The History of J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company

 

If there were no other business enterprise, cultural force, educational institution or civic project to have made the name of Racine famous, the mammoth manufacturing concern operated as the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company would alone have accomplished this for today wherever grain is grown throughout the civilized world the products o f this great factory have found their way. The history of this business is in large measure the history of Racine's industrial, commercial and financial development. It was one of the pioneer industries and remains today its foremost productive concern. Century after century had passed and yet man had made practically no change in. methods of agriculture. While the founder of the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company never claimed to have been the originator of the threshing machine and always willingly gave credit therefore to its inventor, a Scotchman named Neikel, history nevertheless establishes the fact that the improvements which he placed upon the original machine were such as carried it forward to perfection by leaps and bounds. The story of the development of the threshing machine industry has been told in a volume that for literary merit and artistic skill ranks with the best. From this story we quote. "From 1787 until about 1840 the story of the development of the threshing machine is but a repetition of the history of every great invention for the world's general good. While there are always to be found men of advanced thought, who keep pace with the times, and who even anticipate man's future needs, the great mass of the human family moves slowly-they cling to old ways and traditions. Then again, the earth was not yet quite ready for the full development of mechanical devices for the harvesting and threshing of her product. . . . Along in the '40s of the nineteenth century the rapid advancement in the field of agriculture called for more modern ways and means for taking care of the product of the field. . . . The threshing machine became a human necessity. The history of the development of the modern threshing machine may therefore be said to date from 1840. To write this history is to write the history of the growth and development of the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company of Racine. Wisconsin. The business was founded by Jerome Inman Case, who was born in Oswego County, New York, in 1819.

In the spring of 1842 he bought six small threshing machines, on credit, and started for the territory of Wisconsin. He disposed of all his machines, except one, which he operated himself as a thresherman. In 1844 he built his first threshing machine, which embodied many ideas of his own, and in doing so laid the foundation of the largest manufacturing concern of its kind in the world. For a number of years he continued to do business in a small way, at the close of each year finding him a little in advance of the previous year, until in 1863 his business had assumed such large proportions that he organized the firm of J. I. Case & Company, forming a co-partnership with Stephen Bull, R. H. Baker and M. B. Erskine. These men formed an ideal combination for the growth and development of the business." From that time forward the trade steadily expanded. "The year 1897 proved to be the beginning of a new epoch in the history of the company. The process of development was gradual, keeping pace with the world's onward march of progress. In 1880 the co-partnership organized in 1863 was dissolved, the name being changed to J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company and so incorporated. In 1897, further to meet modern conditions, an entire change in the management of the company was effected, younger men, many of whom had been trained for years in the modern school of business, assuming active control of the management of its affairs. The wisdom and wise business policy of the new management is evidenced by the fact that in the nine years prior to 1906 (when the article was written) the output of the Case factory had exceeded the combined output of more than half a century prior to that time." With the development of the business many other machines have been invented and manufactured by the company, including the Case steam, kerosene and gasoline engines, while the improvements made upon the Case threshing machine have resulted in threshing the grain at the rate of from four to six thousand bushels per day. Such a machine not only saves all the grain but also weighs, measures and delivers it into wagons. The time required for the sowing, reaping and threshing of a bushel of wheat has declined from thirty-two to two minutes. "That which required hours to accomplish, at the expense of the toil and sweat of many men, is now executed in a few minutes, by few men, with ease and comfort, all because the forces of nature have been scientifically utilized. The Case separator of today is the crystallization of the inventive genius of many men, who have worked upon it for more than four score years, the expense running into millions of dollars.

"Today the home plant at Racine covers about sixty acres, while more ground is being constantly acquired and new buildings are being erected each year. The administration building was commenced in 1902 and completed in 1904, the cost with its equipment being nearly two hundred thousand dollars."

The officers of the company in the year 1916 are: Frank K. Bull, chairman of the board; Warren J. Davis, president and treasurer; E. J. Gittins, vice president; M. H. Pettit, vice president; William F. Sawyer, secretary; Stephen Bull II, assistant secretary; C. J. Farney, assistant treasurer; R. P. Howell, assistant treasurer. The directors, all elected to serve one year, are: Frank K. Bull, Warren J. Davis, E. J. Gittins, M. H. Pettit, William F. Sawyer, Stephen Bull, Frederick Robinson, Francis L. Hine, A. O. Choate, W. E. Black and F. W. Stevens. The company has a vice president in charge of sales and tour district sales managers, whose headquarters are at the general offices in Racine. It has eighty branch and sub branch houses, all under the direct management of the home office, sixty-six in the United States, scattered over thirty states, seven in Canada. one in Mexico, four in South America and two in Europe, Where the company's products are on exhibition and where it carries a stock of repair parts, extras mid supplies for quick delivery. Each year the general representatives in charge of these branch houses meet at the home office for a general conference. This meeting affords excellent opportunity for discussion of the best ways and means to promote the sales of the Case product, and is of such a nature as to infuse in them new enthusiasm, which they in turn impart to the traveling salesmen who represent their several territories, it is in this splendid organization of the work in every department that the success of the Case Company lies.

