THRESHING EQUIPMENT

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N. Currier's lithograph of New York's Crystal Palace, erected in 1853 for the Great Exhibition of Art and Industry.
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DEITRICH'S PERPETUAL HAY PRESS.
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Ad in July 14, 1888 edition of Harper's Weekly.
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Machinery Hall, as depicted in the Monon Route's viewbook entitled World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893).
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Agricultural Building, as depicted in the Monon Route's view book of the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
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A photo of Geiser Peerless engine and steam plow at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition from The World's Work.
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4745 Glenway Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45238 rhode@nku.edu

For half a century, grand expositions and world’s fairs in
the United States prominently displayed agricultural machinery.
This fact comes as no surprise, considering that the population was
predominantly rural until about 1920. Not until the elections of
1932 were there more congressional members from cities than from
farms.1 The agricultural emphasis found in American
world’s fair exhibits started with the first exposition in New
York in 1853 and culminated in the great St. Louis Exposition of
1904. From 1853 until 1904, American world’s fairs celebrated
the newest farming implements, especially machines representing
advancements in cultivation and in reaping and threshing grain.

In general, such expositions ‘celebrated the past while
introducing visions of the future. Both the past and the future
were highly idealized, almost utopian.’2
London’s Great Exposition of the Works of Industry of All
Nations, often called the Crystal Palace Exhibition, claims the
honor of launching the age of the exposition: ‘It was the first
major exposition to rise out of the Industrial Revolution . . .
.’3 On July 14, 1853, the Great Exhibition of Art
and Industry opened in New York City with the commemoration of
another, larger Crystal Palace serving as the central exhibition
hall. The next day, President Franklin Pierce inaugurated the event
with a ceremony. Incidentally, on hand was the Secretary of War,
Jefferson Davis. The American Crystal Palace inspired everyone who
visited it, including Walt Whitman, arguably the nineteenth
century’s most illustrious American poet, and Mark Twain, who
later wrote brilliantly about the Gilded Age.

In 1853, Horace Greeley revised and edited the 386-page
duodecimo book commemorating the fair. The contents page revealed
the emphasis placed on agriculture: Reaping, Mowing, and Threshing
Machines; Plows; Other Agricultural Implements; Preserved Food;
Products of the Soil; Saddles, Harness, and Trunks; Flax, and its
Manufactures; Wool, and Woollen Manufactures; Miscellaneous
Farmers’ Tools; and Cotton.4 Other items in the list
of contents referred essentially to manufactured products.
Entitling his book Art and Industry as Represented in the
Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, Greeley used the word
‘art’ to include the products of industry not exclusively
fine art. To a degree, nineteenth-century Americans regarded
machines as examples of artwork, and manufacturers often decorated
their machines with sculptural details.

On exhibit in New York were McCormick’s reaper, which cost
$115 by itself or $140 if fitted for mowing. Greeley reported that
1,200 reapers were sold annually from the works in Chicago. Beside
McCormick’s reaper was Ketcham’s mowing machine,
manufactured in Buffalo. Next in line were Manny’s reaper and
mower, designed by J. H. Manny of Freeport, Illinois. Burrall’s
convertible reapers were displayed beside Hussey’s mowing and
reaping machine, which ‘should properly have been named first,
as it is the original of all the Reaping Machines in America,’
according to Greeley. ‘At the South, Hussey’s machines are
more generally approved than McCormick’s, notwithstanding the
latter is a Virginia invention, and took the great medal at the
London World’s Fair.’ Hussey’s machines originated in
Baltimore. The Fairbanks’ reaper and mower came next, and a
self-raking reaper, invented by Charles Denton of Peoria, Illinois,
claimed the distinction of being only the second machine of its
kind ever built. Seymour & Morgan of Brock-port, New York,
showed a reaper and immediately received an injunction for
infringing on McCormick’s patent. A model of a California
reaper was displayed, as well.5

An illustration from J. S. Ingram’s The Centennial
Exposition, Described and Illustrated, 1876. The engine is not
identified.

