Hundred-Year Harvest

Farmers in 72 lands know Massey-Harris, which grew from a Canadian village foundry to a global industry

JOHN CLARE March 15 1947

Hundred-Year Harvest

Farmers in 72 lands know Massey-Harris, which grew from a Canadian village foundry to a global industry

JOHN CLARE March 15 1947

Hundred-Year Harvest

Farmers in 72 lands know Massey-Harris, which grew from a Canadian village foundry to a global industry


IF YOU want to get a good look at the worldwide operations of the Massey-Harris Co. the best place to stand is on the loading platform of one of its big farm machine plants in Canada or the United States.

The new two-million-dollar combine assembly factory in Toronto is laid out for efficiency with little thought for symbolism. Yet there is a graphic demonstration of the firm’s global activity at the end of the long assembly line where the four-ton self-propelleds are bunted off, one every half hour, as though a gentle giant had given them a kick in their 45-bushel grain tanks.

Look over the shoulder of the shipper with the stencil. This one’s going to Turkey. Yesterday they were shipping to Manchester. Next week South Africa.

At the company’s tractor plant in Racine, Wis., not far from Chicago, the addresses on the crates read like the index in an atlas—Porte Alegre and Paris, China and Bethlehem. And factories in Batavia, N.Y., and Brantford and Woodstock, Ont., are turning out farm tools and equipment which finds its way into 72 countries.

This far-flung Canadian enterprise sprang from a village machine shop and foundry set up in Newcastle, Ont., 54 miles east of Toronto, just 100 years ago. The founder was Daniel Massey, who started out to supply the needs of Durham County

farmers (sap-boiling kettles were his first item).

By expansion and merger Daniel Massey’s village industry soon outgrew Newcastle and became an agricultural tool empire, reaching into every civilized comer of the globe. It manufactured thousands of farm tools and spawned a dynasty of master toolmakers. On the side it has thrown up such distinguished offspring as a Canadian High Commissioner to London, a leading Canadian painter who was a founder of the Group of Seven, and a world-famed stage and screen actor.

In its first hundred years the company has run a tough economic obstacle course—slumps, wars and full scale depressions. It knew a golden age when the Canadian West was unrolling like a blueprint of the future; it came close to disaster in the years when food was so cheap farmers couldn’t afford to grow it.

But today it leads its field in Canada. A capitalization of $49,400,000 makes it four times larger than any other Canadian competitor. It is the biggest manufacturer of farm implements in the Commonwealth. In the United States it is cutting a wide swath through that rich market. It ranks fourth among the giants of the industry south of the border. In its five North American plants 9,100 workers produce a bewildering variety of tools, from the common plow to the complex precisionbuilt self-propelled combine.

The company has just completed its biggest year. The firm has never announced sales figures but informed estimates place the 1946 total at over $70 millions. At present this business is fairly evenly divided among the Canadian, U. S. and overseas markets.

The head office and

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Hundred-Year Harvest

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the main plant are in Toronto. A plant was leased in Manchester in 1945 to overcome British import restrictions. Another at Marquette, near Lille in France, is getting back into full production. The factory at Westhoven, near Cologne, was flattened by thé RAF (assisted by the RCAF) as fast as the Germans could rebuild it. When the war ended it was down. At Sunshine, near Melbourne in Australia, the H. V. McKay Massey-Harris Proprietary Ltd. makes machines bearing the M-H stencil.

1 he firm has sales offices in almost every country of Europe and in Oran, Algeria. Durban is the head office for South Africa; and Buenos Aires the key point in the South American organization.

Massey-Harris grew to its present size in a century in which the farmer was discovering the machine. Daniel Massey set up his shop in the dawn of a new era. The first clanking horse-drawn mowers and reapers made their appearance soon after their invention by Cyrus McCormick in 1831. They replaced the scythe, the sickle and the cradle to which harvesters’ backs had bent since the days of the early Egyptians.

One hundred years ago two men, using a cradle, could cut three to four acres of grain in a day. Their greatgrandsons or great-granddaughters— can now cut and thresh 50 acres a day from the comfortable seat of a selfpropelled combine. In Canada MasseyHarris was a dominant factor in bringing this industrial revolution to the man on the land.

