Jennings Bryan, who was a visitor to the city. Bryan was the Democrat candidate for President of the United States in what became known as the Bryan-McKinley campaign. That day was designated by the city leaders as 'Bryan Day,' and in the afternoon the parade was held.
When the men who were employed in the boiler shop arrived that morning, they found posters located at various places in the shop. They stated that every man would be expected to work throughout the entire day. The men were struck with consternation and disappointment. A newspaper account stated 'immediately 162 free American citizens who did not propose being coerced picked up their dinner pails and started home. Only three men remained and consequently the intended work was declared off and all of the patriotic workers in the department lined up to see the great parade and hear the great champion of liberty this afternoon.'
On Nov. 1, 1900, Brown replied to the newspaper item. He stated that the men were asked to work, since that was what they had been doing for some time. They had been working through Saturday for a number of weeks to fill large and important orders. The company had contracted to ship those orders on an agreed-upon date. If they were not filled as per contract, the company would lose that business. Brown stated that the contract would not be filled, if the output for a single day were lost.
The confusion of the situation was compounded when on Wednesday morning of Nov. 1, 1900, the men in the boiler shop were notified that they could have a half-day off if they so desired, and at three o'clock that afternoon the shop was closed down. Apparently there was a Republican demonstration in Mansfield that afternoon. One newspaper account stated that the crowd was to be addressed by a man who was the greatest political enemy of John Sherman. The newspaper was unable to understand why they did not close because of a 'rush of orders' when a Presidential candidate came to town, yet, when a man addressed a Republican demonstration, the shops were closed. Apparently Brown did not reply to that inquiry.4
On Saturday morning, March 13, 1911, there were 150 skilled workers at the North Diamond Street plant who quit work. The trouble originated when one of the men was discharged. In addition there was some dispute over the matter of working time. Immediately after quitting work the men held a meeting at Traders' Council Hall. A committee was appointed to hold a conference with the officials of the company that afternoon
On that same morning the company issued the following statement: 'On account of the demand for our machinery, we have been compelled for some time past to run our shops to their full capacity, but in some departments to operate on Saturday. This extra time is not from choice upon our part, and we have been making every effort for some time past to limit the hours to 10, except in emergencies. Some of our men laid down their tools and walked out without giving us notice and without definitely presenting their complaints.'5
It should be noted that the 10-hour day was the most common practice in industry at that time. This was a decade prior to the adoption of the eight-hour day, which came into being only after a prolonged and bitter struggle. Long before the eight-hour day was adopted there were complaints with the 10-hour day. It appears that this was part of the trouble in this particular case. It is fair to assume that the trouble was adjusted, since there was no appreciable cessation of the building of machinery.
During the week of June 13, 1913, the boilermakers at the Diamond Street plant went on strike for one day. Following that strike there was a temporary adjustment of the difficulty, and the men returned to work with the understanding that, unless there were a satisfactory agreement reached, a general strike would be called.
The employees of the various departments of the Diamond Street plant were organized, and a committee was selected which met with the officials of the company. That committee made a demand for settlement of the machinists' and boilermakers' strike. The issue about which the contention arose was the 'Premium System.' The employees demanded that it be abolished.
The Premium System was a plan that provided a wage bonus for a worker who completed a certain amount of work in less time than the standard amount of time allowed for it. In addition the system provided for premium pay for overtime work in excess of the standard number of hours required in a day or week. It also included premium pay for work at night or on Sundays and holidays. It was also called the 'Gain Saving' plan and was designed as an incentive to increase production. The system was first adapted to specific industries by T.A. Halsey. The system was in vogue in many industries during the early years of the 20th century. It was not in use in most of the industries engaged in manufacturing similar to that of the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company, but the system was not unusual for that time. As a matter of fact it was generally accepted by industries with few or no complaints.
The committee representing the employees informed the officials of the company that, unless a satisfactory answer to their grievances was forthcoming by 11 o'clock on Friday morning, June 28, 1913, the machinists and boilermakers would go on strike again. After considering the proposition presented by the employees, the officials of the company requested that the time be extended. On Saturday morning, June 29, the committee from the machinists and other departments that were involved in the strike were called to the company's offices. Failing to receive a favorable answer the employees decided to call a general strike at the Diamond Street plant. A majority of the employees joined in the strike, but a small number of the men continued to work. They included a few painters and others not affiliated with the labor organization.
The strike continued until July 21. By the end of that time a satisfactory adjustment of the demands of the boilermakers and their helpers was achieved, and they returned to work.
The company did not reemploy the men as a body or a group. The wage question was considered with each man at the time he made his application for work. An agreement was reached with the molders, and they returned to work. The last group to hold out were the men in the machine shop. That department did not operate until a few weeks later. The details and exact terms of the agreement that was reached are unknown but apparently were sufficiently satisfactory so that the men returned to work. That was one of the most serious problems the company confronted.
The years between 1916 and 1919 were crucial and brought another critical labor problem to the company. Those were the years the first world war was fought. The high wages paid during that war drew many of the men away to more lucrative jobs in the munitions factories. To keep its labor force intact, the firm was obliged to increase wages. The company handled that acute situation as best it could; nevertheless, the plant lost many competent men. Those circumstances made it necessary for the company to employ new men, most of whom were inexperienced. Obviously that was not a desirable practice, nor was it profitable to the company. The labor problems became increasingly difficult.
The stockholders were informed that their problems would be intensified with the approach of warm weather in the spring of 1917, when outdoor work would be available and plentiful. To cope with the labor situation, the company offered employees a bonus, which was to be paid at periods during the year, rather than giving the workmen a general increase in wages. So during the year of 1917 the firm paid each of the employees at the quarterly periods of April, July, October and January a bonus beginning with the first quarter.
The stockholders were hopeful that the proposed plan would tend to ameliorate their problems and enable them to hold their men. Brown advised the stockholders that the proposed bonus would cost the company an annual sum of $30,000, but it was his judgment that such an inducement would result in keeping their labor force together. If the expenditure of that sum of money accomplished their goal, it would be well worth all of that cost to the company.6
At the same time that the company was forced to increase wages, there was also an increase in the cost of the raw materials essential to the manufacturing of the firm's machinery. Because of the increased cost of labor and materials, the company was compelled to increase the cost of its products. It marked the beginning of the end of the company. The heyday of the steam engine was forever gone. The company's tractors were too large to meet the growing demands of the small farmer. Furthermore, other manufacturers were building and placing on the market smaller tractors that met the demand of the farmers. The company was caught in a squeeze from which it was never able to extract itself.
The officials of the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company lacked the foresight to comprehend the devastating effects of their labor problems, as well as the prevailing economic conditions of a nation at war. Moreover, they were unable to cope with the rapidly changing conditions of the time or to extricate themselves from the complicated situation with which they were confronted.
1. The Mansfield News, Nov. 22, 1901. Record Book, minutes of
the meetings of the stockholders and directors of the Aultman &
Taylor Machinery Company.
3. The Mansfield Herald, Nov. 20, 1897; Nov. 27, 1879; and Dec. 4, 1879.
4. Mansfield Daily Shield, Nov. 1, 1900 and Oct. 13, 1900.
5. Mansfield Daily Shield, March 13, 1911.
6. Record Book, minutes of the meetings of the stockholders and directors of the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company.