America’s Industrial Revolution was driven by countless innovators willing to take a risk. The state of Ohio was home to many early industrialists whose visionary efforts launched the state’s manufacturing sector and strengthened its ties to agriculture.
In the 1700s, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin comprised the original Northwest Territory. The early “Ohio Country” took its name after the river called O-y-o by the Iroquois, meaning “Great River.” In his book The Pioneers, historian David McCullough described early settlement along the Ohio River by farmers and merchants who migrated from the colonies following the Revolutionary War.
Farmers began clearing the land as they moved north and northwest from the river into more fertile, flat land. As the need for farm equipment grew, Ohio’s iron and steelmaking industries also took root. In 1802, the first blast furnace west of the Alleghenies was erected in northeast Ohio near Youngstown. Deposits of black coal were discovered near Youngstown in 1845. The abundance of coal was a major contributor to growth of the iron industry in the Mahoning Valley of northeast Ohio.
By 1880, this region of Ohio became one of the nation’s great iron- and steel-producing areas. As the population expanded westward, the demand for iron helped strengthen Ohio’s fledgling economy. Within the next decade, improved processes became available to produce large quantities of a new and superior product as steel replaced iron.
During this era, Cleveland became a major player in the production of steel due to its proximity to Lake Erie and the emerging railroads. In addition, Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. was absorbed by U.S. Steel Corp. By 1882, Ohio was the second largest steel-producing state, second only to Pennsylvania.
Tractor manufacturers see market potential
Several historic farm machinery developments originated in Ohio before the Industrial Revolution, starting with the reaper. Inventor Obed Hussey sold the rights to his reaper to Cyrus McCormick. Both inventors lived in Cincinnati during the 1830s. While McCormick made claim to the reaper patent, an 1861 ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recorded that the original 1833 patent would prevail on the Hussey reaper.
As agricultural mechanization evolved during the early and mid-20th century, countless companies emerged to meet the growing quest for labor-saving equipment. Increased demand for farm power spurred the launch of tractor manufacturing operations throughout northern Ohio, near the source of steel and improved methods of transportation. The following are among the standouts of Ohio tractor manufacturers:
Aultman & Taylor Machinery Co., Mansfield
Aultman & Taylor was founded in 1859 by Cornelius Aultman and Henry Taylor. The firm was noted for production of steam engines, threshing machines and other agriculture products. The company’s first tractor, the legendary Aultman & Taylor Model 30-60, was introduced in 1910. The company’s tractor offering expanded over several years to include the Model 15-30 with its completely enclosed bonnet.
Fallout from the Agricultural Depression of the early 1920s left Aultman & Taylor overexposed; the company was taken over by Advance-Rumely Thresher Co., LaPorte, Indiana, in 1924. Aultman & Taylor tractors were sold alongside Rumely products until the remaining stock was liquidated.
A.D. Baker, Swanton
Abner D. Baker originally conducted business in his Swanton, Ohio repair shop. In 1901, the business was incorporated as A.D. Baker Co. The company manufactured grain threshers and steam traction engines before building its first tractor in 1926. The company was dissolved in 1953.
Centaur Tractor Corp., Greenwich
Central Tractor Co. was formed in 1921. The firm was renamed Centaur Tractor Corp. in 1928. The company’s first tractors were sulky-type models designed for use in truck gardens. Following the Great Depression, the company was reorganized as Centaur Corp. Beginning in 1936, the Centaur Model KV (Klear View) was produced for farms of up to 100 acres. The tractor had an open-view design allowing clear vision of the ground. The Model KV utilized a LeRoi 2.2L 4-cylinder gas engine rated at 22hp.
During the 1930s, Centaur developed a roadside mower for the state of Ohio, but within a decade found itself struggling under a heavy debt load. Engine supplier LeRoi Corp., Milwaukee, took over Centaur. The Greenwich plant manufactured tractor components for military vehicles in a government contract. In 1945, LeRoi developed the Centaur Tractair 125. Production of the conventional Centaur tractor was discontinued after the introduction of the Tractair. LeRoi eventually eliminated tractor production altogether.
Cleveland Tractor Co., Cleveland
Established by Rollin H. White in 1916, Cleveland Motor Plow Co. first manufactured crawler-type tractors for military and agricultural use. In 1917, the company was renamed Cleveland Tractor Co. The following year, “Cletrac” was adopted as the company’s trademark. Between 1916 and 1944, Cletrac manufactured 75 tractor models.
From 1938 into 1943, B.F. Avery commissioned Cleveland Tractor Co. to produce the rubber-tired General GG. Massey-Harris distributed the General in Canada. The tractor was also sold through Ohio Farm Bureau Cooperative stores. Montgomery Ward & Co. marketed a version of the General known as the Wards Twin-Row tractor.
Oliver Farm Equipment Co. purchased Cleveland Tractor Co. in 1944. In 1960, White Motor Corp. acquired Oliver. The Oliver-Cletrac crawler was produced in Cleveland until 1962. White moved operations to Charles City, Iowa, where the line was terminated in 1965.
Huber Mfg. Co., Marion
In 1863, at age 26, Edward Huber registered his first patent, for a wood revolving rake. Relocating from Indiana to Ohio, Huber began manufacturing his revolving rake. After several reorganizations, Huber Mfg. Co. was formed in 1874.
