Oliver Farm Equipment Company

Oliver Farm Equipment Company
Oliver 80 tractor

The Oliver Farm Equipment Company was an American farm equipment manufacturer from the 20th century. It was formed as a the result of a 1929 merger of four companies:[1] the American Seeding Machine Company of Richmond, Indiana, Oliver Chilled Plow Works of South Bend, Indiana, Hart-Parr Tractor Company of Charles City, Iowa, and Nichols and Shepard Company of Battle Creek, Michigan

On November 1, 1960, the White Motor Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio purchased the Oliver Farm Equipment Company.[2] Its patents are owned by AGCO.[citation needed]


The Merger

Four companies joined forces on April 1, 1929. The Oliver Chilled Plow Company dated from 1855. Hart-Parr Tractor Company began operations in 1897, and the American Seeding Machine Company, dated back to 1848. Nichols and Shepard Company, likewise began operations in 1848.

By 1929, each of these companies had essentially outgrown its usefulness to the industry. For most of them, the market had some time earlier reached a saturation point. In some instances, their machines were badly dated and rapidly approaching obsolescence. For each of these companies to have attempted further activity on solo basis would almost have certainly been disastrous. By uniting their various and somewhat diverse product lines into a single company, Oliver Farm Equipment instantly became a virtual full-line manufacturer.

Companies merged to form Oliver Farm Equipment Company

American Seeding Machine Company

"Oliver Superior" grain and fertilizer drill

The American Seeding Machine Company was organized in 1903 from the a merger of seven different manufacturers of grain drills, corn planters and other "seeding machines." The leading corporate component among the seven merged companies was the Superior Drill Company of Springfield, Ohio.[3] Accordingly, the American Seeding Machine Company established its corporate headquarters at Springfield in the facilities formerly operated by the Superior Drill Company.[3] Other companies which formed the 1903 merger include P. P. Mast and Company (est. 1856), Hoosier Drill Company (est. 1857), the Empire Drill Company, and Bickford & Huffman. The Superior Drill Company named lived on for many years following the merger that created Oliver, in the "Oliver Superior" line of seeding drills and related equipment.

Oliver Chilled Plow Works

The entrance to the Oliver Chilled Plow Works in South Bend, Indiana, c.1880.

The business called the Oliver Chilled Plow Works was established by James Oliver in 1853.[4] James Oliver first settled in Mishawaka, Indiana in 1836 where he worked in a local foundry business. Later he bought into an already existed small foundry in South Bend, Indiana.[5] Plows with cast iron moldboards, or bottoms had been successfully used by farmers and planters in the eastern states of the United States dating back to the time of Thomas Jefferson.[6] However, in the sticky soils of North Dakota, the cast iron plow bottoms would not "scour." Consequently the sticky soil built up on the cast iron bottoms making plowing impossible. Thus, when settlement of North America moved over the Allegheny Mountains into the Midwest, there was a real need for a new plow that would scour in the soils of the Midwest. To allow a cast iron bottom to scour in sticky soil various methods of annealing or creating the hard surface on the metal plow bottom had been attempted. All of these processes failed because the hard surface created was very thin and would soon wear through to the soft iron under the annealized surface. James Oliver developed his process of annealing by rapid chilling of the molten cast plow bottom, which resulted in a bottom that had a thick annealized surface that had far greater wearability than competing annealized plow bottoms.

An artist conception drawing of an aerial view of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works, South Bend, Indiana, c.1900.

Another problem common to cast iron plow bottoms was the lack of soundness and uniformity in the various cast iron bottoms, which meant that some cast iron bottoms would have soft spots in the annealized surface which would also reduce wearability in the plow bottom. Improvements made by James Oliver to his annealing process overcame this problem also.[6] Consequently, on June 30, 1857, James Oliver obtained his first patent from the United States government for his chilled plow shares[7] and in February 1869, he obtained another patent for his annealing process. What Oliver accomplished by this invention is sometimes referred to as chill hardening, or simply chilling. The purpose of chilling, whether it be a plowpoint or a wheel for a railroad car, is to produce an extremely hard and durable exterior of the object. This is done by pouring the fused metal into the mould so that the metal, reaching the chill first forms the exterior of the plowpoint. This metal cools more quickly than the metal which forms the other portion of the plowshare. Also, the vapors which arise as the molten metal comes in contract with the mould are expelled through a spout. Had these vapors been trapped in the mould they would have caused impurities and would have weakened the plowpoint at the place where it should have been the hardest. To harden the plowpoints, Oliver arranged his moulding apparatus in such manner that the surface of the chill, which is nothing more than a cooled iron mould, was in a position so that the melted metal first come into contact with the chill at the edge of the plowshare. This insured a hard plow cutting point.[8]