The Masseys and the Harrises

About the time Massey, whose parents brought him to Canada from Watertown, N.Y., was obtaining the Canadian rights for U. S. machines and making them in Canada, Alanson Harris bought a small factory at Beamsville, Ont. In 1872 Harris moved to Brantford, where he built a larger factory for his expanding business, and in 1879 the Massey firm, then run by Hart A. Massey, son of the founder, moved to the Toronto site on King Street West it now occupies.

The two companies were Canada’s eaaing makers of farm machines and they competed vigorously at home and abroad, with Massey holding a slight lead. In 1891 they amalgamated, forming Massey-Harris Co. Ltd. with Hart Massey as president and a capitalization of $5 millions.

The merger of the two major competitors in the industry was the first of a series of amalgamations over the next lew years. Patterson and Wisner, makers of binders and other farm machines, the Verity Plow Co., the Corbin Disc Harrow Co. and the Bain Wagon Co., all entered Massey-Harris. In 1893 the firm made bicycles but later sold out to Canada Cycle and Motor.

As early as 1871 W. H. Verity had shipped chilled steel plows to break the buffalo grass sod of the Canadian prairies. The route lay from his factory in Exeter, Ont., through the United btates by way of St. Paul, Minn., the Red River Valley and back up into Canada. Before the railroad reached Winnipeg both Massey and Harris shipped by the same route, their machines travelling by flat-bottomed nver boat and Red River cart.

The West and the new company grew together. From 1891 to 1918 the capitalization increased fivefold to $2o millions.

During the First World War the company made shells for 18-pounders. In the last war it made shells and mortar bombs (ten and a half millions), truck bodies, naval gun mounts and airplane wings.

Between wars the firm’s fortunes remained closely tied to the economy of the prairies. They rose to a high point in 1929 when M-H reported a record profit of over $2 millions.

In the thirties the firm caught the backwash of the depression and drought on the prairies. Merchandising practices which had permitted the sale of machines on slim cash payments and tenuous credit left the firm with millions in receivables. From 1930 to 1936 Massey - Harris lost $20 millions.

Still Growing at 100

Today 98% of the company’s sales in the West are for cash. Old debts have been paid and the West is fighting to buy anything and everything the machine companies can make.

To meet this demand the Canadian company is expanding. Since the war it has added a self-propelled combine assembly plant to the Toronto setup. The factory turns out 20 to 25 of thé big machines a day for Canadian, American and overseas markets.

At Brantford, where binders and tillage tools are made, a new foundry has been put into production. In keeping with the policy of specialization for each plant, the Woodstock factory is being tooled up for the production of the new pony tractor which will be available this summer. It is a one-plow machine with mounted tools designed to do the work of a two-horse team for the farmer of small


The company employs about 6,500 in these three plants. Agents number about 2,000.

American branch plants in Canada are commonplace, but Canadian plants in the United States are relatively rare. Massey-Harris reversed the usual order of industrial expansion as long ago as 1910 when it bought the Johnston Harvester Co. plant at Batavia, N.Y. In 1928 it added the plant of the JL Case Plow Co. in Racine, a few miles from Chicago, and right in the heart of the United States farm machinery belt. Each U. S. plant employs about 1,300.

During this expansion, the founding families link with the firm became more tenuous. The Harrises have not been represented in the management for some time. The famous Canadian artist, Lawren Harris, and his son, Lawren Jr., are members of that family.

Raymond Massey, the actor, perhaps the most widely known of the Masseys, was with the company briefly on leaving university. Old-timers at MasseyHarris remember him as a tall young man with an interest in the farm machine business that was not visible to the naked eye. He was already making a name for himself in the theatre of Hart House (a family gift to the University of Toronto).

Raymond didn’t stay long in the farm machinery business. He went on to Broadway and some good notices in a play about Abe Lincoln. When Raymond was heard last season as master of ceremonies in a radio show sponsored by the International Harvester Co. some listeners who had known the family and its pride in Massey-Harris said they could detect a faint rumbling behind the music. This, they believed, was the sound of the founder rolling in his grave.

Vincent Massey, versatile scholar, businessman and diplomat, became president in 1922. In 1925 he sold out

his interest in M-H and entered the Cabinet as minister without portfolio. He became the first Canadian Minister to Washington and then High Commissioner to London until he retired last year.

