Pioneer Implement House and the Great Binder Wars

       The Pioneer Implement House Farm Equipment Dealership of Winnebago, Minnesota, and the Great Binder Wars of the 1890


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the July/Augsut 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine 

        This article remains under construction.  Periodically, new blocks of text will appear in the article and/or  current blocks of text will be corrected.

An advertisement of the Champion grain binder which date from before the 1903 merger of the Champion Machine Company with the International Harvester Company.

In the 1880s, farming was in its golden age.  As old painful memories of the Panic of 1873 were fading, a new generation came with a whole new set of advantages to make farming easier.  To be sure, mechanical cutting of wheat and oats had been developed well prior to the Civil War, with most credit going to Cyrus McCormick for the invention of the successful reaper in 1831.

McCormick’s reaper was a big improvement over the hand-cutting of the grain with a scythe. However, as seen here the reaper still required the farmer to rake the grain from the floor of the reaper onto the ground.

The McCormick reaper was a true labor savior.  However, harvesting small grains still required a tremendous amount of manpower, because reapers basically only cut the grain.  Even raking the cut grain from the cutting table was done by hand.  Even after cutting the grain with the binder, the grain needed to be tied into secure bundles and then the bundles were placed upright into “shocks” where the grain was allowed to”sweat” or dry out completely under the summer sun.  Picking up the piles of loose grain and using some of the grain to tie a band around the grain and then shocking the grain was a job that employed all the family and the even the neighbors.

This picture shows the hand labor that was still needed to tie grain into secure bundles and then to place the secured bundles into “shocks.”  This was a large operation involving the whole family and the neighbors. Note how the bundles are being secured by tying some the grain around the bundle.

The daisy-wheel self-raking reaper eliminated  the need for a person to walk along side the reaper and rake the grain off the floor of the reaper. (A picture of the daisy wheel reaper can be seen in C. H. Wendel’s book 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishers: Sarasota, Fla., 1981], p. 20.  Also the daisy wheel reaper can be seen below working in the field in the picture below.   Additionally, there is a daisy wheel self-raking reaper among the permanent collection at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show which can be seen in the parade at the 1992 show on the second hour portion of Tape #1 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)

The daisy-wheel reaper at work in the field. While the daisy-wheel reaper cut and raked the grain off the platform onto the ground in the grain field,, the reaper had no way of tying the bundles with either wire or twine,

While the daisy self-raking reaper was a big advance in technology, grain harvesting still required a great deal of hand labor.  The next real advance in the area of small grain harvesting came only in 1873 with development of the wire-tied grain binder by the Walter A. Wood Mowing and Reaping Machine Company of Hoosick Falls, New York.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques [Krause Publications: Iola, Iowa, 1997], p. 160.)  Soon the basic design of the Walter A. Wood binder was copied by many other farm equipment manufactures and there was an explosion of demand for these automatic binders.  No longer did crews of family and neighbors need to tie the grain into secure bundles by hand,  Each bundle was secured by wire tied around the bundle automatically by the binder.

Walter Abbott Wood is credited with inventing the first combined reaper/binder which automatically cut and bundled the grain and tied each bundle with wire.  The Walter A. Wood Company binder set the standard for all  subsequent binder manufacturers.

The advantages of self-binding reapers were very quickly recognized by the farming public and demand for these binders skyrocketed.  In 1876, 5,000 binders were purchased by Minnesota farmers alone.  (Theodore C. Blegen, Minnesota: A History of the State [University of Minnesota Press: St. Paul, 1963], p. 342)  By 1880, the knotter-bill design for twine-tying of grain bundles was perfected.  That same year, the Deering Harvester Company made 3,000 of these twine-tying grain binders for the 1880 harvest season.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida, 1981], p. 23)  Twine was a great improvement over wire because farmers would not have to worry about pieces of wire breaking off and getting into the grain where it might be accidentally swallowed by cows.  Small bits of metal swallowed by cows tended to get stuck in the lining of the cows’ stomachs and would cause “hardware disease,” a disease which causes cows to become sickly and eat less.  Thus, beef cattle will gain less weight and milk cows will produce less milk.  Twine, on the other hand, if accidentally swallowed, was harmless to the intestinal tracts of cattle.

Twine is sold in individual spools or “balls” for use in twine-tying binders. The end of the twine string sticking out of the center of the ball seen here can be tied to another string at the bottom of any partial ball already in the binder to allow for longer use of the binder in the field before needing to add more twine.

