Buckeye and Empire Days
By Karl Kendig
A Centennial History of Akron 1825-1925
Summit County Historical Society, Akron, Ohio 1925, p 246-255
AN INDUSTRIAL picture of Akron,
transposed to a graphic
chart, would show that from 1864 to 1905 the agricultural
machinery and allied lines
dominated. This field of manufacturing created the same
nation-wide reputation for Akron during that
period as does the rubber
industry of today. Wherever
soil was tilled and harvests reaped, mowers, binders,
rakes, cultivators and cutting parts "made in
Akron" circulated the trade
names of "Buckeye,"
"Empire," "Excelsior," and "W & B," in this and foreign
Capitalization of these industries in hundreds of thousands of
dollars, created as much amazement or
wonder financially, as do
organizations of today with
their millions of capital. From
two to eight hundred was
the average number employed, and they were
known as "Buckeye men," "Empire
men," "Whitman & Barnes men," and so on.
In 1886 the agricultural
implement business was at its peak; the thrifty period when the plants were
working night and day and labor
fully employed. There was no Chamber of Commerce to exploit
the advantages of industrial
Akron, and various citizens and companies combined their
efforts to broadcast the advantages of Akron through periodical
C. A. Collins, Carriage Factory,
J. F. Seiberling,
president, "Empire" Works, D. L. King, president,
The King Varnish Co., Louis Miller, "Buckeye"
Works, C. F. Lamb, Whitman &
Barnes Mfg. Co., 0. C. Barber, Diamond Match Co., J. P.
Alexander, Fire Brick Works, and
L. D. Watters, mayor of Akron,
were a committee that
collaborated with publishers who issued a book in 1886
entitled "The Industries of
Akron, Ohio; Commercial and Manufacturing Advantages;
Descriptive and Biographical
Facts and Figures."
They had this to say regarding the agricultural implement
industry: "There are seven establishments
in Akron engaged in this line of
industry, two of which
are known throughout every section of the
United States. The rapid growth
of the industry of this
city, however, is not surprising when we consider
the superb advantages found
here for such manufactures.
There is no lack of raw material. The iron is
abundant and close at hand. The
woods used are at our doors in immense quantities. Steam power is
exceedingly cheap—and skilled
labor is also plentiful.
It is in consequence of this
rare combination of all the prime facilities, that Akron
has become the chief manufacturing city of farming implements and
farm labor-saving machinery in this section. Nor does the
industry here thrive by simply
making articles which
`Tom, Dick and Harry' have a perfect right to make,
or the articles for which the
privilege of manufacturing is purchased from parties abroad. Its success conies very
largely from the inventive genius that is interested directly in
the Akron manufactures. The inventions in this line, upon which
patents have been granted to Akron makers, are innumerable, and deservedly rank
among the most valuable now made subservient to the wants of the
agriculturists in this country
or any section of the world. And that they
are appreciated is fully
demonstrated by the fact that
the highest awards of merit
have been bestowed upon them."
The first reference to the manufacturing of an agricultural
implement was in 1825 when Dr. Eliakin
Crosby purchased a defunct
furnace operated on the
site now occupied by the general office of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. In a crude way he manufactured
plows, hoes and other agricultural implements
for a period of two years, when the business being found
unprofitable, he sold the property.
A lapse of thirty-five years
followed before the inception
and creation of those agricultural implement works which
were to become the foundation of Akron's
industrial reputation. Two prominent companies
were organized and started operations within a year of each
THE BUCKEYE REAPER & MOWER
WORKS.—This was an
outgrowth of the C. Aultman
& Co., of Canton, Ohio, and was
established in Akron in
1864, but under the separate and distinct corporation
title of Aultman, Miller & Co., with Hon. George W. Crouse
as president, Hon. Lewis Miller, general
superintendent, Ira Miller,
secretary, and R. H.
Wright, treasurer. Mr. Ira Miller is today the only
surviving member of that official group.
Among other men, in their day,
prominently identified with the upbuilding and progress of this company,
were : J. Asa Palmer, Josiah Hartzell, Neri
Newcomb, W. A. Means, S. S.
Miller, Maurice Snyder, Asa Hanscom, J. D. Palmer, John Grad, E.
R. Harper, 0. L. Sadler,
Ralph P. Burnett, W. K. Means, J. P.
Frisby, H. H. Crowther, R. B.
Walker, John Shafer, N. N. Lerhner, S. P. Wallace, C. 0.
Baughman, Tom Marshall, Al. Young, Wallace Carlton, A. D. Power, Dan Cameron.
The Buckeye factory, now the Akron branch of the
International Harvester Co., was located east of the old C. A. & C.
railroad, in the block between Center st. and Buchtel ay.
An average of 800 men were employed
during its existence and the products—selfbinders,
harvesters, self rakes, droppers and mowing
machines—were marketed in this
and foreign countries.
It continued to do a prosperous business until
1902 when the International Harvester Co. was organized.
Competition in the agricultural implement line became very
keen to the advantage of the larger
organization. In 1905 a receiver was appointed for
the "Buckeye" Company and its
entire assets were sold to the International Harvetser Co.,
which now manufactures International Motor Trucks in Akron.
