Now online is the finding aid of a wonderful new collection of agricultural machinery product literature, the Lawrence H. Skromme Agricultural Machinery Literature Collection (RS 21/7/227). For anyone hoping for detailed instruction or owners manuals for using these implements, please beware! The collection does not contain instruction manuals, but instead houses catalogs, advertisement cards, price lists, and other ephemera relating to agricultural implements and machinery. The earliest item in the collection is from 1838 and the latest from 1999, although the bulk of the collection is from the latter part of the 19th through the early 20th century. The collection is a great addition to our other collections related to agriculture.
At first glance, one may at first think that the product literature might only be useful for those interested in a particular agricultural implement, such as E. Ball and Company’s World’s Reaper and Tornado Thresher. However, as I looked through the collection when it first came in, I was struck by the artwork and presentations on the catalogs’ covers. In addition, the catalogs often contain descriptions of the company and its implements, how they can be used, and sometimes brief histories of the machinery. The different ways the implements are promoted and advertised throughout the years can also be informative. For instance, the 1864 catalog for F. Nishwitz’s Monitor Mower and Combined Mower and Reaper contains an extensive list of people who have bought the mower and reaper, and in comparison only a few pages on the item itself. By 1868 this listing of buyers has disappeared from the catalog.
It is also interesting to see how the agricultural implements are presented as the Industrial Revolution progresses. For instance, the cover image of Adriance, Platt and Company’s Buckeye Mower and Reaper catalog from 1874 pictures an almost idyllic country scene of the horses pulling a farmer calmly along a road next to a wheat field. The 1896 cover image is quite different. The farmer is pictured in the middle of his field, stopping briefly while hard at work to wipe his forehead. Pictured in the background is a shipyard and factories spewing smoke. The Daniel Webster quote, “When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmer therefore is the founder of human civilization,” was placed near the farmer – alluding to the farmer’s important relationship with industry and trade. Incidentally, the Grant Wood murals located in Parks Library use the Daniel Webster quote.
It is also interesting to note the different audiences some of the product literature is aiming at. A few of the catalogs are probably for recent immigrants, several in German and Norwegian. Another fun booklet is “The Oliver Alphabet” from 1889. The booklet contains lovely decorated letters and illustrations. Each alphabet’s page describes and promotes an aspect of Oliver Chilled Plow Works, and the text is often in verse. Was this the company’s way of endearing itself to children, who would one day grow up and faithfully buy Oliver Chilled Plow Works’ plows and other agricultural implements? The opening page makes it clear the booklet is for both adults and children, for “…Children oft speak unaware / Wise things they scarcely comprehend / And you may find a goodly share / Of wisdom here my worthy friend.”
I’ll end the description here with an advertisement card used by the wagon manufacturing firm of Austen, Tomlinson & Webster Manufacturing Company for their Jackson Wagons. Both the front and back of the card (which, again, is in verse) seems to imply the changing times and modes of transportation. I especially like the image of the family in the horse-drawn wagon trying desperately to outrace the oncoming train. The end of the poem on the other side reads:
. . .
So pass the brimful flagon,
With “Here’s a Health” to all who sell,
“The Good Old Jackson Wagon.”
Even though the company itself saw the end of the horse-drawn wagon, a small part of the Jackson Wagon’s history is preserved here in this new collection, as well as the history and changes of other agricultural implements.
The product literature collection was put together by an ISU alum, Lawrence Skromme. Skromme graduated with a B.S. (1937) in agricultural engineering from Iowa State College (now University). After receiving his degree, Skromme began his long and productive career in the agricultural implement manufacturing industry. During his career, Skromme worked as an engineer at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Harry Ferguson Inc., Sperry-New Holland and, finally, New Holland.
For a related collection here in the department, please see the Agricultural Machinery Product Literature Collection (MS-232).