For the first time in more than 20 years there is again a member of the founding families in the firm. He is Lionel Massey, 28, son of Vincent, who joined the company last year and is being trained in the sales division. He has been with the Saskatoon branch.

Four Masseys have headed the firm. The first was Hart, son of the founder and first president of the merged Massey and Harris companies. In 1896 he passed control to Walter E. H. Massey, his oldest living son. From 1901 to 1903 Chester D. Massey, Walter’s brother, was president. Vincent Massey, Chester’s son, was the fourth in the family line.

Duncan, the Cosmopolite

Tenth president and current head of the M-H empire is James Stuart Duncan, who at 53 is one of Canada’s youngest and liveliest tycoons.

Duncan is a slight, youthful-looking man, five feet 10 inches tall, weighing about 165 pounds. His dark hair is crisp and plentiful and is becomingly flecked with grey. He has an accent that shows traces of the languages he speaks—French, Spanish, German and some Italian. There is a touch of male elegance in his dress, a suavity in his manner that should protect him from ever being described as a tweedy type.

Duncan is an example of a man who got what he wanted. His father was the company’s manager in Paris when the present president was born. Duncan senior was later European manager and his son started as office boy in the Berlin branch at the age of 12. He dreamed of one day becoming European chief. He hardly dared think of the possibility of heading MasseyHarris.

He first came to Canada in 1911 to work in the Toronto and Brantford factories and later study the sales setup of the home office. Fie returned to France for the company in 1914 and joined the Royal Field Artillery as a gunner. He was discharged in 1919 with the rank of captain and a mention in dispatches.

He returned to Massey-Harris as inspector of continental agencies, rose to the post of assistant manager for France and, on the death of his father in 1925, took over the Paris office as manager. He later became European manager.

In 1933 he was sent to Buenos Aires as manager for Argentina and two years later returned to Toronto as general sales manager and then general manager. In 1936 he was named vicepresident and early in 1940 was called to Ottawa to the post of deputy minister for air. He had much to do with tightening up and bringing to fulfillment the Empire Air Training Plan. He was recently awarded the C.M.G. for his wartime work.

When Thomas Russell died late in 1940, Mr. Duncan succeeded him as president. Suave, hard-working, Duncan has a conception of his company that few of his colleagues have had the opportunity to acquire. To him, in his early years, Massey-Harris was the Paris office and a network of factories and agencies crisscrossing Europe and extending into North Africa. From this vantage point he probably saw the global nature of Massey-Harris a little more clearly than some of his Torontotrained associates.

“I regard Massey-Harris as an export company but the needs of the Canadian

farmer will always come first,” he said recently.

Mr. Duncan stresses the fact that today the industry in Canada and the United States operates on practically a free trade basis. Except in the days of the Bennett administration, he points out, the Canadian duty on farm machinery was never really high, and today there is none at all. MasseyHarris self-propelleds from Toronto enter United States duty free, and Massey-Harris tractors from Racine, if destined to farmers, hurdle no tariff wall to enter Canada. Industrial tractors do pay duty.

When Duncan came to the Toronto office in 1935 he was faced with two major problems. The way he handled them has had a profound effect on the fortunes of Massey-Harris and the reputation of James Duncan.

From Argentina the new general manager brought with him the conviction that the self-propelled combine was the harvesting machine of the future.

The tractor-drawn combine had been introduced to western Canada in 1921 and was coolly received. It was not until striking demonstrations of the machine were made in 1922 at the Dominion Experimental Farm in Swift Current that western farmers were convinced. At one stroke the farmer was relieved of the vast threshing gangs that once followed the harvest.

Duncan thought of the self-propelled first as an item which would appeal to the farmers of the Argentine pampas who hadn’t shown much interese in the tractor-drawn version because their own horsepower on the hoof was plentiful and expendable. His conception of the possibilities of the machine enlarged and he pushed the scheme through his own company past some opposition.

The self-propelled combine marks the high point of the advance in farm machines from the days of the binders and threshing machines with their big gangs fed by excursions run from eastern Canada. It cuts and threshes the grain in one operation. The gang has been brought to what seems to be the irreducible minimum—one man.

