Guelph’s Past In Agriculture Implement Manufacturing
Guelph has always been strong in the production of agricultural equipment. At first, people relied on the Blacksmith to produce the tools they needed. John Owen Lynch was the community’s first blacksmith, imported by John Galt from New York where he had an agent. Lynch arrived in 1827 and stayed in operation until 1857.
Other blacksmiths who established shops in Guelph during the early years included two notables:
- The Sallows Family had a large long-running shop on Wellington/Gordon Street. William is listed from 1832-1895; Henry from 1867-1904.
- Allan Simpson lived at Cork Street and is listed as a blacksmith from 1852 – 1886
In fact, Guelph had plenty of blacksmiths to keep up with the demand for simple agricultural products as well as basic household necessities. Among them were William Hooper and William Hooper Jr. They lived on Elizabeth Street and, between the two of them worked as blacksmiths from 1855 to 1892. John Sully was shoeing horses and making ploughs from 1852 to 1861. John Armstrong, Robert Armstrong and John Thain worked as blacksmiths at their father’s wagon shops. They were learning the skills of a trade that was soon to become an adjutant to other production concerns.
With the arrival of the foundries in Guelph, specifically the Guelph or Robertson Foundry, foundries took over the production of agricultural implements, hiring blacksmiths to help out. The foundry offered farmers more sophisticated products. They used moulds and held patents. They could also produce the items more quickly and uniformly. As a result, those blacksmiths who chose not to work for a foundry often found work at a wagon shop or even reverted to the stereotype of the craft – farriers (horseshoers).
Yet, the focus of these foundries- which could be agricultural equipment as well as domestic goods e.g. stoves, was to shift over the years to the production of other items. The arrival of the Crowe Foundry was to signal a change in production methods and approach. The new foundries could produce agricultural equipment and domestic products, but they tended to choose to “job.” Crowe’s and the Griffin Foundry, for example, made their money by contracting out their services. They jobbed for Raymon’ds Sewing Machine Factory and Bell’s Organ and Piano. They produced piano plates and sewing machine parts. The Wellington Foundry (Inglis and Hunter) began to manufacture the Corliss Engine for grist and flour mills. Later, the company had great success in Toronto as the John Inglis & Co and later Whirlpool, producing armaments (including the famed Bren gun) during both World Wars and household appliances afterwards.
Agricultural Implement Companies
With the foundries no longer concentrating on agricultural implements, the role of producing various farm equipment soon fell to several companies who made this their sole interest. Among them were:
Aspinwall Manufacturing Company: Located in the Old Drill Hall at 72 Farqhar/Huskisson St, also known as the old Louden building, Aspinwall between 1908 and 1921 was famous for its potato machinery. In fact, it was among the largest of its kind. Originating in Jackson, Michigan, it remained in Guelph a brief time, producing automatic potato planters and, later, a “Non-Swarming Hive.” Until its arrival in the city, its products were handled in Ontario by the Gilson Manufacturing Company. It was under its Guelph manager - a Mr. L. Jaques and its VP/manager, C.G. Rowley when it was incorporated in 1917. The company remained in operation in 1926.
Cossitt’s: Cossitt’s Agriculture Implement Manufacturer & Planing Mills was on Nelson’s Crescent from around 1869. Under the ownership of founder Levi Cossitt, it outgrew its premises and built new ones on Suffolk and Yorkshire. The company was taken over in 1882/1883 by Thomas Gowdy. Cossitt died in Bingham, NY on March 26, 1908 at age 82.
Gowdy Agricultural Works: Thomas Gowdy had been in Guelph working in one capacity or another in Guelph since he arrived from York (Toronto) at a young age in 1853. By 1878, Gowdy, after establishing the Toronot Lime Co. in Dolly Varden he started an agricultural implements factory with his brother. By 1882/3, the works was operating at the corner of Suffolk and Yorkshire. In 1882-3, the company had an order to ship 150 lawnmowers to Southern Australia.
The large building housing Gowdy’s was later occupied by Biltmore Hats & Sherer-Gillet Co.
Louden: Louden was one of the later farm machinery producers to open in Guelph. Louden was an American company from Fairfield, Iowa. They set up its Canadian branch in the Old Drill Hall in 1902. They grew quickly and moved to Crimea Street which became the company’s Canadian headquarters. Their literature stated “They manufacture every description of barn and stable fittins, etc.” This was essentially true. Louden’s manufactured large pieces of farm equipment including bale lifters, feed and milk carriers, hay trolleys, steel stalls, stanchions and pens. They offered entire plans for the construction of barns.
In 1908, the Canadian CEO was H. B. Callender. By 1927, the building on Crimea St. had an extension and the company had sales people in Quebec. The company became the Louden Machine Company of Canada Ltd. in 1927 and boasted they made “Canadian Goods for Canadians.” However, during the great depression so many American branches returned to their parent company. Louden’s was to face a similar fate when, in 1934, Beatty bought the Guelph works.
New Idea Spreader: In 1915, this Company also made its home in the Old Drill Hall. Like several other “starter” companies, it outgrew the space and moved. By 1921, it was located at 167-175 Suffolk. Another American company (Coldwater, Ohio), this Guelph-based branch produced a single product - manure spreaders. Its production days in Guelph were short-lived. It is not listed in the 1923 City Directory.
Thain’s: Charles Thain started a wagon shop on Upper Wyndham at the corner of Cardigan and Eramosa. He included agricultural implements in his product line and shop name before 1864. Among his products were the Victoria Churn, the two-horse wheel cultivator and the Victoria Washing Machine. In 1872, he registered a patent for a turnip planter. The description notes it was for: "A certain new and useful improvement on the machine for sowing turnip, mango or carrot seed to be called or known as 'Thain's Self- Regulating Turnip Sower.' "
Tolton Brothers: One interesting player in the agricultural implement manufacturing business was the Tolton Brothers. Consisting of Andrew, David, Benjamin Tolton and Alexander Luke, they operated two other manufacturing businesses (Trousers and Paper Boxes) making it difficult to track. The Agricultural Company began in 1875 as a small family affair. In 1878, it employed 12 hands. Luke died in 1878 and the company shifted gears. The company was incorporated in 1904 with the enterprising C. Kloepher as president. The Tolton Bros Ltd. outlasted many of their competition. Beatty Brothers in Fergus bought the company around 1914, but they kept the Tolton style with their name.
In addition to these larger enterprises, some smaller ones operated around Guelph. Among them were William Dunn. His shop was on Sandisland near Market Square from 1882 to around 1856.
Farm Equipment History
In early Guelph, blacksmiths provided the tools farmers and village residents needed to survive and thrive. They made ploughs and stoves as well as ornamental iron work. They shoed horses and repaired any metal work.
Foundries soon replaced the blacksmiths in certain areas. They could produce agricultural equipment faster, duplicating the pieces using moulds and patents. Blacksmiths generally became farriers or worked for foundries. Later foundries themselves adapted to the new manufacturing. They jobbed for other local shops.
This left the production of agricultural equipment to companies for which this was their sole focus. A number of them operated in Guelph over the 19th and 20th century. Unfortunately, much of their history is lost and little of which they produced remains today