In 1898, Huber acquired patent rights to the Van Duzen gas engine. That same year, Huber mass-produced the first gas-powered tractor for commercial use. The tractor proved to be a complete failure. After nearly 14 years of extensive research and development, Huber reentered the tractor manufacturing business. By 1914, with still more improvements, Huber introduced three new tractor models: the Model 15-30, the Model 20-40 and the Model 30-60. In 1917, the iconic Model 20-36 (or “Light Four”) solidified Huber’s competitive position in the market.
In 1930, Huber also manufactured the Model 20-36 for B.F. Avery. The 4-bottom plow tractor was powered by a Waukesha 7.3L 4-cylinder gas engine. In total, 355 tractors were delivered to Avery over three months.
In 1934, a consortium of three regional Farm Bureau Cooperatives from Ohio, Michigan and Indiana struck a deal with Huber Mfg. Co. of Marion to build tractors. The tractor was a repainted red version of the Huber Modern Farmer (or Models S/SC and L/LC) with CO-OP cast into the radiator. Those produced by Huber are believed to be the first tractors offered through Farm Bureau stores.
Following World War II, Huber concentrated on road building along with maintenance equipment, ending production of farm tractors and machinery.
Ohio Mfg. Co., Upper Sandusky
Ohio Mfg. Co. got its start with its Traction Truck in the 1890s. In 1916, the company began building the Whitney 9-18 tractor. Powered by a Gile engine, this light-weight tractor with a 24hp rating was capable of pulling a 2-bottom plow. Sometime later, a group of investors acquired the company’s assets and renamed the business Whitney Tractor Co. Operations were relocated to Cleveland, where production soon ceased.
Leader Tractor Mfg. Co., Chagrin Falls
In 1937, father and son Lewis and Walter Brockway founded Leader Tractor Mfg. Co. The company’s tractor was first known as the American; it became the Brockway in 1939. When a New York truck company named Brockway threatened suit in 1940, the tractor was renamed the Leader.
By 1947, demand for Leader tractors had expanded rapidly. Schott Bros., which had a large stake in Willys Jeep, assumed the marketing requirements of the Leader tractor. In 1948, Schott Bros. acquired Leader Tractor Co. when sales demands could not be met. The manufacturing plant was closed shortly thereafter.
Lewis and Walter Brockway started anew in 1949, launching Brockway Tractor Co. With a suitable foundry in nearby Bedford, a vastly improved tractor called the Brockway was introduced. The Brockway tractor was manufactured for 10 years, ending in 1959.
Fate-Root-Heath Co., Plymouth
In 1909, J.D. Fate launched Plymouth Truck Co. After production of 200 trucks and one automobile, the company folded in 1915. Fate soon joined with Root-Heath, a locomotive manufacturer, forming Fate-Root-Heath. Following the Great Depression, orders for locomotives slowed. With the company’s location in farm country, the company began building Plymouth farm tractors.
Chrysler Corp. claimed rights to the Plymouth name. However, Fate-Root-Heath had built a Plymouth automobile prior to Chrysler. Through an undisclosed settlement, Chrysler acquired the rights to the Plymouth name in 1934. Fate-Root-Heath renamed its tractor the Silver King. By the end of World War II, orders for locomotives overshadowed tractor production. In 1954, Mountain State Fabricating Co., Clarksburg, West Virginia took over production of the Silver King, ending the line in 1957.
Dauch Mfg. Co., Sandusky
Dauch Mfg. Co. produced its first Sandusky tractor in 1914, the Model 15-35. Powered by a Dauch-built engine, the 7,600-lb. tractor was considered huge for its day. By 1917, Dauch designed and manufactured a more streamlined tractor, the Sandusky 10-20 Model J.
Although advertised as suitable farm tractor, the Sandusky was pricey for its time. The company had no adequate promotion program or dealer organization, and was out of business by 1921.
Shelby Truck & Tractor Co., Shelby
Shelby Truck & Tractor Co. was established in 1918, producing both trucks and tractors. Three Shelby tractors were built: the 15-30 Model C with a Waukesha engine, the 15-25 Model D with a Beaver engine and the 15-30 Model D with an Erd engine.
No Shelby production records are known to exist. While the Shelby tractor compared favorably with brands of its era, competitive pressures proved daunting. The company filed for bankruptcy in June 1921.
Steiner Corp., Orrville
The company dates to 1941, when local farmer Marvin Steiner started building custom farm machinery. By the mid-1970s, seven Steiner brothers formed Steiner Corp. The Turf Equipment division was sold to Ransomes in 1988. The Agriculture Equipment division was purchased by a group of employees; in 1996 it was renamed Venture Products, Inc. Under the new corporate name, the product name became Ventrac.
Venture manufactures all-wheel drive tractors and mounted equipment. The product line is divided into two series and six models. The 3400 series would be similar to the zero-turn feature on compact utility tractors. The 4500 series tractors are built on a larger platform. From their Orville production facility, Venture Products currently manufactures more than 1,200 tractors each year.
Venture Products also manufactures the Tilmor tractor, designed for small farms. This tractor and accompanying implements are built in the company’s Dalton, Ohio, production facility.
In January 2020, Venture Products was acquired by Toro Co., Bloomington, Minnesota. Manufacture of the Ventrac line will continue in Orville. The Tilmor tractor line was not included in the acquisition. Production of Tilmor tractors will continue in Dalton.
Over time, visionary dreams of many Ohio manufacturers were shattered for various reasons. Yet, others persevered and realized great success. These untold accomplishments were the building blocks that forged America’s prominence, launched by the Industrial Revolution. FC
Freelance writer Fred Hendricks of Mansfield, Ohio, covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email him at email@example.com