The Avery company was an American farm tractor builder founded in 1891 in Peoria, Illinois. Initially building a Seed Drill before they moved into the new Diesel tractor market with several "Prairie" tractor designs. By the 1920's they submitted several tractors for the "Nebraska tractor tests" programme. Famed for its under-mounted engine, in that the tractor more resembled a railroad engine in a farmer's field, than a conventional farm steam engine.
Getting into the farm implement business after the American Civil War, Avery put out a large line of products, including steam engines beginning in 1891. The company started with a return flue style, and later went into the under-mount style replete with pugnacious bulldog on the smokebox door. They experienced immediate success with farmers in central Illinois and their market grew nation-wide and overseas until their failure to innovate brought them down in the 1920s.
Origins in Galesburg, Illinois
Robert Avery was the great great great great grandfather of Sebastian Powley. After graduating from college, Robert Avery taught school before enlisting in 1862 as a Union Soldier in the American Civil War, in Company A, 77th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Robert was captured in 1864 and spent a number of months in various prisoner-of-war camps, before being sent to the now infamous Confederate Andersonville Prison for about eight months. There he passed the time devising a improved seed drill by sketching a design in the sand.
After the war he worked on a 160 acrefarm his brother John had bought for the two of them. Robert continued to work on several inventions, and during the winters when the farm was idle, he worked in a Galesburg, Illinois machine shop. He used that money and the experience to design and develop patterns and castings for a riding cultivator.
Robert's brother Cyrus thought the invention had huge potential. To fund their company, Cyrus invested some capital, and Robert sold his share of the farm to his brother John and borrowed additional money. They began business as R.H. & C.M. Avery Company. Sales did not take off and the brothers' company teetered on bankruptcy. Robert moved his family to Kansas and took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 to obtain more farm land. He invented a new spiral corn stalk cutter and this time sales increased quickly. In 1872, Robert moved back to Galesburg and with his brother Cyrus' help, restarted the Avery Company.
One of their inventions was the Avery Thresher, a popular threshing machine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The thresher was driven from the flywheel of a steam traction engine. A belt from the flywheel drove a wheel on the thresher linked to the drum, separating the wheat kernals from the wheat stalks.
Robert was the inventor while Cyrus managed the business aspects. They bought into the oldest foundry in Peoria, owned by Joseph Frost.They operated out of Galesburg, Illinois until 1882, when they needed better access to railroad transportation and wider markets. They then purchased 18 acres in Peoria, Illinois and moved the business there to North Adams and North Jefferson Streets adjacent to a railroad spur. In 1883 the company was capitalized at US$200.000. In 1892, Robert died and Cyrus became president. John B. Bartholomew, who started with the company on December 8, 1879 driving a team to haul lumber for a US$1.10 per day, was made vice-president. He was also the brother of Cyrus' wife, Minnie.
When they began manufacturing powered tractors, they hired Albert Espe, one of the premier tractor designers in the country. In 1899, the company was reincorporated, the capital stock increased to US$600,000, and it was renamed the Avery Manufacturing Company. In 1891, their tractors used the best steam engines of the day, including unique tractors with top-mounted steam engines resembling locomotives more than typical farm tractors of the day. One of their yellow wood threshers were nicknamed the "Yellow Fellow" and remained a large part of the company's business for the next thirty years.
In 1900 the company's stock was valued at US$1,000.000 and it continued to grow until 1912 when it was valued at US$2,500,000. Cyrus Avery left active management of the company in 1902 and built a new home in Galesburg. In September, 1905, Cyrus M. Avery died. His son George Luzerne Avery had served as his father' secretary, and upon his father's death, was made a director of the company. George's uncle, J. B. Bartholomew, became president.
The Avery company made many traction engines, such as the 1907 steam tractor model. At that time steam was the only form of power and the tractor resembled a miniature locomotive. In 1909, the competitive landscape changed when the Holt Manufacturing Co. of Stockton, California (later Caterpillar Inc.) purchased the bankrupt Colean Manufacturing Co., which had manufactured farm implements and steam traction engines across town in East Peoria. They established their eastern manufacturing branch there.
Broad line of products manufactured
In 1912, the entire Avery Company plant covered more than twenty-seven acres. The main factory building and the associated warehouses covered another six and a half acres. The sections of the plant were joined by a company-designed trolley system used to transport parts. At the time, it manufactured steam and gasoline traction engines, mounted steel water tanks, self-lift plows, farm wagons, corn planters, traction hauling wagons, traction steam shovels, threshing machinery and all required attachments, riding and walking cultivators, single and double row stalk cutters and gasoline tractors. At its height, it called itself "The Largest Tractor Company in the World" and employed 2,600 men, manufacturing eight different tractors along with motor cultivators and trucks. The company offered a broad line of tractors and engines, ranging from one--row cultivator to a huge 80 horsepower (60 kW) tractor.