Demand for the new twine-tying grain binders caused many companies to be formed solely for the purpose of making binders and caused other, older companies to focus more directly on the booming binder market.  Not only did the grain binder create opportunities for the manufacturers of farm equipment, but opportunities were also created at the retail end of the farm machinery business.  Many young men became aware of these opportunities for selling farm machinery, especially grain binders, to the farming public.  One such young man was John Azro Hanks.

Born on December 16, 1860, on a farm near Warren, Vermont, John Azro Hanks was the second child and first son of John Marshall and Charlotte (Bruce) Hanks.  A lifelong lover of books and an avid reader, John Azro completed his schooling in Warren, and went on to graduate from Randolph Normal School in Randolph Center, Vermont.  He had taught one year of school (1879-1880) in Vermont, when, in August of 1880, his parents and younger brother Fred Marshall moved to Minnesota and settled on a farm in Verona Township, Faribault County, near the town of Winnebago.  They intended to get settled on a farm before spring field work would begin.  John Azro, who was 20 years old at this time, remained in Vermont to teach school for another year before he too would immigrate to Minnesota in the spring of 1881.  (John Azro also had an older sister – Ellen Ione Hanks – who was 26 years of age in 1880 and had been married to George Provonche since February 11, 1874.)

This is a picture of the John Marshal and Charlotte (Bruce) Hanks family. Their adult children are standing behind them. John Azro Hanks, founder of the Pioneer Implement dealership, is standing on the left side of the photo.  (Their other son, Fred Marshal standing on the left side of the photo, is actually the great-grandfather of the current author.)

Since some arrangements for their arrival had already been handled by Charlotte’s sister Arvilla (Bruce) Foss and her husband Oliver Perry Foss who were already residents of Verona Township, John Marshall and his family were able to move onto the Hamelau farm which was right next to the District No. 5 schoolhouse.  During the first year that John’s parents and young Fred were in Minnesota, they found that District No. 5 needed a teacher for the school year 1881-1882.  Thus, they urged John Azro to make haste to come to Minnesota and obtain this job.  When John Azro did arrive in Vernon Township, he obtained the job in the District No. 5 School and continued to teach there during that school year and the next – 1882-1883.  During the summers, however, between the school terms, John Azro helped his father and brother operate the farm.  Regular readers of Belt Pulley will remember that John Marshall Hanks was also a very good carpenter and, as a consequence, he was in strong demand in the neighborhood to build the many barns that farmers needed for their growing farms.  (See “The Sandwich Manufacturing Company of Sandwich, Illinois” in the July/August 1998 issue of The Belt Pulley, Vol. 11, No. 4, p. 19.)  Under his father’s tutelage, John Azro himself developed into a pretty fair carpenter as he aided his father in building these barns.  By 1884, the Hanks family had saved up sufficient money to purchase a tract of 160 acres located about a mile and a half southwest of the Hamelau farm at the agreed price of $8.75 per acre.  They purchased the land from Thomas and Laura Kennedy and moved onto the farm on March 14, 1884.  However, the only buildings on the farm were a small, log building used as a barn and a 16’ by 24’ corncrib.  Due to this shortage of buildings, the Hanks family converted the corncrib into their first house.  (Over the many years following, the house was improved and additions were added.  When the farm became a Minnesota Century Farm in 1984, the living room of the house was still the original remains of the converted corncrib.)

The year 1884 also brought changes in the personal life of John Azro.  He had gotten to know a young woman from Pilot Grove Township by the name of Ellen Reid Ogilvie, who was the daughter of James and Hellen (Cherry) Ogilvie.  James and Hellen Ogilive were one of the original four Scottish families who had settled in Pilot Grove Township in 1858.  When they arrived in Pilot Grove Township, James and Hellen Ogilvie chose a location for their farm on the north shore of Weasel Lake, where Ellen was born and raised.  (It is interesting to note that Weasel Lake was drained many years ago to provide more farm land.  However, now the lake is being re-dredged under the supervision of the State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources.)

On October 31, 1884, John Azro and Ellen Reid were married.  At first they lived in the small Hanks family house with his parents and his brother Fred Marshall.  Later, they rented and occupied an 80-acre farm adjacent to the Hanks home farm.  (In 1945, John Azro’s nephew, Harlan Hanks, would purchase this farm.)

