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James Oliver

His Equipment Made Life Much Easier for U.S. Farmers

James Oliver spent most of his life trying to make things easier for American farmers. He made farm machinery - mainly plows - lighter, more durable, and easier to operate. ■ At the time of his death, the Oliver Plow Works covered 62 acres and employed 2,000 men. A close friend said Oliver was more of an inventor than a manufacturer, though his company made 200,000 plows each year. ■ James Oliver was born in Liddesdale in Roxburghshire in the Scottish Lowlands on August 20, 1823, the youngest of six sons and two daughters. ■ When he was 12, the family decided to follow the two eldest sons in the family in emigrating to America. the family settled on a farm near Geneva, New York, then decided to follow other Scots settlers by moving on to Indiana. They found a farm near Mishawaka. ■ Oliver's father died a few years later, and James went to work on a neighboring farm. Although he turned over most of his wages to his mother, young Oliver managed to save enough to buy a quarter share in an iron foundry. ■ As sole owner, Oliver was then able to experiment. He wanted to produce the hardest and lightest and cheapest plow in the business. He tried chill cooling and annealing and other experiments until he thought he had the right formula. Although John Deere had invented the steel plow, Oliver's was lighter and cheaper. ■ Demand for the Oliver plow outstripped the capacity of the facilities, and a new plant that could produce 250,000 a year was built. ■ Oliver built the Oliver Hotel and the City Hall. And although scarcely known today, Oliver contributed mightily to the advancement of the American standard of living. ■ He died March 2, 1908, in South Bend.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546