International Harvester Company History

Information from 150 Years of International Harvester

By: C.H. Wendel

Before Cyrus Hall McCormick’s death in 1884, he and William Deering spoke of amalgamation, but nothing came of these conversations. Records of the following years indicate that a number of meetings were called to discuss consolidation, but no action was taken.


In late 1890, the American Harvester Company was born. Col. A. L. Conger, president of Whitman, Barnes & Company of Akron, Ohio conceived the idea of consolidating all of the harvester manufacturers into one organization. Conger persuaded each company to set a price on their property, with each receiving shares of American Harvester in exchange. The grand plan of American Harvester Company died in 1891. Bankers turned their back on the idea, and without the necessarily large amount of operating capital, there was nothing to do but resume business as before.


During the next ten years, competition was so keen that only the best-managed companies remained sol­ vent. Their profits were continually plowed back into bigger factories, modern machinery, and other in­ vestments, all of which helped them maintain then- status, but left nothing for the stockholders. Mean­ while, the vast foreign market remained virtually un­ touched. Every resource and every bit of extra capital was used to maintain a position of rank in the in­dustry. The Harvester War of those years took its toll. Many companies withered in its wake. Those remain­ ing found themselves in a situation only slightly bet­ter than bankrupt.


In the five years prior to the International Harvester merger, Deering seemed to anticipate McCormick at every turn. The Deering factories introduced hay rakes, binder twine, and malleable castings before McCormick. To cut costs, Deering ac­quired vast ore and timber reserves, then went on to build its own blast furnace. Deering could not afford constant expansion, nor could McCormick secure the capital to buy its own steel mill. Although business was still reasonably profitable for both firms, the returns were nowhere in proportion to their growth.


The McCormick people visited New York in June, 1902 with plans of obtaining expansion capital from J. P. Morgan & Company. At this point there seemed to be no other alternative to the Deering challenge. George W. Perkins of the Morgan Company assured the McCormicks that capital could be secured. These conversations led to the subject of merger, with several conferences being held during the next few weeks.


In late July of 1902, the parties to the merger met for the first time at a Morgan conference table. Perkins, a Morgan partner, accomplished in a few weeks time what the reaper kings had never been able to do — he brought them together into a merger. The agreement to form International Harvester Com­ pany was finalized on August 12,1902. The companies sold their physical assets to the corporation for $60 million dollars. Another $50 million came from bills and accounts receivable, and an additional $10 million was issued to the House of Morgan for cash. Thus the newly formed company had a capital of $120 million.


Stockholders of Plano Manufacturing Company, McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, and the Deering Harvester Company received payment entire­ly in International Harvester Company stock. The Champion people took cash for their factories, but bought Harvester stock with their receivables. Cham­ pion at that time was sold by Warder, Bushnell & Glessner Company. Since the owners of Milwaukee Harvester Company had either died or retired, they received cash for their assets, and subscribed to none of the stock.


A voting trust was established for ten years, con­sisting of Cyrus H. McCormick as President, Charles Deering as Chairman of the Board, and George W. Perkins as the third member. For this ten year period, the voting trust exercised all the normal powers of stockholders. Perkins wisely suggested this course of action, and certainly, the voting trust carried the com­pany through a difficult transition period. Keeping the company out of the reach of speculators by means of the trust, exerted a stabilizing influence during the ten year trust period.

William Deering entered the harvester business about 1870, and rapidly built one of the largest farm implement concerns in America. Deering’s initial lack of knowledge about farm implements was largely offset by an uncanny aptitude for business management. Born in 1826, William Deering died in 1913.


During the first year of operation, the individual sales organizations were left intact, being simply renamed as divisions of International Harvester Com­pany. Old rivals in the field were technically at least, allies overnight. Despite this, rivalry continued to some extent among the partisans, from the top ranks of the company, down to the field agents and salesmen. These were not easy years for the company, but sound management, combined with common sense, put Harvester on a sound financial footing, and permitted new development in foreign trade.


New capital and new resources were combined with fresh enthusiasm for development of foreign markets. By 1906, the trade with Russia alone equalled the en­ tire export trade prior to the merger. Europe, Russia, the British Empire, South America, and Africa were all buying machines from Harvester. This early development of a virtually untapped market overseas truly made Harvester an “International” company.

Almost immediately after the company was formed, Harvester began building new factories and acquiring old, established firms. A new plant was begun at Hamilton, Ontario in 1903 on land purchased earlier by Deering. The Hamilton plant was to become a ma­jor IH operation.

