Avery Company History

Excerpt from Encyclopedia Of American Farm Tractors

By: C.H. Wendel

Robert H. and Cyrus M. Avery formed the Avery Planter company at Galesburg, Illinois in 1874. Robert Avery had developed some ideas about corn planters during his imprisonment at Andersonville, during the Civil War. After returning home, Avery began putting his ideas into practice, and by 1874, a working model of his planter was showing signs of success.


Avery made its debut into the farm tractor business with this combination “ farm and city” tractor, first offered in February, 1909. It was designed by J. B. Bartholomew, president of the Avery Company. Round wooden plugs were attached to the wheel periphery to provide added traction. Provided with a four cylinder engine of 4 3/4 inch bore and 5 inch stroke, it delivered 36 brake horsepower at 1,000 RPM. It delivered 62.5% of its horsepower at the drawbar, weighed 6,000 pounds, and sold for $2,500. Production ended in 1914.


Planters, cultivators, and stalk cutters created an excellent line, and with a continuing business growth, the Avery brothers relocated to Peoria, Illinois in 1884.


In 1891 the firm began building steam traction engines and threshers; these were to be the mainstay of the Avery business for many years.


In 1893, John B. Bartholomew, a relative of the Avery’s, became Vice-President of the company. Having started with the company at the age of 15, “J.B.” proved himself to be a big man in many ways — not only in physical stature, but also as an inventive and financial genius. After the death of the Avery brothers, Bartholomew continued his rise to power by assuming the presidency of the Avery Company.


Avery built a single cylinder tractor of 12 inch bore and 18 inch stroke and tried it out at the 1910 Winnipeg Tractor Demonstration. Operating at 350 RPM, it should have had about 65 calculated horsepower. It made such a poor showing in the brake tests that is was withdrawn from the plowing demonstration. Weight was 12,000 pounds and the proposed retail price was $2,000.

Under J.B.’s guidance, Avery Company introduced the famous Avery Undermounted steam engine. It was a roaring success, but about this time Hart-Parr and a few other tractor companies were beginning to make inroads into the steam engine market. Accordingly, Avery approached this new market with a “farm and city” tractor introduced in February, 1909. Apparently, the strategy was to provide an outfit suitable for small farms and acreages — reserving the larger steam outfits for the heavy work.

The total failure of the 1910 single cylinder model prompted a new look at tractor design and by September, 1911 a totally different concept appeared. This new model was rated as a 20-35, being powered by a 7 3/4 x 8 inch two cylinder opposed engine. A unique feature was the sliding frame, whereby the entire engine and radiator were shifted ahead or back to mesh the proper gears. That’s the way Avery tractors went ahead or back for many years. This 1911 model featured a square radiator unlike its successors. Battery or magneto ignition was available as a purchaser option.

It soon became obvious that “ tractors” were here to stay, and Avery met the challenge with a single cylinder outfit of gargantuan size. This 1910 outfit made such a poor showing that it was withdrawn while still in the prototype stage. By 1911, a 20-35 model was on the market — and this time everything worked.

Albert O. Espe, who had designed the C.O.D and Universal tractors at Crookston, Minnesota, was responsible for the original Avery design. The first patent, No. 1,185,076, was purchased by J. B. Bartholomew for $25,000, and Espe was hired at a handsome salary. The other pertinent Avery tractor patents are: 1,199,254; 1,199,333; and 1,199,334.


Within a couple of years, Avery was offering a full line of tractors. In fact, the Avery line was overdone with only a slight horsepower difference from one size to another. This led to excessive parts inventories and unnecessarily increased the overhead.


Avery Company continued to build the same massive heavy-weight tractors into the 1920’s — a time when modern light-weights were coming to the forefront. Although J. B. was a pioneer in the development of motor cultivators, they were a passing fancy and could not support the losses being incurred by the heavyweight models. The fierce competition in the industry coupled with localized crop failures and generally poor economic conditions led to the untenable position of absorbing loss after loss.


In early 1924, Avery Company went into bankruptcy. By July, the company was reorganized as Avery Power Machinery Company.


On May 27, 1925, J. B. Bartholomew passed away at the age of 64 years.

After the reorganization, the company did fairly well until 1931 — the darkest days of the Great Depression. A further reorganization effort yielded another rebirth of the company, and this last firm produced the Avery Ro-Trak tractor, a modern little outfit that might have gone places except for the unfortunate intervention of World War II.