Reprinted with permission from, Missouri Historical Review,
April 1992, The State Historical Society of Missouri, 1020 Lowry
Street Columbia, Missouri 65201
Consumers Union celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1986 by
publishing a special commemorative book, I'll Buy That, in
which it identified fifty twentieth-century inventions that had
'revolutionized the lives of consumers.'1 One of
the fifty, the rotary power lawn mower, originated in the basement
of a house on East Market Street in Warrensburg, Missouri, where
Leonard B. Goodall lived and developed the mower. His work
represents the story of an individual who saw a need and, with the
spirit of an entrepreneur, set out to meet it.
Immediately after World War II, an important part of the
American Dream included owning a home with a yard and, perhaps,
even a white picket fence. Just as air-conditioning allowed people
to live comfortably in warm climates. Goodall's mower enabled
individuals to maintain relatively large lawns in a neat and
Prior to the invention of the rotary mower, mowers were of the
reel type. They could not cut high grass, which made it difficult
for individuals to push them long enough to mow a large yard. As
long as most people lived in cities or on farms, this presented no
problem. City dwellers had either no yards or only small ones, and
farm animals served as 'mowers' for rural inhabitants. The
post-World War II suburbanization movement created a great need for
a mower that could be used on large lawns, and Goodall's rotary
power mower responded to that need.
Born to farmers in Delphos, Kansas, on November 17, 1895,
Leonard B. Goodall grew up in the rural and small-town atmosphere
of central Kansas. Although he completed only eight grades, he had
a curious mind about mechanical mattersa curiosity that remained
with him throughout his life and dominated his professional
activities and work habits.
As a teenager, Goodall attempted to repair a tractor with open
drive while the engine ran. The vibration caused the tractor to
jump into gear. His left leg caught in the gears, necessitating its
amputation. This tragedy later had a dramatic impact on his life.
The handicap and his resulting inability to push a reel-type mower
caused him to seek another approach to lawn mowing.
As a young man, Goodall moved to Salina, Kansas, where he
married, and he fathered a daughter, Viva. The marriage ended in
divorce, and in the mid 1920s he moved to Kansas City, Missouri.
His curiosity had led him to develop a strong interest in two
technological advances still in their infancy in the 1920sthe radio
and the automobile. He had read and studied all that he could find
While looking for a job, Goodall responded to an advertisement
in the Kansas City Star for a radio repairman at the College Store,
a privately owned book and school materials store in Warrensburg,
Missouri. The exact date of this move is unknown, but his family
believes it occurred about 1927. Although he knew little about
repairing radios, neither did anyone else, and the College Store
hired him. He moved to Warrensburg, found a single room in a
rooming house on West Culton and began work. The owner of the
store, Kenneth Robinson, became a lifelong friend, and
Robinson's son-in-law, Garrett Crouch, later served as
Goodall's attorney and as attorney for the Goodall
Soon after moving to Warrensburg, two important events occurred
in Good-all's life. First, he met Eula Johnson, a waitress in
the Estes Hotel coffee shop where he ate regularly. She would later
become his wife. Second, he became friends with Stanford McCann, an
employee at the Ford dealership. McCann helped Goodall get a job
there, and he soon left the College Store to work for Theodore
Shock, owner of the Ford dealership. Goodall served first as a
mechanic and later as shop foreman, a position he held through the
years of the depression and into the late 1930s.
This advertisement for Goodall mowers appeared in the Kansas
City Star on March 23, 1947.
On May 11, 1929, he married Eula Johnson, and they soon built a
small two-bedroom bungalow at 444 East Market, a home they occupied
until his death in 1971. The basement of that house became
Goodall's first workshop, and the Goodall Corporation buildings
were later built in the back yard and on a vacant lot next
After marrying, Goodall settled down to weather the depression.
In addition to his regular job at the Ford dealership, he spent
most evenings working at home on products that would enhance his
income. He designed and manufactured two items that became locally
popular. The first jigsaw puzzle she made by pasting pictures on
thin plywood and then carefully cutting each piece with his saw.