By 1892, John Azro and Ellen Reid had two children (Ellen Charlotte, born on October 3, 1886, and James Marshall, born on January 23, 1889).  However, John Azro did not feel content on the farm.  He felt that he must try something else for a living.  Through his reading, he had become aware of the money that could be made in the sale of farm machinery.  Accordingly, when a chance to purchase the Pioneer Implement House dealership in Winnebago arose, he jumped at the opportunity.  Thus, in 1892, John Azro moved his young family the short distance into the town of Winnebago (1890 pop. 1,108.)  The Pioneer Implement House dealership was located on Main Street, at the intersection of  1st Avenue Southeast.

The building that once housed the Pioneer Implement dealership still stands at the corner of Main Street and 1st Avenue in Winnebago Minnesota.

First established in 1870, before John Azro Hanks even arrived in Minnesota, the Pioneer Implement dealership in Winnebago had been a “short dealer” for Champion grain binders, Moline, Tricycle and Little Yankee plows, and other lines of farm equipment, including seeders, drills, drags, harrows, hay rakes, and both single and double box wagons and buggies.  The Little Yankee plow was actually made by the Grand Detour Plow Company of Dixon, Illinois.  Prior being headquartered Dixon, the Company had been founded in 1837 in Grand Detour in Ogle County in northwestern Illinois,  Grand Detour is widely noteworthy for their blacksmith, who  in 1837 became quite famous for having perfected the use of a steel bottom plow.  This blacksmith was John Deere.

rand Detour’s very famous blacksmith–John Deere.  John Deere had just been recognised as the inventor of the successful steel plow in that same yeafr of 1837.  In 1848, however, Adrus and John Deere had a falling out and each went their own way.  John Deere went to Moline, Illinois, wher he founded a new company–Deere and Company.  Major Andrus stayed in Grand Detour selling his plows until after the Civil War in 1869, when he moved across the county line into Lee County, Illinois, and into the larger town of Dixon, Illinois (1860 pop 2,218).  In 1879,the business firm actually incorporated as the Grand Detour Plow Company.  The Company kept growing and expanding the line of plows.  In 1887, the Company added the Little Yankee plow to their plow line.  By 1890, Grand Detour was making more than 100 different models of plow in varying styles and sizes.  In 1919, Major Andrus sold the Grand Detour Plow Company to the J. I. Case /threshing Machine Company.

The cover of an advertising booklet showing just one of the 100 styles and sizes of plow made by Grand Detour Plow Company after they moved to Dixon, Illinois in 1869.

During the first few days of his new business, John Azro became acquainted with Frank Deudon, the local agent for the Moline Plow Company of Moline, Illinois.  Frank lived in Blue Earth, Minnesota (1890 pop. 1,569), the county seat of Faribault County, located nine miles to the south-southeast of Winnebago.  Frank would submit orders for equipment and arrange for the delivery of that equipment from the Moline Plow Company distributing depot – or “branch house” – in St. Paul, Minnesota, on behalf of all the dealerships in his sales district.  Frank also distributed sales advertising literature to these dealers.  Farmer’s pocket diaries were an especially popular item.  These diaries were just the right size for the pocket of bib overalls or for a shirt.  Blank pages on which a farmer could keep notes were interspersed with advertising of Moline Plow Company products.  There was also a calendar for the current year located in each pocket diary.

John Azo Hanks sits at his desk in the office of the Pioneer Implement dealership in Winnebago, Minnesota.

On one trip to Winnebago to help John Azro Hanks get started in his new business, Frank found that he had no current pocket diaries for 1892.  He did not even have any from the previous year.  All he had were some of the old diaries from 1882 – his first year as an agent.  Frugal as he was, John Azro insisted that the 1882 diaries would do until Frank could obtain new diaries.  Besides, as he later told his family, the line-up for the days of the month in 1882 were the same as they would be in the year 1893.  (This particular diary is still in the possession of the family of the late Justine (Oliver) Lawrence – granddaughter of John Azro – of Spicer, Minnesota.)