EMPIRE REAPER & MOWER WORKS.—In
1865 J. F. Seiberling
organized the J. F. Seiberling
Co., and built his factory opposite the old Union Depot,
west of the C. A. & C. railroad, and north of
Center st., and the "Buckeye"
works. The office building faced Mill st. on the site now occupied by the Fred Albrecht
Mr. Seiberling was an inventive
genius. The "Empire" Mower and Reaper with dropper attachment, was invented
by him in 1858 and first manufactured at Doylestown in 1861,
under the name of "Excelsior."
In 1864 he began their manufacture in Massillon, but in 1865 brought the
industry to Akron. Associated
with him in the successful conduct of this
business were his two sons, F.
A. Seiberling, secretary
and treasurer, and Chas. W. Seiberling, superintendent.
Father and sons conducted the business until 1900
when the general depression of
the implement business
brought reverses. An assignee was appointed
and the business liquidated
just four years prior to the similar fate of the "Buckeye"
Identified with the progressive
activities of this company, is brought to mind the name of
W. H. Carter, who was with the old Excelsior
Mower and Reaper works in 1868 to 1874, afterward
with J. F. Seiberling & Co., until 1895. E. R. Harper was
with J. F. Seiberling & Co., 1883-4 ;
afterward he became mayor of
Akron, and later, lieutenant
governor of Colorado. J. S. Benner, W. G.
Wise and Horace Houser were
three men well known in this organization.
Prominent among the factory personnel were John
Rawlings, John Heffelman, Jacob
Carpenter, H. K. Austin,
Jonas Nice, and Wm. Eardley. L. K. Miles,
originally connected with the
Whitman & Miles Mfg. Co., was general sales agent. Howard
Sears, a young attorney, was in
charge of collections, and later became a city commissioner. He
was succeeded by J. A.
Bradley, afterward a member of the law firm of
Rogers, Rowley & Bradley.
Prominent here, also, was
Wm. Carter, who became identified with the J. F. Seiberling Co.
about 1880, and was with the company
during its entire life as an
expert accountant. Wm.
Eardley is another surviving member of the original
AKRON KNIFE WORKS.—In 1848 the
founders of the present corporation, The
Whitman & Barnes Mfg. Co., commenced in a very
small way to make knives and
sickles for mowing and reaping machines at Fitchburg, Mass.
The manufacture of mowers and reapers was at that time in its
infancy and the knives and
sickles then used were crude and imperfect. In co-operation with
the original McCormicks,
satisfactory knives were produced for the first McCormick
In 1854 a company was
established by these
founders of the original machine shop, under the name of
the Whitman & Miles Mfg. Co. Gradually
improvements were made in both
branches of manufacture and the small knife works grew and
their cutting products to all
the manufacturers then in existence in the implement line.
As the production of mowers,
binders and agricultural implements became a leading
industry, the inducements were
sufficiently attractive to establish
a plant in Akron to supply
knives, sickles, guard
plates, sections, spring keys, etc., to the "Buckeye" and
"Empire" works and the Deering and McCormick
interests in Chicago. The shops
were constructed east of
the C. A. & C. railroad, on the site occupying
the block between Buchtel av.
and Carroll sts., south of the present International
Harvester Co., under the corporate name of The Whitman & Miles
In September, 1877, the present
Whitman & Barnes Mfg. Co. was incorporated and purchased
the property and business of The
Whitman & Miles Mfg. Co., at Akron, Ohio, and Fitchburg, Mass.,
and that of George Barnes & Co., of Syracuse, New York. The
Fitchburg plant was closed and
the business conducted at Akron, Ohio, and Syracuse, New
Augustus Whitman was president
of the company from the incorporation in 1877 to 1879 ;
George Barnes, 1879-1885 ; Col. A. L. Conger, 1885-1897 ; I. C.
Alden, 1897-1899 ; Geo. E. Dana, 1899-1902 ; C. E. Sheldon,
1902-1915. These presidents presided over the affairs
of The Whitman & Barnes Mfg.
Co., during the period when the implement business was at
In May, 1880, the company
purchased the properties of Collinson, Burch & Co., of St.
Catharines, Canada, and
established the Canadian branch of The
Whitman & Barnes Mfg. Co., at
that point, where cutting parts were manufactured for the
As the demand for cutting and
kindred parts declined
with the passing of the "Buckeye" and "Empire" works, and
the market passed to the westward, the company established other
lines. In 1891 the Diamond Drill & Tool Co., a small concern operating at 226 S. Howard
st., was purchased and the manufacture
of twist drills and reamers was
transferred to a section of the Akron plant. In May, 1893, the
company began the
building of a plant at Chicago, West Pullman, Illinois, for the purpose of manufacturing cutting parts for
Deering, McCormick and other Western implement manufacturers. This
line manufactured at Akron, was transferred to West Pullman, and
the Akron plant was given over
exclusively to the manufacture of twist drills and
Gradually the western implement
manufacturers began to
produce their own cutting parts and the line was supplanted
at the West Pullman factory by the
manufacture of drop forgings, wrenches, spring cotters,
lawn mowers and haying tools. During the year 1902 the company
sold its properties in Canada and
West Pullman to J. H. Williams
& Co., of New York,
retaining the Akron, Ohio, plant, where twist drills and
reamers are manufactured.