His unique way of cutting the pieces allowed the puzzle to be
picked up. After the puzzle was put together, one could pick it up
by a corner, and the pieces would stay together. (This feature may
have had little practical application, but Goodall was quite proud
of it anyway!) The puzzles served two purposes. He sold some, and
he took others to the College Store, where they were rented to the
public at ten cents per puzzle.
His other product was inlaid wooden lamps. He glued various
kinds of wood together and then used his lathe to form the glued
masses into attractive lamps. The pieces of wood then appeared as
designs. The puzzles and the lamps supplemented the family income
and provided an outlet for Goodall's creative energies.
The Goodalls also started their own business during the
depression. When the Estes Coffee Shop developed financial
difficulties, they took it over. Eula doubled as owner/manager as
well as a waitress, and Goodall continued to work at the Ford
dealership. After he opened the restaurant at 6:00 a.m., Eula came
in a bit later to oversee the breakfast hour. By 8:00, Leonard was
at his Ford job. He returned to help close the restaurant in the
evening at 9:00. Leonard and Eula believed in the work ethic; the
restaurant closed only one day a yearon Christmas. They operated
the restaurant until 1941 and then sold it to devote more time to
the mower business.
The Goodalls' only child, Leonard Edwin, was born in
The puzzles, the lamps and the coffee shop did not take all of
Goodall's attention during this period. He began to spend
evenings, after closing the coffee shop, working on the first
rotary power lawn mower. His large yard was difficult to cut with a
reel mower, and Goodall's artificial leg further hindered his
He first directed his efforts toward making the reel mower more
efficient. He attempted to mount a blade on a bracket on the front
of a reel mower. To be run by a pulley from the reel, it was to
spin and cut the tallest grass, leaving only the short grass to be
cut by the regular blade. It was, however, still manually powered.
Now the new blade as well as the regular reel had to be turned by
the person pushing the mower. Goodall soon decided this was not a
promising solution to the problem of lawn mowing.
Next, he placed the rotary blade beneath a metal frame and
mounted an engine on top of the frame and two wheels on the sides.
He then used a belt with a ninety-degree twist to run from the
engine to the shaft that came up through the frame from the blade.
This enabled the engine to power the blade.
As Goodall experimented with making a rotary mower, he rejected
two ideas quite early in the process. First, he did not like
electric motors. He believed they did not have enough power, and he
disliked having a long electric cord running to the mower. He was
concerned that the cord would be accidentally cut and that an
individual would be shocked, or worse. Therefore, he decided to use
a gasoline engine to propel his mower.
Second, as he worked with small gasoline engines, he became
unhappy with having to run a belt from the engine to the shaft on
which the blade was mounted. What he developedand what he believed
to be his major contribution to the technology of power mowerswas
the vertical direct drive rotary power mower.
He turned the engine on its side so that the crankshaft was
vertical. He then mounted the engine so that the crankshaft
protruded through the frame, with the lower end of the crankshaft
exposed beneath. He attached the blade directly to the lower end of
the crankshaft, which now extended below the frame.
He appeared most proud of this particular innovation. When asked
what was unique about his mower, he would reply that it was a
'vertical crankshaft mower' or a 'vertical direct drive
power mower'a characteristic more important to him than that it
was a 'rotary power mower.' The use of the engine made it a
power mower, and the use of a belt with a quarter turn enabled the
blade to rotate beneath the frame, an improvement over the
reel-type mower. He considered mounting the blade directly on the
lower end of the crankshaft to be his most valuable contribution to
the technology of the lawn mower.
By the late 1930s, Goodall believed that the mower was
sufficiently well developed to market commercially. He had ideas
but no money to start a business and begin production. After
finding the banks uninterested in such a project, he looked for
other sources. A local businessman and insurance agent, Charles S.
'Sam' Baston, and a business associate of Baston's,
Hardy Wray, agreed to join Goodall in a business venture.