On Duncan’s initiative, MasseyHarris developed the first workable self-propelled combine. It went on the market in 1939 and put the firm a step ahead of its competitors in the technical race for new machines and new customers. It sells for around $3,000.

The U. S. Revival

The second far-reaching decision which Duncan influenced was the resolve to retain the company’s organization in the United States. When the economic rains came after 1929 the U. S. company ran into difficulties. As in Canada there were millions of dollars of bad debts in the marginal farming areas of the States. The organization, never sound, was in bad shape.

Duncan had to decide whether or not Massey-Harris should stay south of the border. He decided to stay and convinced the board of directors that it would be unwise to pull out of that rich farm market.

His next move was to bring in his friend, W. K. Hyslop, European general manager, as,general manager of the U. S. company. Under the Hyslop regime, the number of agencies in the fruitful Middle West was increased and at the same time the over-all number was reduced from 2,500 to 1,300; the Nash-Kelvinator plant in Racine was bought in 1942 and today the healthy condition of the U. S. organization is a tribute to the foresight of James Duncan.

Duncan himself gives a lot of the

credit to Hyslop, who is now vicepresident of the parent company, and president of the U. S. firm. Hyslop, whose head office is in Racine, is a farmer and looks like one in spite of his well-cut business suits and his cigarette holder. His farm is near Lethbridge, Alta., where his partner looks after their five sections.

“I got out of school in 1907 with a B.A. and an urge to travel,” Hyslop told me. “I hadn’t seen anything but North Dakota and not much of that. With some pals I went down to New Mexico to work in the mines. We were getting $3.50 a day.

“My friends got the idea we should buy a six months lease on one of the copper mines. We budgeted ourselves to a dollar a day for food, another fifty cents for spending money and two dollars for the lease,” recalls Hyslop.

They got the lease. The assay classes Hyslop had taken because he preferred them to English and history brought a cash return a B.A. rarely realizes—the boys made $64,000.

Hyslop took his share and came to Canada where he bought his Lethbridge farm. Later he went to work for International Harvester as a collector and in 1914 went to Europe for that company. In Spain he met Duncan and after working for Ford and IHC again, joined the Massey-Harris European staff. He is a naturalized Canadian.

The Racine plant, which covers four city blocks, is regarded as the last word in modern industiial organizations. It has ranks of turret lathes—stacks of mammoth tires—a weird heat-treat machine for gears, called the Rube Goldberg by the men who run it and a dust room where tractors are tested in the same conditions they’ll meet in Manitoba or Oklahoma.

During the war light tanks, 3,000 of them, were made at Racine. The company won Army and Navy “E’s” for efficiency and at the end of the war had the only plant in the U. S. making light tanks. The principal item was the M5, known on the desert as the Honey.

The Batavia plant is largely devoted to the assembly of Clipper self-propelled combines designed for use in the smaller fields of the Eastern States. Going into production is a self-propelled cotton picker, the first of its kind.

The U. S. company had its best year in 1946 and hopes for an even larger share of its market. In fact, the company’s heads believe the day will come when the U. S. market will be the

firm’s biggest. Right now Hyslop is working to move the sales emphasis from the marginal farming areas to the fruitful and wealthy Middle West, with an increased M-H representation in the Eastern States.

No Union Troubles

Both plants have been unionized for the last 10 years, with the Steel Workers Union at Batavia and the United Auto Workers at Racine. In that time there has not been a walkout and the two CIO unions want to get in on the centenary celebration this summer and mark this decade of industrial peace.

A couple of years ago tension crept into a series of discussions the union was having with the front office. They both asked Washington to send down a conciliator to help.

He was a precise referee and insisted that the disputants meet on neutral ground. They took a room at the hotel and labor and management sent its delegates down to talk it over with the conciliator.

The referee’s car broke down and he was late. In the meantime the delegates discovered a piano in the conference room and one of the union boys who could play. When the conciliator arrived he found his clients singing.

He made them straighten up and remember who they were and told them to sit at opposite sides of the conference table, welk segregated, and stop being so friendly. He said afterward it was one of the easiest disputes he ever had to iron out.

