Reflections – Farm Implement Dealers

Posted: November 17, 2023

DeKalb’s Charles W. Marsh, in his book Recollections 1837-1910, recalled that on farms in his boyhood the only implement that could be considered a machine was the fanning mill. From his 1910 perspective, he marveled, “Excepting the fanning mill, the outfit of implements did not cost twenty-five dollars, cash out [about $800 today].”

By 1854, Montague’s Illinois and Missouri State Directory for 1854-55 lists three Plow Makers & Dealers in DeKalb County, two of which are also listed under Agricultural Implements – Makers and Dealers.

In following years, agricultural implements boomed, and several were invented and manufactured locally.

Sallee Implement Sales in DeKalb sold farm machinery in the 1940s and 1950s.

By 1871, the county boasted at least 14 implement dealers located in Sycamore, DeKalb, Sandwich, and Somonauk. As a hint of things to come, three of the 14 are Ellwood brothers. Malta dealers included J.M. Orput, trumpeted as “The inventor of the Orput Harvester.”

DeKalb County implement dealers additionally included at least three “manufactories,” companies that manufactured the implements that they sold.

Another new way to purchase machinery appeared; the McCormick Company engaged sales agents for reapers and mowers: E. C. Beardsley in Sycamore and DeKalb (where Beardsley’s office was located) and W. J. Bates in Cortland.

In 1885, on the cusp of the steam powered machinery era, the value of the agricultural implements manufactured in DeKalb County had grown to $54,695 [nearly two million dollars today], not counting the majority of implements sold that were manufactured elsewhere.

The scale of the development in this business required new measures.

In April 1885, Charles W. Marsh released the first issue of Farm Implement News, a copiously illustrated periodical published in Chicago (while Marsh still resided in DeKalb) that he intended to be “a dealers’ paper.” The magazine featured the full scope of industry developments as well as the detailed history of implements.

Area Implement Dealers 1947 – 1980

The directories included with the 1892 plat maps are incomplete, but give a glimpse of the more dispersed dealers throughout the county. Dealers had spread to Franklin Township and Esmond.

The Prairie Farmer’s Reliable Directory from 1917 lists 19 dealers for agricultural implements, nine of them in Sycamore and DeKalb alone, but also Fairdale, Genoa, Hinckley, Kirkland, Sandwich, Shabbona, Somonauk, and Waterman.

At this point, a few implements are still manufactured in DeKalb County. But most implements still appear to be largely horse-drawn affairs like the “Tower” System, advertised in the Sycamore True Republican in February 1920, sold across the Midwest. The ad informed readers that the system could “be purchased from any of the reliable dealers in this neighborhood” including dealers in Shabbona and Shabbona Grove. Through the 1940s, catalogs and pocket notebooks distributed by implement dealers still offered this kind of machinery.

Sheahan Equipment was in business from 1964 to the 2000s, located on Rt. 64, Sycamore.

By the 1950s, the scale and complexity of machinery began to grow and change rapidly. At the same time, the names of the businesses changed too. Implement dealers, now much less numerous, were as likely to be named for their location – like Sycamore Implement Company – as to be named for their owner – like Varland-Jelm Implement Company in Somonauk.

Information provided by the DeKalb County History Center. For more information visit
www.DeKalbCountyHistory.org.


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