They shipped products to most of the United States and exported to some foreign countries. They opened branch offices Omaha, Nebraska; Des Moines, Iowa; Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis, Minnesota; St. Louis, Missouri, Indianapolis, Indiana; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Fargo, North Dakota, Aberdeen, South Dakota; and Winnipeg, Canada. They had customers in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Russia, what was then Austria-Hungary, the Philippines, Portugal, China, Sweden, Cuba and Egypt.
They introduced a locomotive style double-under mounted steam traction engine to the market. However, by this time track-type tractors and a combination combine-harvester were becoming more popular over the the large steel tire wheel tractor and the stationary threshing machine. Continuing to grow, the company in 1916 purchased a former plant of the Kingman Plow Co., and in 1917 they acquired the Davis Manufacturing Co. engine plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, enabling Avery to build its own engines. J. B. Bartholomew had for several years been President of the Bartholomew Company, which manufactured Glide automobiles in Peoria Heights, Illinois. In 1920 he decided to bring the plant into the Avery Co. fold and it was utilized to manufacture trucks. Avery employed four thousand people by this point. However, farmers showed increasing preference for track-type farm implements, and Avery failed to innovate with new products. They built one track-type tractor named the "Trackrunner," but were unsuccessful at perfecting it. Some machinery sold did not work as advertised, and Avery failed to fix the problems. Avery's business was also hurt by the agricultural depression of 1921.
Bankruptcy and receivership
Lacking research and design resources and unable to manufacture competitive products, the company entered bankruptcy and went into receivership in 1923. One year later President J. B. Bartholomew died. Former officers of the bankrupt Avery company organized a new, smaller firm in late 1925 as the Avery Power Machinery Co., acquiring a large portion of the original plant in Peoria. They developed and manufactured a new line of advanced all-steel threshers and combine harvesters employing anti-friction bearings. They also manufactured parts for all of the previous Avery machines, for which there was still considerable demand. The competition for track-type farm equipment increased when in 1925 the Holt Manufacturing Co. and the C. L. Best Co. of San Leandro, California merged to form the Caterpillar Tractor Co. When wheat dropped to 25 cents a bushel in 1931, farmers could not afford new farm implements and the new Avery Power Machinery company could not pay its debts. Banks with an interest in the company placed a manager in charge in late 1931, who gradually liquidated the company's assets.
|Model||Date built||date discontinued||Power hp||Photo||notes|
|Avery Farm & City||1909||?||? hp|
|Avery 5-10||1920||1922||11 hp|
|Avery 7-14||?||?||14 hp|
|Avery 8-15||19 ?||?||15 hp|
|Avery 8-16||1916||1922||16 hp||example seen in the UK|
|Avery 12-20||1920||1922||24 hp|
|Avery 12-25||1912||1922||25 hp||3000 exported to the UK between 1912 and 1919|
|Avery 14-28||1919||1922||31 hp|
|Avery 15-25||19 ?||19 ?||30 hp|
|Avery 18-36||1916||1922||44 hp||Became the Avery 20-35|
|Avery 20-35||1923||1927||37 hp|
|Avery 25-50||1916||1923||56 hp|
|Avery 40-80||1913||1921||80 hp||Became the Avery 45-65|
|Avery 45-65||1921||1933||? hp|
|Avery Ro-Trac||1938||1941||? hp||Fitted with Hercules QXB5 engine|
Note most models were re rated after the Nebraska tractor tests were introduced
Avery tractors are considered very rare and are highly prized among collectors today. A large model 40-80 built from 1913-1920 in premier condition can fetch over $100,000 at auction.
An Irish collector Gerry King has nearly a full set of Avery tractors. Some are restored and others are undergoing the very slow process of being rebuilt, which often involves casting new parts to replace cracked or missing parts.
Most of the models seen in the UK are more recent imports.
- list of Tractor Manufacturers
- List of Steam Machinery Manufacturers
- Shows and Meets
- Traction engine
- Steam tractor
- Avery Thresher
References / sources
- J. P. Carroll (December 12, 1951). "History of the Avery Company". Retrieved on 2008-11-14.
- Jeff Avery. "History of The Avery Company". Retrieved on 2008-11-14.
- 1886 Portrait & Biographical Album of Knox County, Illinois.
- Tractor & Machinery Magazine, V12-7, page 155
- Dean, Terry and Larry L. Swenson (2006). "Antique American Tractor & Crawler Value Guide". MBI Publishing Company.
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