The Sandwich Manufacturing Company of Sandwich Illinois
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the July/August 1998 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
Farm equipment companies that did not sell a “full-line” of farm equipment they were referred to as “short line” companies. Usually these short line companies did not produce farm tractors and most often did not even produce stationary engines. Inevitably, these small companies were swallowed up by larger companies and, in the process, the individual identity of these small companies was lost. Often, however, many of the greatest improvements in farm machinery were made by these short line companies. One of the most inventive and creative of all short line companies was the Sandwich Manufacturing Company of Sandwich, Illinois.
The Sandwich Company began as a concept in the mind of one person–Augustus Adams. Augustus Adams was born in Genoa, New York, on May 10, 1806. Genoa is located in the “Finger Lakes” Region of New York near Syracuse. Today, the town is known as the birthplace of Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), who was later to become the thirteenth President of the United States. Following the death of his father, Samuel Adams, in 1817 (not the famous hero of the American Revolution), Augustus was sent to live with his brother-in-law in Chester, Ohio. There, he alternated between attending school and doing farm work in the area. He was studious by nature and devoted a great deal of his leisure time to studying and reading. In 1829, he returned to the Finger Lakes Region and settled in Pine Valley located in Chemung County near Elmira, New York. In Pine Valley he opened a foundry and machine shop, which he operated until 1837 when he was smitten by the dream of seeking his fortune in the west.
A generation before John Babsone Lane Soule pronounced his famous quote of “Go West, young man” in the Terre Haute Indiana Express in 1851 (later popularized by Horace Greeley), the dream of seeking riches on the Western frontier was firing the imaginations of many young people. (John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations [Boston 1968], p. 768.) So it was with young Augustus Adams. Augustus had married Lydia A. Phelps on October 21, 1833, and started their family. Over the next few years they had four sons: Darius (August 26, 1834); J. Phelps (September 18, 1835); Henry A. (January 21, 1837); and John Q. (July 23, 1839). However, Augustus was extremely reluctantly to take his family to the untamed western frontier, and so he left them in New York while he struck out for the town of Elgin, located in northern Illinois, northwest of Chicago. He intended that the family would follow as soon as he could make decent living arrangements for them on the frontier in Illinois.
Augustus, who from his own experiences in working on a farm, knew that much hard, laborious hand work was involved in raising and harvesting crops. Consequently, he understood that the future of any business would be assured if the business could build labor-saving farm equipment, and over the next several decades, the company that Augustus Adams founded would do just that.
At first, Adams set out building a “grain harvester” which cut the grain and collected it on a platform to be bound. Of course, Cyrus McCormick had already built the first machine for cutting grain on the McCormick farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1831, but Virginia was a long way from Northern Illinois in the 1830s. Besides, Augustus had several refinements that he wished to see incorporated into the grain cutting machine that were not part of the McCormick machine. If he could manufacture his machine in substantial quantities, Augustus would have the entire local market for these machines completely to himself. By the fall of 1838, Augustus’ original grain harvester was in operation. That same fall, Augustus established a foundry and machine shop in Elgin to build duplicates of the harvester to sell to area farmers.
In the fall of 1840, Augustus was finally able to bring his wife and four sons to join him in Elgin, Illinois. Soon their family grew to include five more children: H. Raymond (June 29, 1842); Amy W. (May 29, 1844); Oliver R. (September 10, 1845); Walter G. (July 12, 1848); and Charles H. (February 17, 1855).
In 1841, Augustus took on a partner in his business venture: James T. Gifford. Theirs was a small operation, but it was marked by a generous spirit. Once Augustus needed a small amount of hard coal for experimentation purposes, so he ordered a couple hundred pounds from a commission house in Chicago. Two months later, he received word that his coal had arrived in Chicago, but the amount that had actually been sent was a full ton. The commission house was put in a difficult spot because it had no immediate prospect of selling the coal. However, Augustus Adams good-naturedly agreed to help the commission house out by purchasing the full ton of coal.
Over the years, Augustus continued to work on improvements to the grain harvester. One such improvement was developed by Augustus in partnership with another inventor, Philo Sylla. This was the “hinged sickle bar.” The hinge at the base of the sickle bar allowed the sickle bar to be held in an upright position for transport. This was the first time that such a hinge had been used on a mower. The hinged sickle bar has remained a standard part of sickle bar mowers down to the present day.