People liked John Azro because he knew all kinds of interesting, little trivia things – like the fact that the calendars of 1882 and 1893 were exactly the same.  However, he wasn’t considered a know-it-all and he didn’t flaunt his knowledge to all around him on every occasion.  Indeed, he was relatively quiet.  But at times, he would add something really amazing to the conversation, perhaps because he seemed to be reading all the time.  During this time, he subscribed to the Phrenological Journal and Science of Health, published by the Fowler & Wells Company located at 27 East 21st Street in New York City.  (The January 1894 through January 1895 issues of this magazine are still in existence and are also in the possession of John Azro granddaughter Justine.)  The term “phrenology” refers to the study of the character traits of a person as it may be related to the size and shape of features of the person’s head.  Clearly, few other people in Winnebago knew about these things.  John Azro appeared to be one of the most educated people in town, and people responded to him in that way.  When he first arrived in Winnebago, he joined the Winnebago City Businessmen’s Association.  Later, John Azro was elected secretary.  Still later, John Azro served as Winnebago’s City Recorder.

Getting started with his business, John Azro ordered a box of new stationary emblazoned with “Pioneer Implement House, John A. Hanks, Proprietor” on the letterhead.  The letterhead advertised a full line of “Farm Machinery and Implements” as well as “Hardware Specialties.”  The Moline Plow Company, through its agent Frank Deudon, would be able to provide the Pioneer Implement House with “Western,” “Imperial” and “Pearl” cultivators, harrows and scrapers, as well as the new “Flying Dutchman” plows.  Flying Dutchman was the trademark name attached to the new sulky plows introduced in the 1890s.  This trademark proved to be very popular in southern Minnesota, and indeed in Faribault County (the 1890 census for Faribault County revealed that out of a total population of 25,966 people, 15,519 were native born and 2,053 were born in Germany.)  (George E. Hallberg, Legislative Manual of Minnesota [Harrison and Smith Pub.: Minneapolis, 1897], pp. 510 and 530.)  The Flying Dutchman trademark would remain very popular until the entry of the United States into the First World War, when anti-German sentiment across the nation forced the Moline Plow Company to drop its name.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques {Krause Pub.: Iola Wisc., 1997], p. 277.)

John Azro did not expect the mainstay of his income from the Pioneer Implement House to be from the sale of sulky plows, drags and scrapers; rather, he expected the twine-tying Champion grain binder to be the leading sales item offered by his dealership.  The huge demand for twine-tying grain binders that John Azro had read about while still on the farm was what had encouraged him to buy the dealership in the first place.  In the small town of Winnebago he faced stiff competition from a store that carried McCormick grain binders, as well as the Eygabroad and Hill dealership which sold Minneapolis Threshing Machine steam engines and Columbia threshing separators.

All during the 1880s, demand for farm machinery had flourished, and the future continued to look bright in 1892.  During its first year in business, the Pioneer Implement House sold a great number of Champion grain binders.  John Azro’s ability as a personable salesperson was augmented by the reputation of the Champion Machine Company.  

This is a restored Champion binder. However, the red , white and blue colors of the restored binder indicates that the binder was originally made after the 1903 merger of the Champion Machine Company with the International Harvester Company.

When it came to aggressive sales and advertising, Champion Machine Company was a recognized master.  The Champion Machine Company had been formed from the 1867 merger of two competing binder manufacturers – the Warder, Bushnell & Glessner Company and the partnership of Whitely, Fassler and Kelly, both of Springfield, Ohio.  Following the merger, the two firms continued to operate as two independent divisions under the same corporate umbrella.  The Whitely, Fassler and Kelly side of the corporation became responsible for the manufacture and sales of the Champion grain binder, wherein the real spark plug continued to be William N. Whitely.  William Whitely was renowned as a person who could “out-talk, out-work and out-wit any adversary.”  (C. H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester, [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida, 1981], p. 26.)  The story is often told of a feat that first made Whitely famous as a sales competitor, where once, at a field test of competing binders in 1867 near Jamestown, Ohio, in front of 500 farmers, “a field competitor was doing as good a job as Whitely.  Angered at this, Whitely unhitched one of his horses and finished reaping with but one animal.  The competitor followed suit, and did just as well.  Seeing himself bested, the enraged Whitely cut loose the remaining horse and pulled the reaper across the plot single-handed.”  (Ibid.)  It was an amazing feat and was reported in local papers.  Following that event, it is small wonder that Whitely and the Champion Machine Company became recognized as a master sales organization.