The sales organization includes also a large number of salaried traveling salesmen, representing the company in various ways in their respective territories. These salesmen have had large experience in the sale of agricultural machines, with all the mechanical details of which they are thoroughly familiar. As a rule they have been in the company's service many years, and are well and favorably known in their respective communities, being in most instances residents thereof. The fact that the salesmen are employed only on a salary basis tends to greater care on their part in their reports on proposed credits. The sales organization is so systematized as to permit close supervision and direct control from the main executive offices at Racine.

The company's executive officers have grown up in the business and are thoroughly conversant with all its branches; they have large pecuniary interests in its welfare; they reside at Racine, and give their entire time to the business of the company. The company manufactures and sells all-steel grain-threshing machines for threshing wheat, oats, barley, rye, buckwheat, clover, rice, seeds, etc., steam traction engines (from 30 to 110 horse-power), kerosene and gasoline tractors, steam road rollers, rock crushers, road graders, ensilage cutters and automobiles. The Case gas tractor has already assumed the same commanding position among its competitors which has been occupied by the Case steam tractor for so many years. At the recent power plowing contest in connection with the exposition at Winnipeg, the Case steam and gas tractors accomplished the remarkable record of winning nine out of a possible ten gold medals against all competitors, the steam tractor scoring the highest number of points in all classes. Its limited line of automobiles has been directly profitable to the company and is a valuable addition to its general lines, enabling the company to utilize its sales organization to best advantage.

The steady increase of the company's business is due in part to the extraordinary precautions which have always been taken to keep its product up to the highest standard of quality. The company manufactures all its products in its own plants. Rigid laboratory and other tests of raw materials of course are uniformly made. The trade name Case has been before the farmers of the country in connection with agricultural implements for upwards of seventy years; and the growth of the business shows continued and undiminished confidence in this company and in the machines which it sponsors. The main plant of the company at Racine is situated on navigable waters, having the advantage of both rail and lake transportation for the receipt of raw material and the distribution of finished products, both the Chicago & North-Western and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railways having switching facilities. The main plant occupies about forty acres of ground and has more than forty-acres of floor space; it is well equipped and modern in all respects and has an annual capacity of four thousand to four thousand five hundred threshers, two thousand five hundred steam engines, two hundred road rollers, two thousand gas tractors, three hundred corn shredders, five hundred hay balers and one thousand one hundred road-making machines. In addition to the main plant, the company owns a most desirable tract of land comprising one hundred acres, just outside the city of Racine, upon which, during 1912 and 1913, suitable buildings were constructed to increase the capacity of the company's main plant. The branch house properties have an actual and an appraised value of about, two million six hundred thousand dollars. During the year 1913, a total of one million nine hundred and twenty-three thousand and twenty dollars was expended toward the erection of the new plant above mentioned and in additions and improvements to the main works and motor works.

To insure and maintain a uniform and high standard of quality of all material that enters into the Case product, the chemical and physical laboratory was installed some years ago. While at no distant date the suggestion that a department of this kind should have a place in the organization of a modern manufacturing plant was met with ridicule, the important advantages resulting from the purchase of material under well defined specifications, and requiring the material to conform to certain conditions and tests therein specified, are now generally conceded. While the purpose for which this laboratory was installed has been accomplished, that of insuring a uniform and high standard of quality of raw and finished material that enters into the construction of the Case product, the results obtained have been found to show that it promotes economy in the operation of the plant. A very important feature of this department is the making of specifications for raw material and devising systematic tests for same. To make a separate specification for all material required an immense amount of testing and research work, but it has been accomplished. One of these specifications forms a part of every contract made by the purchasing department, and on delivery of the goods, if the tests made in the laboratory show that the delivered product falls short of the requirements set forth in these specifications, they are rejected.

A satisfactory test on some kinds of material can only be obtained by means of a physical test, and in such a case no time is wasted on a chemical analysis. In other cases an analysis is the only thing necessary, and no physical test is required to determine the quality. For instance, in testing leather belting no chemistry is needed, unless it is desired to know the tannage or the kind of filler used. The physical test gives the desired results. According to the specifications, single belting must show a tensile strength of not less than seven hundred pounds per inch of width. In the physical laboratory is to be found machinery for testing the tensile strength, breaking strain, shrinkage, chill and fracture of cast iron and steel, this machine having a capacity of twenty-five tons. A smaller machine with a capacity of six hundred pounds is used for determining the tensile strength of wire, leather, twine, paper, cotton duck and cloth. Babbitt, and other bearing metals, is tested on a friction machine, which records the friction, rise of temperature or heating pressure, wear, revolutions, and distance traveled. There are other machines for determining the hardness of cast iron, brass, steel, etc. The bookkeeping system employed in this department is very systematic, and records dating back for years are a valuable feature. One set of books is used for research work, one for manufacturing formulas, one for recording chemical analyses, one for physical tests, and one exclusively for foundry work.