The Whitman & Barnes Mfg. Co.
is the only surviving corporation of the group that was originally identified with
the agricultural implement business at Akron, with its present
production of twist drills and
reamers, radically different from the original output of
seventy-one years ago.
THE AKRON ROLLING MILL.—During
the first flourishing
years of the agricultural implement business, the "Buckeye"
officials looked to the establishment of a rolling mill to
furnish their steel requirements,
and formed this company in 1866. The mills
were built west of the Erie
railroad tracks on the site
now occupied by the Akron Selle
Co., and the Erie yards.
The president was Hon. Lewis Miller, Jeremiah A. Long,
secretary and treasurer, Captain Aaron
P. Baldwin, general superintendent, and Edward B.
superintendent. It was re-organized in 1900 under the title of the
Akron Iron & Steel Co. Stress of competition and the
declining demand for its products, due to the falling off of the
business, forced a liquidation and the winding up of the
In the active days of this corporation, a number
of Akron men held prominent
positions, among them :
A. B. Rinehart, W. A. Pardee, J. G. Raymond, E. W. Hull, Harry
Holloway, Frank Dodge, Fred Dodge and will McCarthy.
THE AKRON TWINE & CORDAGE
CO.—In 1885 this company
was organized and located at 110116 Hill st., in close proximity to the "Buckeye." The
line manufactured included all
kinds of Manila and sisal
twine and rope. The leading specialty was
binder twine to supply the
binders manufactured by
the "Buckeye" and "Empire" companies. The officers
were : President, Hon. Geo. W. Crouse, vice
president, F. A. Seiberling,
secretary and treasurer,
Dr. A. M. Cole. The company, closely allied with
the "Buckeye" was involved in
its financial difficulties
and passed to The International
Harvester Company, who dismantled the plant.
THE AKRON CULTIVATOR CO.—This
corporation was originally formed under the name of The
Akron Tool Co., Sept. 21, 1899,
and located its factory
at 238 N. Union st. Hiram Kendal was president,
Geo. W. Crouse, vice president,
Horace M. Houser, secretary, and Chas. A. Bowen, treasurer
and superintendent. In 1920 the business was sold to The Empire
Plow Co., Cleveland, Ohio, and
in this transaction the last of the agricultural implement
manufacturing corporations connected with Akron's past history, ceased to exist, by
removal to Cleveland.
Reference is made to the Akron
Iron Co., the Akron Twine & Cordage Co., and the Akron Cultivator
Co., as organizations closely allied to the agricultural
business. They were links in the chain, some of them
supplying materials and accessories to round out the completed
The heart of Akron's industrial
life was grouped in
these industries in the territory adjoining the railroad
between Mill and Iron sts. It was the artery of the industrial
life, and the products receiving world-wide
recognition for their merits,
were the first mediums
for spreading Akron's fame. These industries were
neighbors and competitors,
operating side by side, guided by a group of men of keen
judgment and broad vision. Not
only did they conduct their industrial
affairs successfully, but they
found time to participate
in the municipal life of the community. They fostered
and invested in infant
industries, rubber and other lines, which have survived as
monuments to them.
These pioneers have passed,
likewise the evidences
of their industrial building, but their descendants remain
to carry on. The sons of the families, particularly the
Seiberlings, F. A. and C. W., inheritors of their father's
business acumen, conceived and builded
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber and the Seiberling Rubber Companies.
Other industries had their inception and were organized
by the descendants of these pioneers, so that
in giving credit for the
present day industrial Akron, the impetus can be traced to
the energy of those early agricultural implement days.
But the decline ! It was caused
by business evolution
with its changing conditions, the transfer of the
bulk of the consuming trade for implements, to the growing
agricultural West where the corporations of McCormick and Deering,
operating from Chicago, were
able to serve and manufacture at lower costs. It
was no discredit to those early
founders that they could not survive all those uncontrollable
conditions. Today there is not in existence a single
independent agricultural implement manufacturing company of large
proportions, east of Chicago
where is located the head offices and factories
of the International Harvester Company. In it is combined
the best of all the old time companies. Financing the farmer on
the installment payment plan
was, no doubt, one of the main contributing factors
leading to the financial
reverses of these Akron implement
manufacturers. A scientific financial set-up for handling
partial payments of the rural buyers of implements, did not exist
in their days. Had current
methods of partial payment collections, as exampled
in the sale of automobiles and
other lines, been in existence in their time, the
manufacturers would, no doubt, have survived. There
was no Federal Reserve System
with its support and control to stabilize the avenues of
finance. The banks operating as
separate units, unsupported, were subject
to varying conditions of finance, both local and
national. Their clients, like themselves, were victims of unstabilized
conditions which made the financing
of long time paper of the
agricultural character, or farmers' notes, most precarious.
When panicky years developed,
loans were called. The agricultural implement
manufacturer with his long time farmers'
notes as collateral, (his chief quick assets), was caught
in a financial disaster from
which there was no relief under those existing conditions.