The “Whitley culture” of aggressive sales promotion permeated the Champion Machine Company .  Under the leadership of William Whitely, the Champion Company became known for high quality machines and excellence in workmanship.  He oversaw the introduction of malleable castings in binders in 1874 and later saw the construction of an all steel binder.  In 1887, however, theWhitely, Fassler and Kelly side of the corporation got into financial difficulty, and so the Warder, Bushnell and Glessner side of the company stepped forward to take over operation of the entire company again.  (Ibid.)  Thus, William N. Whitely was out.

The “Whitely Culture” of competitiveness, however, had by no means left the company with the departure of Whitely himself.  Indeed, the Champion Company gained a reputation for aggressiveness that incurred many enemies among its competitors.  Salesmen from both the Deering and the McCormick companies described the competition that Champion waged as being “Guerilla War.”  (Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: the Agony of International Harvester [Doubleday and Company: Garden City, N. Y., 1985), p. 35.)  Once, in a publicity event over the sale of a McCormick binder to a farmer in northwestern Iowa (not far from Winnebago) in the late 1890s, the local McCormick dealer reported that salesmen from the Champion Company pulled up into the same field to poison the farmer’s mind against the McCormick dealer and the 8-foot McCormick binderand challenged the McCormick binder to a competition in that very field the next day.  The Champion salesmen then quickly advertised the competition throughout the neighborhood, such that by the next day a large crowd of 150 farmers – mostly recent local purchasers of McCormick binders – came to the field to witness the competition.  Deering binder salesmen offered to join the competition also.  The grain was heavy and tangled and the brand-new Deering, pulled by four large gray horses, choked after the first bundle.  Although the McCormick and the Champion binders seemed to be handling the grain properly, difficulty arose when McCormick salesmen alleged publicly that the Champion salesmen had intentionally clogged the elevator chains of the McCormick binder with straw.  At this point, an argument between the Champion salesmen and the McCormick salesmen escalated into a fight, and soon the whole competition deteriorated into a brawl.  (Ibid., at p. 36.)

Another example of ill-will directed toward Champion during this period of time is preserved for us today in published form.  At the bottom of page 27 in C.H. Wendel’s book 150 Years of International Harvester is a picture of a Champion binder being offered for sale by a farmer.  The sign in the picture offers the binder for the bargain price of $50.00 and goes on to explain that the binder was “no good in heavy wheat.”  This picture – kept by the International Harvester Company – is maintained in their company files as a reminder of the bitter sales competition that once existed between binder companies.

The controversial picture which was used to denigrate the Champion binder and “no good in heavy wheat ” and offered the binder for sale for a mere $50.

Locally, the Pioneer Implement House dealership continued to sell a great number of Champion binders in 1892.  John Azro even sold a Champion binder to his father, John Marshall, for use on the family farm in Verona Township.  Years later, in 1911, a picture (probably taken by 15-year-old Howard Hanks, son of John Azro’s younger brother Fred) was taken of the Hanks Champion binder in the field.  Howard had just obtained a camera and was beginning his lifelong hobby of picture taking.  To the delight of historians, Howard favored subjects which portrayed ordinary everyday activities on the farm.  This reasoning most definitely inspired this particular picture which offers an excellent counterpoint to the advertising picture used by the McCormick Company noted above.  Here certainly was a Champion binder operating in some very heavy and tangled grain conditions.

Yes, the future looked bright for the Pioneer Implement House as it headed into its second year of business.  However, there were to be some dark and, as yet, unseen forces already at work which would make 1892 one of the worst years to start a business.

On May 5, 1893, the National Cordage Company failed to meet the payments against its debts and went bankrupt.  The Belt Pulley readers will remember that there followed a sudden succession of banks all across the nation calling in their debts.  Businesses, unable to make good on their loans, began to fail on a daily basis.  Most spectacularly, the railroads failed one after another – the Erie going down in July, the Northern Pacific in August, the Union Pacific in October, and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe in December.  (See “The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company [Part 1] in the May/June 2001 issue of The Belt Pulley, Vol. 14, No. 3, p. 31.)  (Ironically, National Cordage Company was one of the leading suppliers of binder twine.  Thus, whereas the economy had prospered on binders and, especially, twine-tying binders, now, the economy would fail because of binder twine – somewhat analogous to a paraphrase of the old axiom, the economy which lived by twine was now dying by twine.)