Palmer’s threshing machine from North Carolina drew
considerable attention in New York for its feeding aprons arranged
on either side, thereby keeping the feeders out of harm’s way.
E. S. Snyder of Virginia exhibited a thresher worked by two horses
and ‘capable of threshing and cleaning one hundred bushels of
wheat a day.’ R. L. Allen showed a thresher without a
separating apparatus. Hathaway’s so-called combined machine put
together a thresher and a separating mechanism, all in one. The New
York Tribune writer doubted Hathaway’s statement that his
machine would thresh and clean six to eight hundred bushels of
wheat per day: ‘The story is too big for one who has had as
much to do with threshing-machines as the writer of this
article.’ On a lower level of the exhibit hall stood
Moffat’s patent thresher, built in Piqua, Ohio. In the Canadian
department was a thresher from Brantford; it was built low to the
ground for the convenience of the feeder. The prices of threshing
machines varied from $35 to $150. The thresher section of
Greeley’s book concluded, ‘Although we contend that
seed-wheat should be threshed by flails, we know that no farmer can
be successful in growing rich by raising grain, who adheres to that
antiquated fashion. Farmers should try to inform themselves . . .
whether it is for their interest to continue to beat out their seed
by flails, or tramp it out by horses, when they can so easily
procure a machine that will do the work so much faster and
cheaper.’6

Fairs in the U. S. were staged for the following reasons: (a)
‘to commemorate a particular event,’ (b) ‘to increase
economic development for the nation as a whole and … for the
region where the exposition was being held,’ and (c) ‘to
boost trade with other nations.’ Later expositions were
organized ‘to combat [certain Americans’] feelings of
animosity towards the industrialization of the United States’
which they perceived as threatening their jobs and way of
life.7

In 1855, Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most famous ministers of
nineteenth-century America and brother of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
author Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote, ‘The man who invents a
steam plough that will turn twelve or fifteen acres a day, two feet
deep, will be an emancipator and civilizer.. . . . Then Labour
shall have leisure for culture. Thus working and studying shall go
hand in hand. Then the farmer shall no longer be a drudge; and work
shall not exact much and give but little. Then men will receive a
collegiate education to fit them for the farm, as they now do for
the pulpit and the forum; and in the intervals of labour,
gratefully frequent, they may pursue their studies; especially will
books be no longer the product of cities, but come fresh and
glowing from nature, from unlooped men, whose side branches having
had room to grow, give the full and noble proportions of manhood
from top to bottom. God speed the plough.’8 Great
anticipation heralded the agricultural and industrial exhibits of
the latter part of the nineteenth century, for those expositions
put on display the steam engines which Beecher thought would
revolutionize the world.

From 1870 through 1888 (with the one exception of 1876),
Cincinnati, Ohio, hosted annual expositions. Shrewd businessmen
perceived these fairs as a means of financial recovery: ‘A
grave economic crisis haunted the city after the Civil
War.’9At the 1877 fair, the Cincinnati firm of Lane
& Bodley Company earned gold premiums for stationary and
portable engines. Lane & Bodley’s 10-horsepower farm engine
won top honors in a field of six competitors. In 1881, Henry Marcus
Lane, son of Lane & Bodley’s co-founder Philander P. Lane,
superintended the machinery department at the annual
exposition.10 In that year, a Peerless traction engine
and a Geiser separator were driven from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania,
to Cincinnati, where the Peerless took ‘first honors in economy
and field tests, winning the much coveted prize of $500 in
gold.’11 For the Peerless to win in Cincinnati was
unusual, since companies local to the region sponsoring a fair
typically won the prizes. Questions often arise as to the extent of
world’s fair competitions, the selection of judges, and the
fairness of evaluations. Furthermore, at some expositions, nearly
every entry medaled. Whether or not contests were legitimate, the
firms which won awards capitalized on that news in their
advertising, particularly in the nineteenth century and the
earliest years of the twentieth.