1956 Oliver Super 55 Diesel

Thus, James Oliver's chilled plow bottom became a practical success and on July 22, 1868, the Oliver's business was incorporated as the South Bend Iron Works. In 1871, the company sold 1,500 plows per year. By 1874 this figure had increased to 17,000 plows a year.[6] At the time of death of James Oliver in 1908, the company had again changed names to the Oliver Chilled Plow Works. and their factory site in South Bend, Indiana covered 58 acres (230,000 m2) with 25 of those acres under roof.[6] Upon the death of his father in 1908, Joseph D. Oliver, the only son of James and Susan (Doty) Oliver took over the management of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works. By 1910, the company was manufacturing a wide variety of farm tillage implements in addition to the chilled plow. Production had reached the point that, in 1910, the company purchased over 40,000 tons of pig iron, alone.[6]

Hart-Parr Gasoline Engine Company

Hart-Parr nameplate

Charles Walter Hart was born at Charles City, Iowa in 1872. At the age of twenty, he transferred from Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, to the University of Wisconsin–Madison.[9] It was here that he met Charles H. Parr, and the two young men quickly became friends. Together they worked on their Special Honours Thesis and from that thesis they built three working internal combustion engines right there on the campus at Madison.[10] Following their graduation from the University of Wisconsin in 1897, Hart and Parr gathered $3000 in capital and formed the Hart-Parr Gasoline Engine Company.[10] Towards the end of 1899, Charles Hart paid a visit to his parents in Charles City, Iowa. He complained to his father that development funds could not be found for his tractor project. "There's money around here that might be interested," replied the elder Hart, admitting for the first time that his son's ambition was not folly. They then found another investor in Charles D. Ellis, a local attorney, who invested $50,000 in additional capital.[11]

In 1900, as the engine business expanded, Hart and Parr decided to move their company from Madison to Charles City. Hart-Parr Company was organized on June 12, 1901 at Charles City, Iowa. Ground was broken for the new factory on July 5 that year. By the following December, the Hart-Parr Company was now ready to do business, and had an authorized capitalization of $100,000.00.

Hart-Parr number 1 was completed in 1902. Customers did not immediately beat the proverbial path. However, Hart-Parr was able to field one salesman to run demonstrations at county fairs and other events. Hart was patient. "We can't force it," he said. "We have to let it simmer into the market."

Little by little, the Hart-Parrs began to gather defenders. Some of the first tractors delivered were gaining a reputation of usefulness that far surpassed that of the steamers.

W.H. Williams, Sales Manager in 1906, decided the words "traction engine" were vague and too long to be used in press releases, so he coined the word "Tractor", a combination of the words traction and power, instead. For this reason, and because the Charles City plant was the first to be continuously and exclusively used for tractor production, Hart-Parr has been given the title of "Founders of the Tractor Industry".[citation needed]

Nichols and Shepard Company

In 1848, John Nichols opened a blacksmith shop in Battle Creek, Michigan.[12] In the blacksmith shop, John Nichols began making various farm tools for local farmers. He built his first thresher/separator in 1852.[12] The business was successful from the start, so successful that some time in the 1850s he took on a partner by the name of David Shepard.[12] Together they formed a partnership known as Nichols, Shepard and Company which manufactured farm machinery, steam engines and mill machinery.[13] The first thresher/separator of small grains (largely wheat and oats) was developed in about 1831 by the Pitts brothers—Hiram and John Pitts of Buffalo, New York.[14] However, this early thresher, called the "ground hog," was quite unlike the conventional thresher/separators that developed since that time. For instance, the ground hog's separating unit was largely a slatted apron which pulled the grain across a screen.[13] John Nichols and David Shepard realized that the apron style separator was not a technology that was going to work. Consequently, in 1857, the Nichols and Shepard Company developed the first "vibrator" separating unit for the small grain thresher.[13] This vibrator-style of separator soon became universally adopted by all other thresher/separator manufacturers. The Nichols and Shepard Company received a patent from the United States government for their "Vibrator" grain separator on January 7, 1862.[13] The company also obtained a number of other patents for other advances in the thresher/separator technology, for original improvements in steam engine traction technology.[13] During the 1920s, the Nichols and Shepard Company developed a successfully functioning corn picker. Following the acquisition of the Nichols and Shepard Company by the Oliver company. This corn picker became the direct ancestor of the famous Oliver cornpicker.[15]

Acquisitions after the 1929 merger

For the first couple of years, the tractors carried the Oliver-Hart-Parr designation, but the Hart-Parr essence soon disappeared, just as an entirely new line of purely Oliver tractors made their appearance.

