The Rise of the Farm Implement Manufacturers in Brantford - Post 8

The railway revolution in Ontario began in the 1850s. Railways conquered inland distances like no other form of transportation to that time. Quick and relatively unfettered access to the interior of the province was now possible. Buffalo was 24 hours away via steamer using the Grand River Navigation Company’s waterway. When the railway arrived in Brantford in 1854, travel time to Buffalo was cut to 4 hours.

Because travel was so difficult, local economies served local needs; blacksmiths, wagon makers, farm implement makers, were all small enterprises selling mostly to residents in their immediate vicinity. Moving anything large and heavy overland was virtually impossible given that the poor road conditions could not support the weight of heavy shipments. Rail changed that. Large, heavy objects could be moved easily beyond the local trade area. Small enterprises could grow because their markets expanded. Economy of scale could be achieved resulting in lower prices, further expanding markets. Change was not immediate, but gradual. Railway development didn’t proliferate in Ontario until the 1870s. In the meantime, as we recounted in last month’s article, manufacturing continued to develop in Brantford, attracting entrepreneurs, skilled tradesmen, and capital.

Farm implements manufacturing

Large scale production of farm implements, which was the main economic driver of the City’s economy for over 100 years, did not begin until the 1870s. This development would result in Brantford ranking third in Canada for the export of manufactured goods by 1905, surpassed only by Montreal and Toronto.

It is not a coincidence that the farm implement industry took root in the 1870s. During the 1870s and 1880s, Canada levied a high tariff on imported farm machinery which made Canadian produced machines less expensive than their imported counterparts.  Canadian manufacturers usually got started by initially licensing American designs. As they grew and prospered they began to innovate and on many occasions led the industry in innovations, e.g. Harris’ Brantford open-end binder which allowed grain of any length to be cut and tied, or Cockshutt’s riding plow. These companies grew beyond Canada to worldwide enterprises.

A. Harris, Son and Company

A Harris, Son and Company was founded by Alanson Harris in Beamsville in 1857. In 1871 Harris moved the business to Brantford where he formed a partnership with his son J. Harris and J.K. Osborne. The firm was incorporated in 1881. The company focused on the development and production of harvesting machinery - mowers, reapers, and self binders. The original factory was located on the south side of Colborne Street below George Street. By 1882 the company had relocated to “Cockshutt Flats”, Market Street South on the site of the present Civic Centre.

By 1890 the farm implement industry was dominated by the Massey Company of Toronto and A. Harris, Son and Company of Brantford. These two companies achieved their position through technology leadership and aggressive marketing. The companies amalgamated in 1891. The combined entity became known as the Massey-Harris Company Limited. The company built the world’s first self-propelled combine harvester in 1938. In 1958 the company was renamed Massey-Ferguson. The company closed its Brantford operations in 1988 after going into receivership.

Verity Plow Company

The Verity Plow Company began operations in 1857 manufacturing plows in Exeter, Ontario. Soon the company was producing mowers, reapers, and stoves. In 1875 the stoves patents were sold and Verity concentrated efforts on plow production. Business grew to the point that better facilities were required and in 1892 the company moved to Brantford, into the former J.O. Wisner premises at Wellington and Clarence Streets (discussed in April’s column). In 1895 the company became affiliated with the Massey-Harris Company. This allowed the company to focus solely on plow design and development while Massey-Harris provided the the exclusive sales organisation for the company’s output. Their factory burned down in 1897 and a new facility was built on Greenwich Street, at Murray Street, in 1898. Massey-Harris wholly acquired Verity in 1914. The factory buildings were demolished in 2014 as the property undergoes environmental remediation.

Cockshutt Plow Company

The Brantford Plow Works was started in 1877 by James G. Cockshutt, who had an idea he could make a better plow. He wanted to make every item so well that its reputation would drive growth. The company, financed by James’ father Ignatius Cockshutt, developed and produced stoves, scufflers, and walking plows. Cockshutt created the first plows specifically designed for breaking prairie sod. This helped the company achieve a leadership position with western Canadian farmers. The pioneering J.G.C. Riding Plow became known as the plow that opened the west. The name of the company was changed to the Cockshutt Plow Company when the company was incorporated in 1882. The company started production where the casino parking lot is today. In 1903 a new complex covering 23 acres was built on Mohawk St. In 1945 Cockshutt introduced the world’s first live power take-off (PTO) tractor. In 1958 the company was taken over by a British mercantile bank and the name of company was changed to Cockshutt Farm Equipment Limited. White Motor Company acquired the company in 1962 and the company was renamed White Farm Equipment in 1969. By the 1975, the Cockshutt name was no longer used on any White made equipment. In 1985 operations in Brantford ceased.

In thirty years the farm implement manufacturing sector grew exponentially. By the end of the 19th century Massey-Harris and Cockshutt alone employed 35 percent of Brantford’s workforce.