The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia commemorated
the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the republic. It ‘was
the first major world’s fair held in the
United States.’12 President Ulysses S. Grant opened
the fair on May 10. An orchestra played Richard Wagner’s
‘Centennial Grand March’ and a chorus sang the
‘Centennial Hymn,’ written by John Green leaf Whittier and
set to music by John K. Paine, and the ‘Centennial
Cantata,’ with words by Sidney Lanier and music by a Mr. Buck.
Its vast machinery hall held thirteen acres of
displays.13 One fascinating exhibit included a section
of cable which the Roeblings would use in building the Brooklyn
Bridge.14 Also on display were the first typewriter and a
telephone: ‘The Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil put Bell’s
strange device to his ear, then quickly dropped it, exclaiming,
‘My God, it talks!”15

Much has been written about the mammoth 1400-horsepower,
7,000-ton, double Corliss stationary engine, which towered above
the hall. J. S. Ingram’s 770-page octavo book of the fair, The
Centennial Exposition, Described and Illustrated, presented a
detailed account of the starting of the engine: ‘The President
[Grant] having taken hold of the valve-lever of one engine and the
Emperor [Dom Pedro] of that of the other, both gave the turn
simultaneously; steam was on; the great walking-beams began to
ascend and descend; the engine was in motion; eight miles of
shafting and hundreds of machines of all descriptions were in
operation, and the International Exhibition of 1876 was at that
instant thrown open to the world.’16 George H.
Corliss paid $200,000 out of his own pocket to build and install
the engine. A certain Monsieur Bartholdi reported to the French
government, ‘It belonged to the category of works of art by the
general beauty of its effect and its perfect balance to the
eye.’ 17 The two working beams rose and fell at a
height forty feet above the platform. The flywheel boasted a face
two feet wide; its diameter topped out at thirty feet. After the
exhibition, the Pullman Car Company, makers of fancy railway cars,
purchased the engine for the Pullman factory.

Abram Gaar, steam engine and farm implement manufacturer from
Richmond, Indiana, bought an elegant table to furnish his new
mansion under construction northeast of Richmond.
18Meanwhile, Gaar’s thresher won a first-place medal
at the Centennial Exposition.19

Ingram commented on the farm implement display: ‘Most
prominent amid all this array of practical beauty were the reapers
and mowers, which, more than anything else perhaps, signalize
agricultural progress. It is only a few years since the sickle was
seen in every grain field, and with its slow and toilsome results
each farmer had to be content. When the cradle came it seemed as if
the climax had been attained, and the man who could cut three or
four acres of wheat in a day, laying it in fair shape for the
binder who followed, was doing good work. But the cradle and
handrake gave way to the reaper and self-raker, and these, year by
year, improved and perfected, make of harvest-time little more than
a holiday. There remains for further accomplishment in this
direction only the automatic binder, already a partial success, and
quite sure to reach perfection in the near
future.’20

Ingram’s book showed that agriculture continued to occupy an
important place among American industries, although much more of
this volume was devoted to the types of manufactures important to
city dwellers than was found in the book of the 1853 fair. He
highlighted a portable straw-burning engine built by the Ames Iron
Works in Oswego, New York: ‘This boiler is constructed on the
return-flue principle …. In the front end of the large flue, or
fire-box, are placed the furnace doors, which are so arranged that
a very slight pressure of a fork in inserting the straw easily
opens them …. The boiler is so constructed that the fibre of the
straw is entirely consumed, and the heat so thoroughly extracted
from the smoke that nothing passes from the pipe but superfluous
gas. A very convenient and desirable feature is, that the fire is
instantly extinguished by simply throwing open the doors. This is
particularly desirable in case of the discovery of low water in the
boiler.’21

At the field trials, held at Schenck’s Station,
Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the exposition, the Farquhar
separator won the ‘highest award of merit’ for its
‘form of threshing drum and concaves, the teeth being so shaped
as to avoid breaking the grain,’ for its ‘vibrating
carrier, composed of ribbed sheet iron with projecting notches,
with open spaces for the passage of the grain to conveyer,’ for
‘the agitators which shake the grain from the straw,’ for
‘the adjustable self regulating fan,’ and for ‘the
measuring hopper.’22 Farquhar’s rice separator
also received a medal.