McKenzie Manufacturing Company

Following the 1929 merger of the four companies into the Oliver Farm Equipment Company, several other corporate acquisitions were made by the new company over a period of years. The first of these post-merger acquisitions occurred a mere year later, in 1930, when the Oliver Farm Equipment Company purchased the McKenzie Manufacturing Company of LaCrosse, Wisconsin.[16] The McKenzie Manufacturing Company was a leading maker of potato planting and potato harvesting equipment.[2] Acquisition of the McKenzie Company broadened the line of farm equipment offered by Oliver to include potato diggers which were then sold under the "Oliver" name. However, following the 1930 merger production of the "Oliver" potato diggers moved out of LaCrosse, Wisconsin to Chicago, Illinois.[17]

Ann Arbor Agricultural Machine Company

In 1943, the Oliver Farm Equipment Company purchased the Ann Arbor Agricultural Machine Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Founded in 1885, the Ann Arbor Agricultural Machine Company became the leading manufacturer of "hay presses" or stationary balers.

Cleveland Tractor Company

The Cleveland Tractor Company became a part of the Oliver family in 1944. At the October 3, 1944 stockholders meeting, with approval of the stockholders, the corporate name was changed to "The Oliver Corporation".[18] Crawler tractor production ended at Charles City in 1965.

A.B. Farquhar Company

In 1952 the A.B. Farquhar Company was sold to the Oliver Corporation. Founded in York, Pennsylvania, in the 1850s as W.W. Dingee & Co, in 1861 young businessman Arthur Briggs Farquhar bought the business and enlarged it during the Civil War as the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works. In 1889, the A. B. Farquhar Company began building threshing machines and other farm machinery. Later, the company started the production of cultivators for farm use (especially potato harvesting equipment). Farquhar produced some steam engines early then moved onto the production of traction engines.

Product Development


In 1944 Oliver acquired the Cleveland Tractor Company (Cletrac). They continued production of the existing Cletrac HG model until 1951. The Cletrac HG was renamed the Oliver OC-3 which was produced from 1951 through 1957.

In 1956 Oliver announced the slightly larger OC-4 with a four cylinder gas engine. It also offered 3 cylinder gas and diesel versions of the OC-4. The OC-4 product line was discontinued in 1965.

Oliver also produced larger crawlers: the OC-6 from 1953 to 1960; the OC-9 from 1959 to 1965; the OC-12 from 1954 to 1961; and the OC-15 and the large OC-18

All crawler production was halted in 1965.


An Oliver 60 Row Crop built in 1944.

In 1948, Oliver was ready with an entirely new line of tractors. These were built over the successes of the past, including the Oliver 60, 70, and 80 tractors.

The latter was even built with a diesel engine, although very few were sold. However, in the 1950s, Oliver was an industry leader through their promotion of diesel power. Oliver led the industry in the sale of diesel tractor for several years.

The Oliver 66, 77 and 88 tractors of the 1948 to 1954 period, marked an entirely new series of Fleetline models. The 77 and 88 could be bought with either gasoline or diesel engines. During 1954, the company upgraded these tractors with the new "Super" series models, and added the Oliver Super 55. It was the company's first compact utility tractor.

In 1958, Oliver began marketing the new 660, 770, 880, 990, and other new models.

Non-Agricultural Products

During the war years of the 1940s Oliver Corporation expanded rapidly into non-agricultural production, most notably in the defense sector. By 1947, the Oliver Corporation employed 9,000 with 37% of Oliver's production for defense contracts. Product lines included graders, forklifts, road rollers, crawlers, and power units incorporated into products by other companies.

