Manitowoc County company was an early innovator of ag products

Amy Meyer
Agency of Smalley’s Champion Plow, undated.

Among the early settlers of Manitowoc County was a blacksmith by the name of Edmund J. Smalley. 

Smalley had set up shop in Manitowoc in 1857, at a time when immigration into the county was growing rapidly and land was being cleared at a rapid pace for the establishment of farms. 

Smalley began making plows, adding a small foundry to his shop to make the plow points and other metal parts. 

By the 1880s, the agricultural landscape began to change in Manitowoc County. The county's earliest farmers tried their hand at growing grains such as wheat, oats and barley. 

After a catastrophic crop failure as a result of an invasion of cinch bugs, farmers diversified their production, turning to dairy cattle instead. 

Following this trend, Smalley began producing equipment to produce forage for cows. His machines cut hay, corn, turnips and beets into small pieces, suitable for feed. 

Smalley ad for “Smalley’s Cutters.”

It was for these machines — feed cutters, burr mills, corn shellers, root and vegetable cutters, saws and plows — that the Smalley Company was most known. 

The Smalley Company was organized in 1881, having capital stock of $50,000. Edmund’s two sons, Clarence and Charles, joined the family business. The small shop was powered at first by a windmill, then after being rebuilt after a fire, a treadmill was installed in which a horse or ox walked to generate the power needed to operate their machinery. 

Smalley also developed machines in which horses were harnessed to long beams as they walked a circular path, generating the original “horse power,” preceding the use of steam engines in shops and farms. 

In Louis Falge’s “History of Manitowoc County,” it was said that the speed of the machinery depended on the disposition of an old white horse named Dan. 

Edmund Smalley passed away in 1898, and two of his five sons carried on to lead the company into the next century. 

Their product line and distribution continued to expand and keep up with changes in technology and agricultural trends. They added attachments to their cutters to fill silos and sold a line of steam engines in their 1902 catalog ranging in price from $275 to $425. 

Their 1911 catalog urged farmers to: “Be on the safe side and do yourself and the Smalley Company a great favor by getting in your order as fast as Uncle Sam can carry it — and remember your judgement in ordering a 'Smalley' is backed by nine tenths of all the farmers in America who own cutting machines, for nine tenths own the ‘Smalley.’ Order today — NOW — while you have the minutes to spare."

By 1914, the company was distributing their products nationwide and employed 100 men. 

Smalley Manufacturing, at Sixth and York streets, remained operational until 1989.

Smalley was not the only innovator of agricultural products in Manitowoc County. In 1896, brothers Anton and Ambrose Kaltenbrun developed a safer feed cutter that had an automated apron that fed forage toward the blades. The company continued to produce these cutters as well as a patented grain blower through at least 1970. 

Amy Meyer is the executive director of the Manitowoc County Historical Society.