American Cereal Co. (Quaker Oats) trade card from 1893, the year
of the Columbian Exposition. (The artist probably copied the
thresher from the cover of the 1893 J. I. Case Threshing Machine
Co. catalogue, but the engine is more difficult to identify. Its
smokestack resembles those of Russell engines from the time
period.)

The ‘Fearless’ horse power and thresher and cleaner,
manufactured by the Empire Agricultural Works of Cobleskill, New
York, won the only medal given for both a horse power and a
thresher/separator.23 J. I. Case and Company also earned
medals for threshing equipment.24

In 1881 and 1887, Atlanta hosted expositions to ‘advertise
the New South to the nation.’25 After the devastation of the
Civil War, the South had a strong interest in attracting business
to the region. Southern states also hoped to promote trade with
South American nations and Asia. At the Atlanta Cotton Exposition
in 1881, the Monarch traction engine, manufactured by the Hooven,
Owens & Rentschler Company of Hamilton, Ohio, won the First
Premium.26 In the border state of Kentucky, Louisville
held fairs from 1883 through 1887. In the deep South, New Orleans
sponsored an exposition from 1884-85. Notable at that fair was a
display of steam engines, sawmills, and agricultural implements
manufactured by the Frick Company of Waynesboro,
Pennsylvania.27 Also on view were stationary engines
working to provide power and electricity; these included
Harris-Corliss, Lane & Bodley, Atlas, Westinghouse, and other
makes, totaling to 5,937 horsepower.

In 1892, Arthur Briggs Farquhar, manufacturer of agricultural
steam engines and farm implements, was appointed a commissioner to
the Columbian Exposition, slated for 1893 in Chicago; he was in
charge of practically all of Pennsylvania’s participation in
the fair, and his fellow commissioners elected Farquhar to preside
over the board.28

On May 1, 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago
was opened to the public by President Grover Cleveland, who had
just been elected for his non-consecutive second term. In July at
the Exposition, historians heard Frederick Jackson Turner’s
paper ‘The Significance of the Frontier in American
History’a document destined to inspire scholarly debate for
generations. The Columbian Exposition featured a vast display of
new and historic railroad locomotives. Thomas Alva Edison’s
electrical effects throughout the fairgrounds were extraordinary.
The Exposition offered a bright interlude in a year of severe
economic depression. For the convenience of fairgoers, the Monon
Route ran twice daily Pullman vestibuled trains, with dining cars
and sleepers known as ‘velvet trains’ between Cincinnati
and Chicago.29

A photo which appeared in the July/August 1982 Album showing a
13 HP engine buit by Gaar, Scott & Co. for the 1904 St. Louis
Exposition. The engine’s cylinder, whistle, safety valve, and
hub caps were nickel-plated. Sanford Macy of Fountain City,
Indiana, bought the engine and ran a sawmill with it for thirty
years.

Chicago was poised to host a major world’s fair:
‘Chicago had come into itself in the decade before the
Exposition. In 1871, the city had been razed by a fire, but in just
twenty-two years, they had raised skyscrapers over the prairie and
were ready to play host to the world.’30 A
staggering twenty-eight million visitors attended the fair. The
gate receipts totaled $14 million.