What followed became known as the Panic of 1893 which evolved into the worst economic depression the United States economy had yet experienced.  It affected the entire nation, and its icy tentacles slipped down to the local level to affect businesses located in Winnebago, Minnesota.  One redeeming factor for southern Minnesota during this trying time was the fact that families were still immigrating to the Midwest in search of farmland.  Many families came from the eastern United States, as indeed the Hanks family had some years earlier.  However, even though (through passage of a series of federal immigration acts starting in 1882 and continuing with the second act in 1891) the United States had restricted immigration from non-European countries and had further restricted European immigration, favoring instead immigrants from northern European nations, foreign immigrants were still arriving in the Winnebago area.  (Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Immigration [University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1960], pp. 129, 262 and 263.)  Increased enforcement of the immigration laws was bolstered by consolation of the administration of immigration matters with the federal government, rather than leaving the immigration administration to the various state governments as was done prior to 1891.  As part of this consolidation of immigration administration, Ellis Island was opened in 1892.  (Ibid.)

Foreign immigrants who were entering the United States during this time and under these new restrictions tended to be predominately of those nationalities that found rural life – and, in particular, life in the cold climate of the winters of the upper-Midwest – most reminiscent of their home country.  Thus, these new land-hungry settlers continued to stream into southern Minnesota and Faribault County, despite the depressed conditions.  In the five years between 1890 and 1895 the population of Blue Earth, the county seat of Faribault County, increased from 1,569 to 2,432 (an increase of 55 percent); Winnebago’s population alone jumped from 486 to 540 (up 11.1 percent); the population of Verona Township increased from 710 to 741 (up 4.4 percent); and Pilot Grove Township grew from 386 to 496 (up 26.1 percent).  (George E. Hallberg, Legislative Manual of Minnesota 1897, p. 510.)

Consequently, the influx of new settlers arriving in the Winnebago area blunted the effects of the economic depression.  Needless to say, when these new settlers arrived, they did not have the money needed to purchase new farm equipment.  Thus, the Pioneer Implement House had to adjust to these conditions and basically await a better day.  John Azro knew that if the economy ever did improve, there would be a whole new group of people in the market for binders and other farm machinery.  Thus, he held out a tremendous hope for the future.  Born into this time of struggle and hope was the third and last child of the family, Isabel Reid Hanks, on February 5, 1893.

John Azro Hanks soldiered on, piloting the little dealership through the hard times of the Panic, as the depression continued through 1894 and 1895.  Indeed, it seems as though he was pitching in to help the whole town of Winnebago make it through the depression.  During those years, he continued his involvement with the community, serving as city recorder and as secretary of the Winnebago City Businessmen’s Association.

Meanwhile, at the national level, President Grover Cleveland was attempting to help the depressed economy.  One of the principal reasons for the Panic of 1893 had been the strict adherence to the gold standard as a base for all the currency in the economy.  This adherence was strictly maintained by the Grover Cleveland administration during his two non-consecutive terms as president and also was maintained by the intervening president, Benjamin Harrison, and his administration.  With a limited amount of gold, there was a limited amount of currency flowing through the economy.  This created a rigid, “tight money” situation with no flexibility.  Thus, the slightest cash flow shortage could be life-threatening to a single corporation and could send the whole United States economy into a tailspin.  As the Panic was nearing the end of its second full year of duration, President Cleveland summoned J.P. Morgan to the White House on February 4, 1895, for a conference on the economy.  Arriving at the White House with Mr. Morgan were his attorney, Francis Stetson, and a junior partner.  (Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty, [Atlantic Monthly Press: New York, 1990], pp. 74-76.)  Following a meeting with the President and other members of the cabinet, J.P. Morgan unveiled a plan to purchase gold from the Rothschild banks in Europe.  He would then underwrite a private issue of bonds.  This would have the effect of expanding the amount of currency in the economy and would stand the best chance of getting the economy back on track again.  (Today, this happens pretty much automatically.  The Federal Reserve System regularly buys government bonds to introduce more currency into the economy or sells government bonds to restrict the amount of currency in the economy, depending on whether the economists that work for the Federal Reserve System believe the economy is contracting and needs a boost or whether the economy is growing too rapidly, resulting in inflation and needs to be slowed down.  This mechanism provides the requisite flexibility the economy needs to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic downturns in the economy.)  In 1895, however, this idea was brilliant.  When eventually implemented, the plan had a soothing effect on the economy.  However, it was the new discoveries of gold in South Africa, Alaska and the Klondike that really brought a huge new influx of gold into the United Sates economy and started the economy going again.

