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Plows featured at Iola Military Show

Aug. 18, 2014 | 0 comments


A variety of plows were featured at the 2014 Iola Vintage Military & Gun Show held Aug. 8-9.

It was the first-ever featured exhibit for the Vintage Tractors and Equipment portion of the show.

Along with vintage tractors and equipment, the 23rd annual Iola Vintage Military & Gun Show with Vintage Tractors and Equipment also featured historical military memorabilia, equipment and vehicles.

Visitors could also view living encampments, weapon demonstrations and battle re-enactments.

History of plows

Historian and author David Wolfe, Arcadia, presented a program on the history of plow companies on Saturday.

Although his books focus on the John Deere Company, Wolfe has also researched the history of other U.S. plow manufacturers.

He said the world's leading farm implement businesses are still focused within a 300-mile radius, which includes Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Wolfe noted that Oliver was the biggest plow manufacturer from about 1890 to 1920.

In 1909, International Harvester Company "in a day became the biggest giant in the agriculture machinery industry," Wolfe said. This was accomplished by the buyout of McCormick and other companies, he explained.

By the mid-1900s, I-H controlled 60 percent of the plow market.

Prior to John Deere's introduction of the cast-steel plow in 1837, most farmers used iron or wooden plows.

It wasn't until 1875 that John Deere began to lead plow production after patenting the sulky plow design.

This two-wheeled riding plow "launched a new era of plow," Wolfe said. "But it took a few years for it to catch on."

He explained that most farmers thought it wasn't right for their plow horses to pull the extra weight of a rider. It took time for them to realize that most of the weight was on the wheels and the new design was actually easier on the horses.

Headquartered in Moline, IL, Deere & Company eventually grew to be the largest manufacturer of farm machinery. They did this by buying out other successful companies.

One of the major companies acquired by John Deere in 1911 was the Wiard Plow Company, headquartered in New York. At the time, Wiard was marketing 110,000 chilled plows annually.

"Every time farming modernized, these plow companies could sell another plow," Wolfe said.

In response to a question from the audience, the historian said the early companies did not make a high rate of profit. "Just enough to support their family and their workers," he said.

Wolfe provided a list and map of Wisconsin plow manufacturers that once included JI Case, Racine; Allis Chalmers, La Crosse; and American Plow Company, Madison.

"How did they all survive?" he asked but noted that most ag manufacturers did not survive through the early 1900s.

An interesting detail was that the Allis Chalmers manufacturing plant once covered eight acres, all under one roof.

"This was back when there wasn't even a bridge across the (Mississippi) river," Wolfe said. "They took plows across the river when it was frozen."

He noted that Allis Chalmers, established in 1860, often did exchanges for tractors and equipment, which was one way they acquired enough wood to heat the plant.

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