World’s Fair Correspondent Trumbull White and William
Igleheart, the World’s Fair Editor of the Chicago Record,
published the official book of the fair. Entitled The World’s
Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, the 628-page octavo book
showed that agriculture continued to be important enough to deserve
a separate chapter. Forty-four engines the largest an E. P. Allis
powered the exhibits. The Reeves Pulley Company of Columbus,
Indiana, showed ‘the largest wood split pulley ever
constructed. It is eighteen feet in diameter with forty-eight inch
face.’31 Firms exhibiting farm steam engines and
related products included the Aultman & Taylor Machinery
Company of Mansfield, Ohio, the Geiser Manufacturing Company of
Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and the Gaar, Scott & Company of
Richmond, Indiana.32

In 1895, Atlanta held the Cotton States and International
Exposition. Such fairs ‘were a sign of the New South’s
attempt to establish itself as a cultural and economic force at the
end of the century.’33 If measured by gate receipts,
Southern expositions in general were less successful than those
held in the North, but they served their promotional purposes well.
Not all Southern fairs failed to turn an immediate profit; for
example, the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition
enjoyed a good financial outcome. For that matter, not all Northern
fairs were boons to their sponsors; in economic terms, the
Pan-American Exposition, held in Buffalo in 1901, was more nearly a
boondoggle. It also was the scene of the assassination of President
William McKinley.

Beginning in 1901 and continuing into 1902, the South Carolina
Interstate and West Indian Exposition took place in Charleston; the
fair was established to promote trade with the West
Indies.34

Steam locomobile on display at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition
from John Wesley Hanson’s The Official History of the Fair, St.
Louis, 1904.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 was perhaps the last
great American world’s fair to pay any significant attention to
agricultural equipment powered by steam. The 1944 MGM movie Meet Me
in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien, wove
a romantic story around the year leading up to the St. Louis
Exposition. The second largest box office hit since Gone with the
Wind, Meet Me in St. Louis was based on a series of
autobiographical stories written by Sally Benson and published in
the New Yorker. Incidentally, unlike O’Brien’s family in
the movie, Benson’s family moved away from St. Louis just
before the fair opened, and Benson never got to see the fair.

Prominently displayed at the real fair were the products of the
J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company of Racine,
Wisconsin.35 In a special exhibit on the progress in
agricultural technology, a Geiser Manufacturing Company Peerless
traction engine and eight-gang steam plow dwarfed the humble wooden
plow which Daniel Webster had used on his father’s
farm.36 Light reflected from the nickel-plated cylinder,
whistle, safety valve, and hub caps of a Gaar, Scott & Company
engine.37 Visitors to the fair were also treated to a
spectacular collection of twenty-six steam
locomotives.38 According to John Wesley Hanson’s
496-page octavo book entitled The Official History of the Fair, St.
Louis, 1904, the exposition devoted considerable space to
automobiles, including a mock-up of an early steam-powered
locomobile.39

As long ago as 1874, the Twenty-Fourth Annual Report of the
Indiana State Board of Agriculture, in an article mentioning the
Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, predicted ‘that in a few
years these great city expositions, which serve more the curiosity
than the interest of agriculturists, will cease to be so attractive
to the rural population . . . .’40 That prophecy
basically came true, although not until approximately thirty years
later. By then, the world’s fairs had changed their mission and
were focusing more on the metropolitan future. Those interested in
the machinery of threshing began to turn their attention to
exhibits of equipment and competitions among engines at
threshermen’s meetings, such as the one held in Wichita in
1903. The principal venue for the display of new farming equipment
reverted to the types of show in vogue before New York’s Great
Exhibition of Art and Industry in 1853: the agricultural fairs.
Such fairs had been held consistently throughout the exposition
era. For example, in 1860, A. Gaar & Company had won the Grand
Gold Medal at the United States Agricultural Society Fair. At the
Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society Fair of 1884, the Geiser
Manufacturing Company had taken the gold medal for the best steam
plowing machine.41 For fifty years, though, threshing
equipment had also paraded proudly before the throngs attending
American world’s fairs.

FOOTNOTES

1Arthur Moore, The Farmer and the Rest of Us. Boston:
Little, Brown, 1945; p. 130.

2Ed. Jim Swick, ‘World’s Fairs and
Expositions: Defining America and the World, 1876-1916.’ http:
//www.boondocksnet. com/ex pos/

3‘The Exposition.’
http://www.ccpl.Org/ccl/studio/c hap1.htm

4Ed. Horace Greeley, Art and Industry as Represented
in the Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. New York: Redfield, 1853;
pp. v-vi.