Among Deering’s many implements of 1902, this WideCut grain binder was probably the best known. Its many unique features gave it a special rank in the industry. eventually, International Harvester Company selected the best features of the McCormick and Deering grain binders, thus creating an improves McCormick-Deering machine.


Another popular implement was the McCormick New 4 Mower which came into the merger, and remained there for a number of years. McCormick’s advertising stated that “in 1898 there were 25,000 more farmer orders than there were New 4 mowers”. Much of Deering’s phenomenal growth was due to an unusual sense of market potential, compared to the McCormick’s. It was satisfying to get more orders than could be filled, but this policy of conservatism did not add to the year’s profits.

The 1903 purchase of D. M. Osborne Company per­mitted expansion of the Harvester line on one hand, and eliminated a strong competitor on the other. Osborne and McCormick had been rivals for years, so the blending of Osborne into the Harvester family was a paradox. Aultman-Miller Company of Akron, Ohio was also purchased in 1903, but the acquisition was concealed from the public for several years.


The 1904 purchase of Keystone Company of Rock Falls, Illinois added tillage, haying, and other im­plements to the Harvester line. The same year, Weber Wagon Works of Chicago was purchased, adding an extensive line of wagons and other vehicles to the inventory.


A losing proposition was the 1904 purchase of the Minnie Harvester Company of Minneapolis. This com­pany had a colorful career, going back some thirty years. Among its ventures, the Minneapolis firm at­ tempted to make a grass twine. Harvester developed the technical process for making twine from flax straw. Despite the company’s success in making flax twine, the product also turned out to be a five course dinner for grasshoppers. They devoured the flaxen bands without the slightest hesitation. Nothing deter­ red them from this delicacy. After a loss of over $1 million, Harvester finally conceded to the grasshop­pers and abandoned the flax twine business.

The McCormicks entered the merger with a number of dif­ ferent harvesting machines. One of the best-known was the Folding Daisy reaper — a culmination of McCormick’s first reaper and those which followed it. Although the Daisy reaper declined in popularity by 1902, it still found extensive use in the domestic market, plus good sales overseas.


No major acquisitions were made by the company until the 1919 purchase of Parlin & Orendorff Com­pany of Canton, Illinois. P&O had long been identified as a major plow builder, and this addition strengthen­ ed the IH line of tillage implements. This was bolstered by the concurrent purchase of the Chat­tanooga Plow Works of Chattanooga, Tenn. Chat­tanooga was famous for its chilled iron plows, as well as an extensive line of cane presses and related equipment.


The first European plant was established at Norrkopping, Sweden in 1905. A manufacturing site was chosen at Neuss, Germany in 1909, and other plants were established at Croix, France and Lubertzy, Russia.


Expansion of the company was by no means limited to buying established companies or building overseas factories. Enlargement of existing plants was a con­tinual order of business. The Deering people brought a stationary gas engine in the merger. Tooling up the Milwaukee Works for large scale engine production was in itself a major undertaking.

The McCormick all-steel dump rakes were another new development, marketed only a few years prior to the merger. Again, Deering led the way with a similar outfit, and it was up to McCOrmick to follow suit, just to maintain their dominant position. Keeping abreast of industry trends, to say nothing of developing new equipment, became a breakneck race that broke many companies and financially crippled many other.


Tractor experiments began in 1905 at the Rock Falls Works under the supervision of E. A. Johnston. Through an agreement with Ohio Manufacturing Company of Sandusky, Ohio, the first International tractors appeared in 1906. These tractors used the famous Morton chassis and an International gasoline engine. The first all-International tractors appeared in 1908. By 1910, the Chicago Tractor Works had been completed. In the next few years, the “Titan” and “Mogul” trademarks became household words across America and in the far corners of the world. History was made again in 1924 with the introduction of the “Farmall” row-crop tractor. Since that time, IH has been an industry leader in the tractor business.


Trucks were an early addition to the Harvester line. Beginning with the Auto Buggy in 1907, IH began a career in the truck business that continues at the pres­ent time. Rock Falls Works was the site of early truck and auto building, followed by production from the Akron Works. In 1921, truck manufacturing was shifted to the Springfield Works, and in 1923, a totally new plant was completed at Fort Wayne, Indiana.