In 1856, Augustus moved his company from Elgin to Sandwich, Illinois, 35 miles to the southwest. There, he and his oldest sons–Daius, J. Phelps and Henry–established a new machine shop under the name of A. Adams & Sons. Augustus became the president of the company; his second son, J. Phelps, became secretary; and his third son, Henry A., became treasurer. One of the major benefits of moving to Sandwich was that the town was served by the newly completed Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad or C.B. and Q. line running east and west through the town. It was now possible for rail traffic to run uninterrupted from Chicago, through the town of Sandwich, and on to the Mississippi River town of Burlington, Iowa. (Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State [Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, Mich. 1972], p. 247.) Consequently, products produced by A. Adams and Sons would most assuredly reach nearly every major point in the midwest by direct connection with the C.B. and Q. railway.
Because corn was already replacing wheat as the leading farm crop in Illinois, it was natural that a great many machine shops in Illinois began manufacturing machines which would aid in processing corn. The A. Adams and Sons machine shop was no exception. Because shelled corn was easier to store and transport, due to the reduced amount of space needed for shelled corn in a sack as opposed to ear corn, corn shelling machines were in great demand by farmers. Thus, in 1856, A.Adams and Sons began experimenting with a “power corn sheller” in 1856. The first Adams sheller was powered by a small steam engine. By 1857, the power corn sheller was in operation, having been improved by the addition of a larger steam engine which could keep the corn sheller working at optimum speed. This larger steam engine was easier to obtain in quantity, and so better suited to Adams’ purposes when A.Adams and Sons began to mass produce the corn sheller.
Over the years, Augustus patented several of his ideas for improvements to the corn sheller; including a multiple spring-type sheller, employing steel rods in the cage of a cylinder sheller, using an adjustable limit stop on the rasp bar of the sheller, providing a flat rim flywheel for the belt drive, providing open driving teeth on the feeder wheel to prevent crushing of kernels, and utilizing offset teeth on the feeder wheel to provide easy entry of the ears. Adams’ most important innovation, however, was the “self feeder” for the corn sheller which was invented in 1860. The self feeder was the same type of chain, drag-line self feeder that is used on modern corn shellers designed for shelling corn from corn cribs. The power self feeding corn sheller marketed by Adams and Gifford became a very popular item.
At about the same time, Adams’ shop also started making mechanical hay presses, forerunners of the modern hay baler. The stationary hay press was most often powered by horses harnessed to a revolving device called a “sweep,” where the horses walked around in circles and generated power which was transferred to the hay press by belt. The hay press also became a popular mass-produced item sold by the Adams’ shop. By 1861, the Adams machine shop was employing a large force of men in the manufacture of corn shellers and hay presses.
In 1861, fire destroyed the machine shop. However, Augustus took advantage of this loss to expand his business by building newer, larger facilities. On April 15, 1867, the Adams firm was incorporated as the Sandwich Manufacturing Company.
Personal loss, however, tempered the joy of starting a new enterprise in the new location, as Augustus’ wife Lydia died on December 14, 1867. On January 13, 1869, Augustus Adams would marry Mrs. L.M. Mosher. In 1870, Augustus established his younger sons in a new Sandwich Company-owned facility in Marseilles, Illinois. The town of Marseilles was chosen because of the water available at that location which promised to be a cheaper source of power than the steam power used at Sandwich. The new corporate entity, known as the Marseilles Manufacturing Company, was organized to handle the manufacture of the corn sheller, while the Sandwich Company itself concentrated on the manufacture of the hay press. In 1873, Augustus Adams resigned from his position as president of the Sandwich Manufacturing Company and left the running of that company to his older sons while he went to Marseilles to join his younger sons and to become president of the Marseilles Manufacturing Company.
The older Adams sons, now in total charge of the Sandwich Company, entered into a joint venture with William Low and T.L. French for the production of grain binders in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The joint venture first was called the Low, Adams and French Harvester Company. It later became the Adams and French Harvester Company. The first models of grain binders the partnership produced were hand binders; however, they were pioneers in the development of the wire self-tying grain binder. All the grain binders sold by the Cedar Falls-based venture were manufactured at the facilities of the Sandwich Company. Later, the Sandwich Company bought out the other partners and became the sole owner of the binder manufacturing operation.
