Who Was J.I. Case?

J.I. Case, a self-made man, launched a company that would leave a lasting mark on American agriculture.

| January 2019

  • J.I. Case as a young man of 23 years. The dotted line on the map in the background traces his boat journey from New York to Chicago, Illinois.
    Farm Collector archives
  • A 1913 Case Model 20-40, a horizontally opposed 2-cylinder unit. Introduced in 1912, it was the second Case production tractor following a Model 30-60 of a similar configuration brought out in 1911.
    Photo by Robert Pripps
  • A Case steam engine and threshing crew circa 1907.
    Farm Collector archives
  • A 1912 Case Model 30 automobile. Case built superb, if expensive, automobiles from 1910 to 1926.
    Farm Collector archives
  • Known as the “Big Four,” these men comprised early Case leadership. Clockwise from the top: J.I. Case, Stephen Bull, Robert Baker and Massena Erskine.
    Farm Collector archives

Jerome Increase Case was born in Williamstown, New York, on Dec. 11, 1819.  He was an early American farm machinery manufacturer, founding J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. and J.I. Case Plow Works. He was also known for his hobby of raising champion racehorses. Active in his community, he served as mayor of Racine, Wisconsin, and was elected to the Wisconsin state senate.

Case was the son of Caleb Case, a farmer, and Deborah Jackson Case, the latter said to be of the same lineage as President Andrew Jackson. Interestingly, Andrew Jackson would, in 1836, sign the bill creating the Wisconsin territory, which would years later become the home of Case Corp.

Case didn’t take to the drudgery of traditional manual farming practices. At age 16, according to an article in the Genesee Farmer, Case saw an article announcing the demonstration of a groundhog thresher. He badgered his father and the two went to see the demonstration. Caleb Case was so impressed by the implement’s performance that he bought one and became a dealer.

The groundhog was an improvement over the hand flail used for centuries to beat grain from the heads, but after the spiked cylinder of the groundhog had done the flail’s work, it still was necessary to toss the grain and chaff into the air so the wind could separate the two, a process called winnowing.

For the next five years, J.I. Case continued to work with his father and did custom threshing. In the process, he had ample opportunity to see the groundhog’s shortcomings and consider improvements. He also realized that most of the country’s grain production was in the Midwest, with vast homesteading plots available that were ideally suited for growing grains.

Striking Out On His Own

Having just completed a year at Rensselaer Academy, Case sensed opportunity. On credit, he bought six groundhog threshers and horsepowers (horse treadmills) from his father and started west for the frontier town of Chicago, Illinois. His final destination was Rochester, Wisconsin, a town named after his hometown of Rochester, New York, where acquaintances had already migrated.


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