Massey-Harris put its name in big type before the people of the United States and did a big job that needed to be done when it acted on the suggestion of vice-president Joe Tucker, a sixfooter who gives off ideas like an emery wheel throwing off sparks.

In 1944 the world need for food was acute. There was a big crop in the States but gasoline was scarce as were machines and men. Tucker asked Washington to release material for the construction of an additional 500 selfpropelled combines. The understanding was that these would be sold to farmers who would pledge to cut at least 2,000 acres.

The Harvest Brigade, as it was called, started in Texas in July and cutting everything from onion seed to flax, moved north to the hard wheat belt near the Canadian border. The brigade cut over a million acres of crops

of all kinds. Marshal Joe and his organization kept the operators supplied with spare parts, often using light airplanes for the job, and kept the whole force moving night and day.

This operation has inspired a Technicolor movie by Paramount called “The Big Haircut.” It stars Alan Ladd and Brian Donlevy; Dorothy Lamour is the farmer’s daughter. One supercolossal scene shows 54 combines in action at once. There were only 27 available at the time but Hollywood used a camera trick to double the number so no one would think they were doing it on the cheap.

The film is due to be released some time this summer.

The idea of a Canadian firm invading the U. S. with its own factories and sales organization is unusual enough to cause mild alarm among some MasseyHarris men who fear their customers might not want to buy from a foreign company. In some U. S. publicity, founder Daniel Massey is described as a native Vermonter. But for the most part Massey-Harris men in the U. S. organization don’t care who knows that it all started in Canada.

“It never lost us a sale to have people know we’re Canadian, although some of our competitors make a point of mentioning it over here,” said one M-H man recently. “We’re selling a machine and if the farmer likes it he won’t care where it comes from.”

Eighty Years of Exploiting

Overseas the M-H mark on a farm machine is a familiar and friendly sign to many farmers. The company sent machines to Europe before it sent them to western Canada.

In 1867 Massey machines were chosen to represent Canada at the International Exposition in Paris. These entries won prizes, including the blue ribbon of the show, and Emperor Napoleon bought a Wood’s Mower, made by Massey, for his estate.

In 1887 J. S. Duncan, father of the president, was named to head a Paris office. In the 80’s Harris binders were widely sold in Europe, South America and Australia.

Interest in the overseas business, which is all handled from the Toronto office, is as keen today as it was when Massey-Harris was breaking into foreign markets. For there are new markets today for farm machines, markets that were never considered as early as

20 years ago. For instance, it has been shown that rice can be harvested by combine and Massey-Harris is putting tracks on its self-propelleds and selling them to various Indian states, China and the Philippines, as well as to rice growers in Texas and California.

The company’s men are hard on the heel of new business overseas. From V-E Day to the following October Massey-Harris men visited 35 different countries. Duncan himself has been to Europe three times since the end of the war, and almost any time now he will take off for Australia.

Since the war the company has been able to make little more than token shipments, so great is the demand. Immediately following the war sales were made to UNRRA but now deals are made directly with customers or through missions in Canada. Thus far all of the sales have been for cash. It has not been necessary to invoke the credit arrangements set up by the Dominion to facilitate foreign trade.

Massey-Harris is proud of its overseas trade record and technique. Significant of the position the firm holds in the export field is the fact that the president, on his return from his trips, invariably reports to the federal Department of Trade and Commerce on the marketing conditions in the countries he visited.

To Canadians serving overseas Massey-Harris binders were familiar and nostalgic symbols of home. In Normandy, in the summer of 1944, airmen from a RCAF Typhoon wing helped a farmer near Creully to harvest his crop, the first the Germans hadn’t shared for four years. The stookers in air force blue worked behind a MasseyHarris binder.

Last summer Harry Smith, one of the firm’s European representatives, had the job of setting up a combine in Bratislava. After the self-propelled had made a couple of cuts the villagers celebrated the event by knocking off for the day and breaking out a fete. Smith was cheered as though he had come in on a liberating tank.

But, there are no case histories on the company’s books to compare with the devotion expressed by Delphanque Courtembos of Soignie, near Brussels. For many years M. Courtembos was a Massey-Harris dealer and before he died in 1918 he had one request to make of his heirs. They agreed, and today a bronze plaque on his grave bears the image of a Massey-Harris binder. ★