Although IH construction equipment is discussed only very briefly in this book, it is interesting to note that this separate division evolved from the farm equipment business. As early as 1912, a Titan tractor was designed for conversion into a road roller. Solid rubber tires mounted on a 10-20 McCormick-Deering tractor gave Harvester its first Industrial tractor in 1924. The 15-30 McCormick-Deering was similarly equipped in 1929. A 10-20 tractor was modified with a tracklaying device in 1928, marking the company’s en­ try into the crawler tractor business.


A Construction Equipment Division was created in 1944. The current Pay Line Division, formed in 1974, covers all phases of the construction, mining, materials handling, and light industrial field.

The McCormick Reaper Works in Chicago became a major factory in the new International Harvester organization. A large dock permitted direct loading onto ships. Extensive trackage on the site provided easy handling of inbound materials and outbound implements. With thousands of machines being produced annually, freight handling was a major part of the daily operation.

McCormick’s husker-shredder of 1899 was one of the com­ pany’s first secondary harvesting machines. The reaper, and later, the grain binder, were primary machines, with threshers being the secondary, or processing equipment. With the introduction of corn binders, the husker- shredder became a necessary partner in the job of convert­ ing shocked and cured corn into useable feed.
Prior to the merger, McCormick and Deering both had corn binders on the market. Each company claimed to have been first, but history reveals that the Deering model antedated the McCormick machine shown here. The fierce competition existing between these two com­panies promoted machine development — to the great benefit of agriculture!
The importance of managerial duties involved with a merger of five companies cannot be overlooked. A great many persons were needed in executive positions, just to handle the daily business. Bookkeeping, correspondence, and various other office duties required an extensive staff. For many years after the company was organized, the general offices were housed within this building, located in downtown Chicago.
This scene, taken during a plant shutdown, illustrates a portion of the foundry. Until electrically welded sections became practical, gray iron castings were the most widely used method of producing parts of great strength. Found­ ry work was a hot and heavy job. Ramming up the sand molds required considerable experience. After pouring, the castings cooled in the mold, and were then “shook out” of the sand.
Harvester’s blast furnaces in South Chicago had a 1917 capacity of 450,000 tons of pig iron. At that time the com­pany had leases on two iron ore mines in Minnesota and another in Wisconsin. A company-controlled coke works in Kentucky had a capacity of 200,000 tons per year in 1917. This scene from an International Harvester foundry shows the workmen “tapping the kettle.
Although Harvester’s early machine shops were probably among the most progressive in the industry, the machinery itself was slow and awkward by today’s stan­dards. From the largest lathe to the smallest grinder, everything was operated from lineshafting. A single large steam engine thus drove all the machinery. Each machine was individually controlled by a clutch or other arrange­ment for starting and stopping.
To illustrate all of the past and current IH plant facilities is outside of the scope of this book. A random selection of various operations includes this Farm Equipment Research & Engineering Center at Hinsdale, Illinois. Completed in 1958, this is where over 1,000 people create, design, and test new IH farm tractors and implements.
Harvester’s 1919 acquisition of the Chattanooga Plow Company gave the firm a new plant called the Chattanooga Works. The original company had long been iden­tified with chilled plows, cane mills, and other machinery. Although the tillage line was by far the most important part of this acquisition, IH continued to build cane mills for several years.
D. M. Osborne Company was a front-runner in the mower business. Back in the 1850’s, Osborne gained widespread attention with the old Kirby mower. Eventually, the Kir­by, Ketchum, and Forbush patents were controlled by Osborne, and with this extensive coverage, almost every aspiring mower builder paid cash homage to the Osborne organization.


Osborne’s No. 11 self-binder of 1894 was a lightweight, all- steel machine. When Harvester acquired the Osborne Company in 1904, this machine, along with the other Osborne implements, became part and parcel of the expanding IH line. The separate IH-Osborne implement line was discontinued about 1918.


The Osborne No. 6 machine was a combination affair that could be set up as a mower, a dropper, or a reaper. Its ex­ tensive sales were proof of its quality. The No. 8 Osborne reaper shown here was built specifically for the purpose about 1894. Reapers slowly diminished in popularity after this time.


Acquisition of the Keystone Company of Rock Falls, Il­linois brought a variety of new implements to the Harvester line. Some, like this Keystone grain binder, were apparently discontinued at that time. External ap­pearances lead to the conclusion that Keystone’s binder was a heavily-built machine. Since IH already had a wide variety of grain binder models, it appears that Keystone’s best features were adapted, and the remainder was scrapped.
Keystone’s mower was a modern machine, featuring a hinged bar and gear drive. Although “Keystone” mowers were dropped by International Harvester, it appears that the company salvaged the best features of this machine and blended them into their own designs. The result was a much better mower than previously available.