5Art and Industry, pp. 66-69.

6Art and Industry, pp. 70-78.

7‘The Exposition.’

8Michael Williams, Steam Power in Agriculture.
Dorset, England: Blandford, 1977; pp. 55-56.

9Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its
Neighbors. Cincinnati: Wiesen-Hart, 1943; p. 70.

10Robert T. Rhode, ‘When Steam Was King . . . And
Cincinnati Was Queen,’ Queen City Heritage 55.1 (1997), pp.
41-43.

11George Beard Coffman, The Twenty Minute Whistle.
Waynesboro: Caslon, 1997; pp. 35-36.

12‘The Exposition.’

13‘The Centennial Exhibition of 1876.’
http://parallel.park.org/Pavilions/WorldExpositions/philadel
phia.text.html

14John A. Roebling began a suspension bridge in
Cincinnati in 1857, but the Civil War interrupted construction. The
famous bridge was opened to traffic in 1867, and the Roebling name
rapidly became synonymous with superior even daring bridge
construction.

15Centennial Exhibition.’

16J. S. Ingram, The Centennial Exposition, Described
and Illustrated. Philadelphia: Hubbard Bros., 1876; p. 97.

17WiIIiam A. Mowry and Arthur May Mowry, American
Inventions and Inventors. New York: Silver, Burdett, 1900, p.
181.

18‘Gaar Mansion, 1876.’ Pamphlet distributed
by the Gaar House Museum, 2593 Pleasant View Road, Richmond,
Indiana 47374.

19Joe Park and Lawrence Porter, ‘Gaar, Scott
& Co. Engineers and Engines Magazine April/May 1991, p. 41.

20Centennial Exposition, p. 244.

21Centennial Exposition, p. 248.

228881899 catalogue of the A. B. Farquhar Company, p.
38.

23Floyd Clymer’s Album of Historical Steam
Traction Engines. New York: Bonanza, 1949; p. 9.

24Dave Erb and Eldon Brumbaugh, Full Steam Ahead: J.
I. Case Tractors & Equipment 1842-1955. St. Joseph: American
Society of Agricultural Engineers, 1993; pp. 9, 19.

25‘The Exposition.’

26Floyd Clymer’s Album, p. 14.

27Cornell University’s Making of America Project.
http://-moa. cit. Cornell.edu/dienst/moabr owse/MOA-JOURNALS2:
MANU-0017/71/l:GIF89:100

28A. B. Farquhar, The First Million the Hardest.
Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1922; p. 303.

29World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago,
World’s Fair Route, hardcover accordion photograph booklet.

30‘Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893.’
http://parallel.park.org/Pavilions/WorldExpositions/chicago.
text.html

31Trumbull White and William Igleheart, The
World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. Jersey City, N.
J.: Star, 1893; p. 150.

32White and Igleheart, World’s Columbian
Exposition, p. 180.

33‘The Exposition.’

34‘The Exposition.’

35The Greatest of Expositions, Completely
Illustrated. St. Louis: Louisiana Purchase Exposition Co., 1904; p.
186.

36The World’s Work. New York: Doubleday Page,
August 1904; p. 5170.

37Photo courtesy of Herbert Thurston (Fountain City,
Indiana); first published in The Iron-Men Album Magazine for
July/August 1982, p. 14.

38World’s Work; p. 5096.

39John Wesley Hanson, The Official History of The
Fair, St. Louis, 1904. St. Louis: n.p., 1904; p. 408.
40Twenty-Fourth Annual Report of the Indiana State Board
of Agriculture, 1874, Part II, Vol. 16. Indianapolis: Sentinel,
1875.

41Catalogue of the Spring Foundry Machine Works of A.
Gaar & Company, p. 6 and inside back cover, and the 1889
catalogue of the Geiser Manufacturing Company, p. 18.

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