Oliver also built airplane fuselages for Boeing's RB-47E Reconnaissance planes at a Battle Creek, Michigan aviation division set up exclusively for defense contracts. The Charles City, Iowa plant assembled transmissions for the 25-ton crane carriers and built and assembled 106MM recoilless rifle gun mounts for the Army. The Cleveland, Ohio plant built the MG-1 crawler for the Army as well as tank parts. The Gilroy, California plant produced the 76MM guns for the Walker Bull-Dog tank. The Shelbyville, Ohio plant built 155MM Howitzer gun parts.

Acquisition by White Motor Corporation

White Motor Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio had a long history of truck manufacturing. On November 1, 1960, White Motor acquired Oliver, changed the name to Oliver Corporation, and made it a wholly owned, separately operating subsidiary of the White Motor Corporation.[19]

White also acquired Cockshutt Farm Equipment of Canada in February, 1962, and it was made a subsidiary of Oliver Corporation. Cockshutt had also previously in 1928, marketed tractors made by Hart-Parr and again from 1934 through the late 1940s, marketed tractors made by Oliver, only changing the paint colour to red, and changing the name tags to Cockshutt.

Minneapolis-Moline became a wholly owned subsidiary of White Motor Corporation in 1963. The Minneapolis-Moline line was blended into that of Oliver until there was virtually no difference between them.

In 1960, the new four-digit tractor models appeared. Among them were the 1600, 1800 and 1900 models. In 1969 White Motor Corporation formed White Farm Equipment Company, almost immediately after a transitional period when virtually identical tractors were marketed under different trade names. A few models were sold as Oliver, Minneapolis, or Cockshutt, the major difference being the paint colour. As the transaction continued, the White name was more and more applied to the tractor line, with the Oliver 2255, also known as the White 2255, being the last purely "Oliver" tractor. With the introduction of the White 4-150 Field Boss in 1974, the White name would be used, henceforth to the exclusion of all others.

White Motor Corporation shut down the original Oliver Chilled Plow Works factory (factory no. 1) in 1985. The Oliver buildings remained vacant until 2002 when most were demolished to make way for an industrial park. The Oliver powerhouse is now restored and occupied by Rose Brick & Material Rose Brick & Material.

More information about Oliver Tractors can be found in Oliver Heritage Magazine.


  1. ^ C.H. Wendel, Oliver/Hart-Parr (Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc., 1993) p. 5.
  2. ^ a b Oliver/Hart-Parr, p. 123.
  3. ^ a b C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques (Krause Publications: Iola, Wisc., 2004) p. 189.
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques, p. 107.
  5. ^ Davis, H. Gail (1908). "The Story of James Oliver and The Oliver Chilled Plow Works". 1. Personal Papers collection housed in the Archives of the Center for History, South Bend, Indiana: n/a. http://www.centerforhistory.org/ocpw.html. 
  6. ^ a b c d e C.H. Wendel, "Oliver/ Hart-Parr, pp. 107-108.
  7. ^ United States Patent Office, Letters Patent No. 17694, "Improvement in Chilling Plowshares," June 30, 1857, to James Oliver and Harvey Little.
  8. ^ Meikle, Douglas Laing, "James Oliver and the Oliver Chilled Plow Works." unpublished thesis, June, 1958. To learn more about the Oliver company visit Oliver Chilled Plow Works online history
  9. ^ C.H. Wendel, Oliver/Hart-Parr (Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc., 1994) p. 54.
  10. ^ a b Robert N. Pripps and Andrew Moreland, Oliver Tractors" p. 24.
  11. ^ Pripps, pp. 24-25.
  12. ^ a b c Robert N. Pripps and Andrew Morland, Oliver Tractors (Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc., 1994) p. 34.
  13. ^ a b c d e C.H. Wendel, Oliver/Hart-Parr (Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc., 1994) pp. 92-93.
  14. ^ C.H. Wendel, American Farm Implements & Antiques (Krause Publications: Iola, Wisc., 2004) p. 403.
  15. ^ Oliver/Hart-Parr, p. 143.
  16. ^ C.H. Wendel, Oliver/Hart-Parr(Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc., 1994) pp. 5 and 123.
  17. ^ C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implement & Antiques (Krause Publication: Iola, Wisc., 2004) p. 357.
  18. ^ Culbertson, John D.. The Tractor Builders. pp. page 100. 
  19. ^ Culbertson, page 154


  • Oliver Tractor Data Book, Motorbooks International, ISBN 978-0760310830
  • Classic Oliver Tractors: History, Models, Variations & Specifications 1855-1976, Motorbooks International, ISBN 978-0760331996

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