In 1883, the Sandwich Company was struck by another devastating fire which destroyed all of its factory buildings in Sandwich, Illinois. Once again, the company had to rebuild its factory from scratch, and once again, the company took the opportunity to expand their facilities as it rebuilt the factory.
As a natural consequence of being involved in the manufacture of the hay press, the Sandwich Company turned its inventiveness to other machines to ease the labor involved in hay-making on the average farm. One particular hay-making machine was soon to become one of the Sandwich Company’s best sales items. This was the hay loader.
An Iowa inventor had created a sensation among farmers in 1890 by his successful demonstration of a hay loader which followed a wagon and incorporated a raking cylinder pickup to lift hay automatically from the ground to the wagon. The Sandwich corporate leadership quickly saw the possibilities of this hay loader and, in 1891, contracted with the inventor to obtain exclusive rights to manufacture this hay loader under its name. The Sandwich Company started producing two separate models of their hay loader–”Old Reliable” (later named “Clean Sweep”) and the “Easy Way.” The Sandwich Company made several improvements to the original design of the hay loader, most important of which was the creation of the push-bar elevator. Soon hay loaders of similar designs were being manufactured by many different companies and being sold by the thousands. However, hay loaders, of whatever manufacture, always retained the same basic design as had been incorporated in the original Sandwich design.
Although advertisements for the “Clean Sweep” hay loader indicated that the hay loader would work well on hay either in a swathe or a narrow windrow, clearly the Clean Sweep, like all hay loaders, would work better when the hay had been raked into a windrow. For one thing, the horses pulling the wagon and hay loader could walk on either side of a narrow windrow and not have to tread on the new hay. Furthermore, because the windrow was narrow, the whole width of the pickup cylinder on the hay loader was used. Consequently, turning the corner of a windrow could be accomplished much easier, with less hay being left on the ground. Answering the need for a windrowing device, the Sandwich Company pioneered the development of the side-delivery hay rake whose basic design would remain unchanged to this day. Indeed, with the advent of the mechanical hay loader and the side-delivery rake to the farm, the dump rake and hand-loading with a pitch fork would be replaced within a very short period of time. Furthermore, the pattern of hay making was established and would remain unchanged for the next 60 years. The Sandwich Company had a great deal of influence on this process.
In 1894, the Sandwich Company designed and built a portable grain elevator intended for use on the typical family farm. Several years later, after finalizing refinements to the basic design, the portable grain elevator was mass produced for sale to the public. Here, too, a number of innovations were made to the elevator and wagon unloading: including a safety screw-type raising and lowering device for the wagon dump; use of steel troughs stiffened by double truss rods; reinforcing the steel metal troughs with box crimps; employing steel rather than malleable chain; and making the carrying truck adjustable to accommodate elevators of various lengths.
Additionally, some time before 1908, the Sandwich Company began production of several different models of its own internal combustion “hit and miss” stationary engines. Among these engines were the 1-1/2 hp. “Cub;” the 1-3/4 hp. “Junior;” the 2-1/2 hp. Model T; and a 4 hp. engine. Sandwich also offered two different models of a 6 hp. engine, an 8 hp. engine, and a 10 hp. engine. These engines were sold separately, or as sources of efficient power for hammer mills, portable grain elevators, and other equipment in the growing line of Sandwich Company products.
The Sandwich Company continued to grow in size throughout the Golden Age of American agriculture (1865-1920) with only a few dips. In 1904, the Company reported gross sales of $925,994.59. However, in 1907, there was a dip in gross sales to $736,490.78 caused by the contraction of the money supply in October of that year which has been called the Panic of 1907. (George E. Mowry, The Era of Theodore Roosevelt [Harper Bros.: N.Y. 1958], p. 217.) Still, in 1907, the Sandwich Company employed more than 250 people. In 1908, gross sales returned and were in excess of $819,500.00.