Side-delivery rakes were pioneered by the Keystone peo­ple. These implements kicked the dry hay into neat wind­ rows extending from one end of the field to the other, and opened the way for mechanical hay loaders. Harvester adapted this wood-frame design, and eventually replaced it with an all-steel machine.
Hay loaders eliminated the hard work of loading hay by hand. In the days when “horsepower” meant “horses”, large amounts of hay were required to maintain the draft animals during the winter, plus the additional amount of hay required for the other livestock. Mechanizing this part of farm life reduced the manpower requirements and increased the efficiency of time and investment.
Although McCormick, Deering, Milwaukee, and Plano each brought a husker-shredder into the IH merger, the Keystone acquisition yielded yet another. Again, it ap­pears that the Keystone machine was evaluated for new and unique features. These were then adapted to current IH machines, and the remainder was scrapped.
Harvester’s commitment to develop a reliable gasoline engine probably precluded the addition of this Keystone sweep power to the IH line. Sweep powers were one method of converting animal power into machine power. Many Keystone machines were equipped for sweep power drive, but there is no indication that IH machines were thus equipped. To operate, one to four horses would be harnessed to the sweep, to walk in an endless circle.
Grain drills were another Keystone implement that enhanced the expanding IH line. As farming became more and more mechanized, greater attention was given to careful and timely crop planting. Scattering of the seed by hand quickly was displaced by grain drills that could deposit a precise amount of seed, and in a fraction of the time formerly required.
The Keystone broadcast seeder enabled Harvester to get into this line of business. Keystone had pioneered these implements, and the acquisition of an established line was of great benefit to the Company. Harvester built a similar machine for many years, but it was eventually replaced by other machines.
Keystone disk harrows were available in 5, 6, and 7 foot models. This particular one featured a seeder attachment for planting and disking in one operation. Note the unique drive shaft mounted at the left end of the seeder. Harvester’s implement line benefitted greatly by the pur­chase of Keystone. Likewise, the Keystone implements now had the benefit of a superior sales organization.
E. A. Johnston entered the employ of the McCormicks in 1894, at the age of 18. His first patent was granted in 1897, with 162 patents being issued to him during the next forty years. In 1901, Johnston was employed by the Keystone Company. When International Harvester acquired Keystone, Johnston became an IH employee. By 1905, he designed and built the first auto-buggy, thus launching the IH truck business. Johnston’s other patents covered all phases of the farm equipment industry, including the International engines and tractors.
The Keystone planters added another dimension to the In­ternational Harvester line. This crude one-row, one-horse outfit was designed for truck farms and other small acreages. The development of two-row horse-drawn planters followed this crude machine, but later designs would include four-row tractor-drawn planters, followed by today’s commonly used eight and twelve-row models.
Advertising and product identification have always been an important part of the Harvester operations. This big steel sign adorned every International Harvester Warehouse for many years. The “ International Harvester” and “McCormick-Deering” trademarks were known wherever farm machines were used, anywhere on earth.


With the advent of gasoline engines and tractors, many IH dealers handled motor fuels as a sideline. Gas pump globes, such as the one illustrated here, provided an ex­cellent adornment to the operation. With the resurgence of antique collecting, these glass fuel pump globes are in high demand by collectors.


From 1902 until 1945, the IHC logo was recognized the world over as a symbol of quality farm equipment. During these forty years, every IH machine carried this trademark as a symbol of quality and reliability. The pres­ent IH logo, used with slight variations since 1945, is an active trademark of International Harvester Company, and cannot be legally reproduced.


The IHC double-globe decal was a beautiful piece of art­ work. Five different sizes were made for application on various machines. The hemispheres in this decal certainly characterize the “international” nature of the company. The beautiful colors used in the original decal cannot be fully appreciated in this black-and-white photograph.
Bright colors and fancy artwork typified some of the special machine decals used on IH machines and im­plements. The seat spring was usually adorned with such a decal. Twine cans on grain binders usually carried a decal, and fancy pin striping on each machine further enhanced its sales appeal.


Cast iron toys were a popular item with the young folks. During the 1920’s, a complete set of toy farm machines was available at IH dealers. These included replicas of McCormick-Deering threshers, tractors, wagons, and the International trucks. Today’s collectors of antique toys eagerly seek these replicas as collectors items at fantastic prices.