As noted in “Wood Bros. Threshing Machine Company” (January/February 2001 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine [Vol. 14, No. 1.] p. 18), by 1897 the United States economy, based on the new influx of gold, began to recover and, indeed, to flourish.  Because of this period of time in the late 1890s, the entire decade came to be called “The Gay 90s.”

In Winnebago, the economic recovery appeared as a spring thaw after a long hard freeze – beginning slowly at first.  By 1896, John Azro Hanks began to notice that more customers were coming into the Pioneer House dealership and more of them were purchasing equipment, especially new Champion grain binders.  As the season went by, he noticed that payments on the machinery he had sold were coming in on a more reliable basis.  Just as he began to notice his business picking up and money starting to flow more reliably, so too did the other businesses of Winnebago and southern Minnesota.  Additionally, competitors from Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa also began to notice their businesses improve.  Thus, all the old aggressive sales and advertising competition for the largest share of the farm machinery market – particularly in the grain binder market – that had existed prior to the Panic returned.  This increased competition for buyers intensified into what became known as “The Great Binder Wars.”  The Great Binder Wars involved everybody, from the retail sales and advertising people all the way up to the manufacturers, and it was a vicious competition.

Much as the Great Binder Wars spurred interest in and sales of grain binders, they also had a deleterious effect on local dealerships – like the Pioneer House in Winnebago.  Just as the economy was starting to recover, new farm equipment dealerships were opening up in Winnebago.  For the Pioneer House dealership, the effects of the Great Binder Wars were more pervasively ruinous than the economic consequences of the Panic of 1893.  Competition for binder sales was severe, and the need to constantly lower their prices to meet the prices of the competition meant a constant squeezing of the profit margin of the local dealership.  The Pioneer House might be selling more binders, but the effects of the Great Binder Wars caused them to make less profit.

The binder wars may have been praised by some free market capitalists as the highest stage of capitalist competition in which only the company with the best product would survive, but the reality was somewhat less encouraging.  Indeed, the binder wars have been described as having taken “its toll [as] many companies withered in its wake.  Those remaining found themselves in a situation only slightly better than bankrupt.”  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester, p. 29.)  Such was the tenor of feelings during the Great Binder Wars,

when the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company used this picture in its advertising campaign against Champion.

The Great Binder Wars had a much more severe impact on the Pioneer House, as competition from other binder retailers in Winnebago itself and from the surrounding towns cut deeply into their profit margin.  By 1898, the Pioneer House was having major difficulties.  As John Azro walked home and met his children – 11-year-old Ellen, 9-year-old James Marshall, and especially little 5-year-old Isabel – at the door of his house, he did so with a heart full of concern for the future.  By 1900, after having struggled valiantly with declining profits, the Pioneer House dealership became one of the casualties of the Great Binder Wars.  John Azro sadly closed the doors on his dealership for the last time.  Although signs were already visible of a debilitating illness that would soon take his life, John moved with his family onto the historic old home farm site of his wife’s family, James and Hellen [Cherry] Ogilvie, where he helped them in their farming operation.  John Azro would die on March 3, 1911, leaving a young family, including a 22-year-old son James Marshall who would then, as head of the family, undertake a great amount of the work on his grandparents’ farm.  (Ironically, whereas his father was not successful at farming, James Marshall would prove to be one of the more successful farmers in the area – specializing in raising and selling work horses.)

In August of 1902, just two years after John Azro closed the doors of the Pioneer House, J.P. Morgan engineered the merger of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, the Deering Harvester Company, the Plano Harvester Company, the Milwaukee Harvester Company, and the Warder, Bushell and Glessner Company (manufacturers of the Champion grain binder) into the new conglomerate called International Harvester Company.  Before constructing the International Harvester conglomerate, J.P. Morgan had been the mastermind behind the 1892 merger of Edison-General Electric Company and Thompson-Houston Electric Company to form the modern General Electric Company.  He was also responsible for the December 22, 1900 merger of Carnegie Steel Company, Federal Steel Company, American Tin Plate Company, American Steel Hoop Company, American Sheet Steel Company, American Bridge Company, American Steel and Wire Company, National Tube Company, National Steel Company, Shelby Steel Tube Company, and Lake Superior Consolidated Mines into the modern day United States Steel Corporation.  (Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan (Atlantic Monthly Press: New York, 1990), pp. 66-67 and 83.)