Meanwhile, a very efficient sales network had been established by the Sandwich Company with branch offices in Council Bluffs, Iowa; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Peoria, Illinois; Bloomington, Illinois; and Kansas City, Missouri, all of which had rail connections to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Warehouses for storing its machinery were established across the country at strategic locations such as Sioux City, Iowa; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Jackson, Michigan; Denver, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Los Angeles, California. Additionally, Sandwich began selling farm machinery to South Wales, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Central and South America, and especially to the Republic of Argentina after J. Phelps Adams made several trips there to develop contacts. Locally, Illinois farmers could buy Sandwich equipment from dealers in Somonauk, Shabbona, Hinckley, Big Rock, Aurora, Yorkville, Waterman, Earlville, and DeKalb. Similar dealership networks existed in other states, making the various Sandwich Company farm machines available to farm customers across the midwest. One of these customers was John Marshall Hanks and his son Fred Marshall Hanks of Winnebago, Minnesota.
Fred Marshall Hanks farmed his parents’ (John Marshall and Charlotte Bruce Hanks) farm in Verona Township, Faribault County near Winnebago, Minnesota. Fred Marshall and his father were both born in Warren, Vermont. In 1880, John Marshall brought his family to Minnesota. From 1880 until 1882, the family rented the Hamelau farm directly adjacent to the District No. 5 Schoolhouse in Verona Township. In 1882, they purchased a 160-acre farm one mile to the south and about a half mile to the west of the Hamelau farm. In 1900, the family had purchased the neighboring 40-acre Baldwin farm to add to their 160 acres.
Because his father liked woodworking (and indeed was a master woodworker) and was busy putting his skills to work in a profitable way by building barns in the surrounding neighborhood, much of the farming operation fell to Fred Marshall. However, Fred Marshall really loved farming and had many ideas for improvements. One such improvement was to shorten the labor-intensive job of putting up hay for the livestock each year. Like most farmers with dairy operations, the Hanks family had to store a great deal of hay to feed the cattle in winter. Hay-making was a big job which took days, and even weeks, to perform under the hot summer sun. Of course, mowing the hay was done with a horse-drawn mower and the hay dried in a swathe. Gathering the hay into bunches in the field could be accomplished by use of a team of horses and a dump rake. (The dump rake used by the Hanks family is still located on the Harlan Hanks farm in rural Winnebago, Minnesota.) Loading of the hay was, however, accomplished entirely by hand.
In late June of 1911, with the sweet smell of freshly mown hay in the air (the mowing had been accomplished the day before), Fred and his sons, 15-year-old Howard and 8-year-old Stanley, headed to the hay field with pitchfork in hand, a team of horses, and a hayrack. The morning milking was done and the dew had lifted. Grandfather John Marshall was already in the field with another team of horses, pulling the hay together in piles with the dump rake. Once in the field, young Stanley, driving a team of horses, moved the hayrack from one pile of hay to the next as his older brother, father, and grandfather loaded the hayrack full of hay. One fork-full at a time, the entire hay crop would be loaded onto successive wagons and hauled to the barn. It was a tedious, time-consuming job which could last for days, two or three times a year, as the first, second, and third cuttings of hay were harvested. Therefore, it is easy to understand the intense desire of Fred Marshall to find an easier way to put up the hay crop.
After pondering the question all winter, Fred went to Winnebago in the spring of 1912 and ordered a “Clean Sweep” hay loader made by the Sandwich Company and a Keystone side-delivery rake. That summer, the new Sandwich hay loader was put to use on the Hanks farm and considerably shortened the hay season. (A more detailed description of the Sandwich hay loader on the Hanks farm during the 1919 hay harvest is contained in the article “The Larson Bundle Wagon” on page 28 of the March /April 1996 Belt Pulley, Vol. 9, No. 2.)
There were two major shortcomings to the Sandwich Clean Sweep hay loader: first, it was made largely of wood; and second, it was extremely tall. Indeed, the tall, awkward nature of any model hay loader meant that it was destined to be stored outside all winter long. This meant that the weather would have a very real deleterious effect on the hay loader, especially its wooden parts, and like most farms, indoor storage space was at a premium on the Hanks farm. Consequently, by 1920, the badly deteriorated wooden Sandwich hayloader had to be replaced by a brand new John Deere-Dain direct-drive, all-steel hay loader.
Another drawback to the Sandwich hay loader was that it required the use of three horses to pull the wagon and the hay loader. The Clean Sweep’s wooden frame pickup cylinder was heavy and created a heavy draft. By comparison, the new John Deere-Dain hay loader purchased by the Hanks family in 1920 had a lighter-weight pickup cylinder made of metal which considerably lighten the draft and required only a two-horse hitch.