One important part of the work of the laboratory which requires more than the simple making of chemical analyses or physical tests is in tracing the cause of failures and breakages, and finding a remedy for the trouble. Thus, if a shaft, gear, casting, or other part of a machine prove defective, or breaks from some unknown cause, the article is shipped to the laboratory and subjected to a careful examination and test. if the material be poor and the workmanship not properly done, the workman makes out a report to this effect, and the defective part is replaced free of charge. If the piece submitted for inspection proves to be of good quality, and the workmanship is properly done, the investigation is carried further, and the head chemist or foreman of the department making the part in question is dispatched to the locality where the trouble occurs, and ordered to make a thorough investigation, in order to determine the source. If an unusual strain has been applied, or unlooked for conditions introduced, the investigator is in position to suggest or make the changes necessary to meet such foreign conditions. This is an expensive method but fully repays the company, as it induces the confidence of its customers and tends to improve future work. A volume might be written on this department alone. The thorough and efficient work done in this modern adjunct of the Case organization explains the efficient working and durability of its product.

The total number of the company's employees runs from three thousand to four thousand. An "Employees' Benefit Association" was organized on January 1, 1909, the membership being purely voluntary and confined to the company's employees at Racine. The Association has made steady gains both financially and in membership and has fulfilled the purposes for which it was organized. About seventy-five per cent of all the Racine employees are now voluntary members. The object of the association is to provide a fund out of which members may receive a specified income while laid up with sickness or disabled by accident, occurring either on or off duty, and out of which specified sums may be paid to the families of members upon their death. The board of trustees consists of three trustees elected by the employees and three appointed by the company. The company made certain initial cash contributions: the members contribute annually a percentage of their wages, graduated to some extent according to the age of the members and the time of joining, and the company contributes annually a sum equal to one-tenth of the total annual contributions of the members, and agrees to make good any deficit occasioned by extraordinary losses. At the close of the association's last fiscal year, its surplus fund was nineteen thousand five hundred and sixty-nine dollars and seventy cents.

At the main plant and south works hospitals are maintained, where a surgeon and trained nurse are in attendance at all times and where free medical and surgical treatment is given to employees. At the same time, by proper machinery safeguards and otherwise, the company is doing all in its power to prevent accidents, and pursues a liberal policy toward employees injured in the service, regardless of questions of legal liability. All payments to employees on account of injuries, as well as the company's contributions to the association, are included in cost of manufacturing.

The company has always given proper attention to the subjects of fire protection and insurance. It maintains at its principal plant, night and day. a. paid fire department. including suitable apparatus and men, giving their entire time to the patrolling of the plant; it maintains an elaborate sprinkler system approved by the Senior Mutual insurance companies of New England; through an annunciator system, reports are made by the watchmen every half hour, from the various stations throughout the plant; the plant is examined every three months with reference to fire risk by inspectors appointed by the Senior Mutual insurance companies-a different man each time; the city's central fire engine house is located about eight hundred feet from the center of the company's principal plant; and withal the company carries blanket and specific fire insurance, aggregating upwards of nine million dollars, in the Senior Mutual insurance companies of New England.

The history of this gigantic enterprise would be incomplete were there failure to make reference to its trademark, a great old bald eagle known as "Old Abe." This eagle was captured by Chief Sky, a Chippewa Indian, in 1861, on the Flambeau River in Wisconsin, who traded the young bird to Daniel McCann of Evil Point for a bushel of corn. McCann carried the eagle to Chippewa Falls, where a regiment was just recruiting for the First Wisconsin Battery. Failing to dispose of his bird, he proceeded to Eau Claire and offered the eagle, now full grown and handsome, to what subsequently became Company C of the Eighth or Eagle Regiment. Captain Perkins, after considerable hesitation, accepted the volunteer, and the eagle, which was christened Old Abe, was in thirty-six battles. It is said: "At the sound of the regimental bugle he would draw in his head and bend it gracefully in anticipation of the coming shock. When the squadrons rushed into line he would tremble with excitement. When the crash came he would spring up and spread his pinions, uttering inspiring screams. The intense excitement of the march and battle, the hurrying and frightened populace, roused all the native fire and inspiration of this military bird. His appearance was at all times magnificent and picturesque. He was in his glory during battle. It was then that his eye flashed with uncommon luster. In 1880, when the soldiers' reunion, on a vast scale, was being held in Milwaukee, Old Abe attended, being carried in the procession. General Grant and Old Abe were the honored guests of this military reunion. When the band played he uttered his battle scream, consisting of five or six wild thrilling notes in quick succession. It was a great day for Old Abe. This was his last public appearance." The J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company selected Old Abe as its trade symbol and the bird has thus become known throughout the world, just as have the great machines which are manufactured by the company and which have revolutionized agricultural methods in every civilized land on the face of the globe.


Source: Racine, Belle City of the lakes, and Racine County, Wisconsin : a record of settlement, organization, progress and achievement; Chicago: S. J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1916, 1216 pgs.

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