Story of Harvester, Which Made Plano Famous
Published in the Kendall County News, June 17, 1908
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson
Fifty-two miles from Chicago in a southwesterly direction, straight as the crow flies and on the main line of the famous Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad stands the renowned Harvester City of Plano. Nature was lavish with her bounties in the making of Plano. With whimsical partiality she endowed this spot with more than its share of the blessings when in the glacial period, aeons ago, she threw to the surface the mighty rocks which give to the city and all who inhabit it the purest water in Illinois, the water known as Waukesha. People in less favorable places are glad to purchase the water by the gallon. Dame Nature continued her work by so directing the courses of the waters that they completely encircle the city on the east, south and west.
Plano's world-famous inventors drew to this site a crowd of 3,000 strangers to witness the first Marsh harvester work. The city is thus advertised the universe over as a place of great happenings.
Plano, with a population of 2,500 souls, is one of the oldest community centers in Illinois, and celebrated its fiftieth birthday anniversary (dating from its incorporation) on June 25, 1903. The Chicago Tribune on this occasion devoted a large space in its columns to commemorate the event. The paper sent to Plano as its special staff correspondent one of its best writers, Arthur Sears Henning, a grand-nephew of Cornelius Henning, the founder of Little Rock Township, in which Plano is located.
Over fifty percent of the component parts of the International Harvester Corporation had its origin in Plano. The Marsh Harvester, the original of all present-day self-binders was born and perfected in Plano. C. W. and W. W. Marsh of DeKalb, Illinois conceived the idea in 1857. A dozen machines were built in 1860. The machines proved to be too frail for the harvest of that year and the Marsh Brothers were on the point of giving up, when they prevailed upon Lewis Steward, of Plano to come to DeKalb and inspect the machines.
"The machine was operating in heavy grain," said C. W. Marsh, when interviewed recently for the Prospectus at his home in DeKalb. "It was behaving rather worse than usual. It only ran a few rods and broke down. However, it did good work as far as it went. One man, W. W. Marsh, was doing the binding and turning off good bundles, as the grain came to him from the elevator. We were in despair and wanted Mr. Steward to wait until we could fix the machine. 'Boys,' said he, 'you are all right. I see that the binding can be done and the machine cuts and delivers well. If it can be made to run ten rods, it can be made to run ten miles, and there is a man in Plano that can do it. Come down there with your machine, and I will guarantee that you will get one made that will stand up to its work,' This was a turning point in harvester history."
In the winter of 1860-61 W. W. Marsh and Uncle John Hollister (the man) built at Plano a harvester that, beginning with the harvest of 1861, cut more grain than any other machine of its class ever did. Arrangements were made with Mr. Steward for manufacturing at Plano. Steward and Henning advanced the necessary money, and George Steward and C. W. Marsh were hired to run the shop.
For many years Marsh Harvesters were manufactured and sold all over the world. The twine binder, the knotter and every important revolution in harvesting machinery took place in Plano. When in the early seventies the Harvester Company passed into the hands of E. H. Gammon and William Deering, it was the Marsh Harvester that was turned out by the thousands, the same machine that had its birth in this city. In 1880 William Deering moved to North Chicago and many of the Plano mechanics moved with him and entered the huge shops at Deering. However, the people of Plano revived the old plant and organized the Plano Steam Power Company. The company turned over the old Marsh Harvester buildings to the Plano Manufacturing Company. Mr. W. H. Jones took charge, and for eleven years, until 1902, the Plano Manufacturing Company led the world in harvesting machinery. How the Plano Manufacturing Company moved to West Pullman in 1902 is a matter of history. Even at this, the city of Plano did not flinch. They again took up the task of manufacturing and sold part of the factory buildings to the Plano Implement Company, manufactures of potato planters. This institution ran two years. The buildings, plant and machinery were then sold to A. H. Sears, and are now known as the Sears Manufacturing Works. Then the Earl Manufacturing Company was started. The organization of the great Independent Harvester Co. a year or two later virtually gave back to Plano all its ancient glories. It once more looms up as the greatest manufacturing city of its size in the United States.
Plano's great scenery enticed many people of note at an early date. Among others, Horace Greeley, and the New York Tribune in an article some years ago tells how Greeley was inspired to write "Go west, Young Man," from having seen the picturesque dells and streams in and around Plano. No one will deny that the twin factors of western development are these words of Horace Greeley and the self-binder.
Plano invites capital for the development of waterpower. Plano is the best power location on the Fox River, and one-day it will drive every industrial wheel in Plano, in addition to its electric light system and the trolley line now being talked of. This power is located at Millhurst, two miles from Plano. Millhurst consists of eighteen acres of wood and water. It is the famous summer resort of this section and is enough in itself to make Plano famous.
Plano has the finest gravel pits in the United States, making its roadways the best in the country. It has an abundance of spring water for every purpose, and the cheapest maintained waterworks known. It has a first-class volunteer fire department. Church buildings are in advance of any town its size. It supports a Carnegie Library. Its High School building is equal to any school building in Chicago. Main Street is one mile in length and for beauty and symmetry is one of the famous thoroughfares in Illinois. Every street in Plano is arched like a cathedral from end to end the Gothic branches of the maple and elm meeting overhead. Plano has a good electric light and heating plant and two telephone companies, the Bell and Northern Illinois. It is the best-improved city of its size in America.
It has almost all of the fraternal orders represented and three strong clubs, the Maramech, the Blackhawk and the Woman's Club. Property values are wonderfully low. Side by side with this fact is the paradox that the value of farmlands has risen fifty percent in the past ten years. Something new is being brought to Plano almost every week in the year. Two new factories have come in this year, the American Manual Training Company and the Baker Manufacturing Company. What Plano now requires is more residents; more people who will make this city their home. It has more homemaking features than any other country town within the fifty-mile radius of Chicago. It offers the freedom of the city to all that will come and investigate.