In the pattern of the harvest season on typical midwestern farms, the hay harvest is followed by the oat and wheat harvest. Between the years of 1911 and 1919, the Hanks family hired their neighbor, Ray Iliff, to thresh their wheat and oats. Here again, the Sandwich Manufacturing Company played a role. In the evening of one summer day in 1911, a Minneapolis steam engine came chugging down the road toward the Hanks farm with a 36″ x 58″ Minneapolis thresher in tow. Ray Iliff had just finished threshing at another farm and was bringing the thresher to the Hanks farm where he would begin threshing the next morning. In the approaching darkness, the groans and creaks of the steam engine, as well as the size of the engine and thresher with its Garden City Company double-wing feeder extensions, created a frightening specter in the mind of young 6-year-old Harlan. He ran inside the house and stayed there, where he explained the scary scene to his mother, “Nettie” (Jeanette Ogilvie Hanks). Only the excitement of threshing the next day brought Harlan out of the house to view the steam engine and thresher in the light of day. The new day brought another Ray Iliff machine down the road. Horses pulled into the Hanks farm yard with the Sandwich portable grain elevator. Accompanying the elevator was a hit and miss Sandwich engine dressed in its rich Brewster green paint striped in gold and light green.
Even though the Sandwich elevator was portable, it took a lot of work to set it up at each farm. Indeed, young Harlan Hanks remembered that the Sandwich elevator was only used one year on the Hanks farm because it was regarded as too much bother to set it up for the amount of time it might save. The men setting up the portable elevator barely had enough time to get the stationary “hit and miss” engine started and the elevator operating before the first wooden “double box” wagon load of grain would come into the yard.
With the arrival of the Sandwich hay loader on the farm and now this new motorized method of lifting grain into the granary by means of a Sandwich elevator, Howard must have thought modern farming had truly arrived on the farm. Thus, he got his new camera and snapped a picture. Such a sight was surely worthy of being preserved on film. Forty-seven years later, Howard’s grandson, the current author, would also take a picture of a grain elevator in operation on his home farm loading oats into a grain bin. At 9 years of age, this would be one of the author’s first photographs. (Incidentally, this picture is carried in an article on page 30 of the November/December 1993 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 6, No.6.)
Howard was right. Modern farming had arrived on the Hanks farm in 1912. The Sandwich Manufacturing Company had been responsible for bringing modern operations to the Hanks farm just as it had to many other farms. The Sandwich Company continued to grow on the basis of its innovative machines and farmers’ demands for modern Sandwich Company farm equipment products. At its peak, the Company would employ 400 persons. As the agricultural market began to shrink following World War I, however, the United States rural economy began to enter its depression in 1921. The Sandwich Company, like other farm equipment companies, found itself in a bind. Things progressively went from bad to worse for the Sandwich Company, as the agricultural depression of the 1920 deepened and spread into the industrial sector following the 1929 stock market crash. However, in 1930, the Sandwich Manufacturing Company was sold to the New Idea Spreader Company of Coldwater, Ohio. New Idea continued to sell Sandwich corn shellers, hay mowers, side rakes, portable grain elevators, and, of course, the famous “Easyway” hayloader under the New Idea Company name. In 1945, AVCO would buy out the New Idea Company. Manufacture of the hay loader would cease altogether some time between 1949 and 1952, as more and more farmers began baling their hay.
The old plant in Sandwich would continue to manufacture farm machinery, including mowers, side rakes and elevators, until 1955, when the antiquated little factory in Sandwich would be closed down permanently. Although the facilities would continue for a time as a sales division and warehouse for machine parts manufactured by the New Idea Division of AVCO, the town of Sandwich realized that it had lost its primary employer, and the city mourned that loss.
Today, the community of Sandwich still fondly remembers the farm equipment company. Today, Sandwich has its own historical society which has collected much material on the Sandwich Company. Sandwich resident, Roger Peterson, has collected a number of antique Sandwich Company gas engines as a hobby. Perhaps in the near future, a club of collectors and restorers will spring up which will make some of the old Sandwich Company’s machines come alive again for the public to enjoy. This would be a fitting tribute to the small company that was a pioneer in so many areas of American agriculture.