J.P. Morgan created these huge conglomerates in hopes that they would monopolize their respective industries.  He looked on the wild, chaotic condition of competition and free enterprise as presenting a danger to the United States economy.  Competition and the headlong drive of companies all operating in the same industry, trying to drive each other out of business, was, Morgan felt, wasteful of human and technological resources.  How much better, he would say, to have a planned economy wherein all the competing companies within one industry would be merged into a united effort to produce the best product for the buying public.  This was very close to a socialist philosophy wherein the government would own all the means of production.  As the most active spokesman for this philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century, J.P. Morgan was the last person who would be suspected of socialistic views.  Although he did share the belief of socialists that competition was ruinous and wasteful, Morgan’s aim was a series of private monopoly companies, rather than any form of government ownership, which would dominated their respective industries.  In forming International Harvester, Morgan thought to end all wasteful competition within the farm machinery manufacturing industry.

To be sure, J.P. Morgan was concerned primarily with the large manufacturing companies.  He did not waste much thought on the retail end of the farm equipment industry; yet, he would have certainly applied his theory to the retail side of the farm equipment industry had he been given the opportunity.  One wonders, then, if Pioneer House had survived for just two more years, would they (as a dealer for Champion binders made by Warder, Bushnell and Glessner, which was now part of International Harvester) have become the exclusive International Harvester franchise holder for all of the area around Winnebago.

The year 1900 saw the start of a new century and also the start of an era of new spirit in the United States, called the “Progressive Era.”  During the Progressive Era, J.P. Morgan was heavily criticized for the formation of monopolies.  The Progressives believed that competition was a good thing and that monopolies, or “trusts,” should be broken up – an action commonly called “trust busting.”  The Sherman Anti-Trust Act had been passed by Congress and had become law in 1890.  (Foster Rhea Dulles, The United States Since 1865 [Univ. of Michigan: Ann Arbor, 1959], p. 66.)  On October 27, 1911, President William Howard Taft announced that the United States government was going to bring suit against the United States Steel Corp. for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.  (George E. Mowry, Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement [Hill & Wang Pub.: New York, 1946], pp. 188-189.)  This was one of many trust-busting actions taken by the federal government and various state governments to break up the monopolies formed by J.P. Morgan and others.

International Harvester Corp. led a somewhat charmed life during this “trust busting” era.  Although the Taft administration initiated a suit against International Harvester in 1912, the suit really went nowhere and ended in an out-of-court settlement in 1918, leaving the company basically unchanged.  The government tried again in 1923 with a second lawsuit to break up International Harvester Corp; however, in 1927, the United States Supreme Court exonerated the company.  (Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: the Agony of International Harvester (Doubleday Pub. Co.: Garden City, New York, 1985], p. 48.)

Although International Harvester Corp. had won its long, involved litigations with the United States government, they were still “gun shy.”  As a result, even though the Deering and McCormick companies had been united under the same corporate umbrella since 1902, International Harvester Corp. continued to market grain binders under the separate names of Deering and McCormick until 1937.  (See the article “Deering and McCormick Grain Binders” in the May/June 1995 issue of The Belt Pulley, Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 16.).  Clearly, despite any realities in the opposite direction, the company hoped to avoid all appearances of monopolistic practices.  This was also true in the retail sales end of the company.  Any move in the direction of consolidating retail dealerships or selling area-wide, exclusive dealership franchises was put off by the company until after the Second World War.

Thus, even if the Pioneer House dealership had survived in Winnebago until the merger of International Harvester in 1902,the outlook for the dealership may not have been that much different.  Whereas it might have been hoped that the exclusive International Harvester dealership for the entire Winnebago area might have been awarded to the Pioneer House following the merger in 1902, this was not the reality.  The Company was not in any position to do anything like offering exclusive area-wide dealership franchises because of the continuing threat of a suit by the government.  The Pioneer House dealership was doomed, it seemed, anyway.

The building on the northeast corner of 1st Avenue Southwest and 1st Street Southwest in Winnebago which housed the Pioneer House dealership was sold to George William.  He, in turn, sold the property in 1939 to M.H. Babcock, who ran a lumberyard from the building.  In 1947, the old building was torn down and a new, modern building was erected in its place.  In 1950, the M.H. Babcock Company was reorganized into the Winnebago Lumber Company.  Today, after another renovation, the building at the site of the old Pioneer House Company is now an apartment house.

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