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Innovative Beginnings

The foundations of the Case Corporation were laid when Jerome I. Case relocated in 1842 from Oswego County, in western New York State, to Rochester in Wisconsin Territory. Wisconsin would not become a state for another six years. He selected Rochester because it had been heralded as the center of new and wonderful wheat country.

At the age of 23, Case was already an experienced thresherman, having spent six years threshing wheat for New York farmers. He financed his trip westward through the Great Lakes by purchasing, on credit, six new “groundhog” threshers and selling five of them on his way overland between Chicago and Rochester. The sixth he kept and began contracting with farmers to thresh their grains for them.

During the off seasons, he tinkered with his thresher and improved it. The groundhog was a vast improvement over flailing the wheat by hand, but still it merely beat the grain out of the heads and deposited both grain and straw in a pile. The wheat still had to be separated from the chaff. Case combined the thresher with a fanning mill to create a machine that not only beat out the wheat kernels, it then separated them from the straw, delivering cleaned grain from a sprout and blowing the straw and chaff into the pile.

Case Move to Racine

Demand for his improved machine led him into the idea of manufacturing them. To do that, he needed a shop and waterpower from the Fox River. But local businessmen who controlled water rights refused to let Case install another millrace and wheel. In 1844, Jerome I. Case moved to Racine where his company became one of the major manufacturers of farm equipment in the world.

Acquisitions

Over the years the J.I. Case firm purchased many other companies in its quest to become a full-line company. There were no overall plans for acquisitions; they came as opportunities presented themselves. As early as 1914 the company was advertising the Sattley plow. Tillage equipment made by the Grand Detour Plow Company was sold by Case in 1915 and in 1919 that company was purchased as Case moved toward being a full-line producer of farm equipment. The firm was founded in 1837 as the Andrus Plough Manufactory and had employed the services of a talented blacksmith named John Deere. In 1846 Deere moved to Moline, Illinois and founded the company that now bears his name. The Grand Detour Company had moved to nearby Dixon, Illinois when it was purchased by Case.

The Pierce Motor Company began building automobiles in 1906 and by 1910 was principally owned and managed by Case people. Case purchased the company two years later and built automobiles until 1927. Three Case automobiles were entered in the first Indianapolis 500 race.

The Emerson-Brantingham Company of Rockford, Illinois began producing a reaper and developed into a full-line company. It was in financial difficulty when Case purchased its farm equipment business in 1928. Through this acquisition, the company obtained a badly needed line of binders, mowers, reapers, planters, corn drills, disc cultivators, hay rakes, tedders, hay loaders and manure spreaders. Adding the Emerson-Brantingham facilityrendered the former Grand Detour plant superfluous and that plant was closed.

Rock Island Plow Company was purchased in 1937. It had been founded in 1855, making plows and wagons. By 1900 it also produced drills, spreaders, shellers, potato diggers, elevators, hammer mills, binders, mowers and gas engines.

Other acquisitions include:

  • Showers Brothers, a furniture factory in Burlington, Iowa, was purchased by Case in 1937 and the plant was used to make small combines.
  • Soon after the close of World War II, Case purchased a government-owned plant in Bettendorf, Iowa.
  • The J.I. Case Plow Works was a separate company that competed with the original Case firm. The Plow Works was eventually sold to Massey-Harris.

The J.I. Case Company name lasted until 1985 when the Case tractor division was merged with International Harvester to form Case-IH.

Written by Ray Heller
© 2004 Racine Heritage Museum