The Articles of Association (incorporation), dated January 14,
1939, listed the owners as Charles S. Baston, fifteen shares in
return for $ 1,500 cash; Hardy Wray, fifteen shares in return for
$1,500 cash; and Leonard Goodall, thirty shares in return for
property as follows:
'For and in consideration of assignment and transfer by
Leonard Goodall to the Corporation of all his right, title and
interest in and to the Goodall Rotary Cutter, an invention of the
said Leonard Goodall, of a power-driven rotary principal mowing
machine, together with the said Leonard Goodall's agreement to
assign patent and patent rights now being applied for to the
Corporation when patent is granted; said invention and applied for
patent rights thereto being of the reasonable and fair value of
Three Thousand Dollars ($3,000.00).'3
Goodall thereby began his business with $3,000 cash and his own
ideas about making a rotary lawn mower. None of the three men
guessed how significant for the world of lawn care, and how
financially rewarding for them, this small beginning would prove to
At the same time that Goodall found business partners to join
him in the incorporation process, he applied for his first patents.
U.S. Patent Office records show that he filed his first patent
application on March 9, 1939. On July 23, 1940, the office granted
a patent for a 'Rotary Grass Cutter.' The definition in the
'The combination of a rotary type grass cutting mower
comprising a wheeled base, a driven rotary cutter operating beneath
said base member and between said wheels, a prime mover having a
crankshaft extending vertically beneath said base . .
Goodall received three patents on the mower over a period of six
years: Patent No. 2208972 on July 23, 1940; Patent No. 2278922 on
April 7, 1942; and Patent No. 145483 on August 20, 1946. The patent
office granted Trademark Number 380331 to Goodall on August 20,
1940.' The Goodall trademark, designed to emphasize the concept
of rotary movement, remained the symbol of the company for as long
as it manufactured Goodall mowers. The symbol appears on every
mower, in company brochures and, often, in advertisements in
magazines and periodicals.
Today, Goodall's rural and small town background would be
called 'blue collar. ' He had no expertise in publicity or
advertising. Nevertheless, he understood the need to inform people
about the mower, and he began to spread the word wherever he could.
In addition, Baston and Wray helped with publicity.
The earliest extant printed information about the mower appeared
in an extensive article in the Warrensburg Star Journal on June 1,
1939.6 The article called the mower the result of 'eight years
of experimenting' and said Good-all developed it 'during
his spare time in his basement.' This piece also contained the
first known reference to price, indicating that the mower sold for
$98.50. Three pictures published with the article showed Goodall in
his workshop and the mower.
The first national publicity appeared in the October 1941
edition of The Maytag News. The mowers used Maytag engines. The
article said the mower 'operates on an entirely different
principle than conventional lawn mowers,' and it emphasized the
point important to Goodallthe vertical crankshaft. 'A single
arm with two cutting blades revolves horizontally to the ground. It
is directly connected to the vertical crankshaft of the Multi-Motor
and revolves at approximately 1650 RPM.'7
World War II almost put the fledging Goodall Manufacturing
Company out of business. Soon after the production of lawn mowers
began, war erupted in Europe, and then the United States became
involved. The first mowers used Maytag engines, but engines
manufactured by nearly all companies soon became unavailable.
In addition, Goodall had little interest in war contracts, even
though some were available for small businesses. Unsophisticated in
the ways of business, he had traditional concerns about dealing
with government and bureaucrats. He preferred to 'wait it
out' and do what little business he could.
During the war, Maytag engines were not available. Goodall could
secure engines from only one company in the war years. He began
manufacturing and selling mowers with engines from that company,
but he later said that using those engines was the 'biggest
mistake of my business career.' The engines developed a variety
of operating problems, and many had to be returned to the company
for repair and service. A major problem occurred because these
two-cycle engines, unlike four-cycle engines, necessitated mixing
oil and the gas, a procedure many consumers seemed not to
understand. Complaints poured in to the company. Goodall strove to
provide the highest possible quality mower, and the issue with the
engines became a personal embarrassment as well as a business
problem. He discontinued use of that brand of engine as soon as he
could and did little business for the duration of the war.
The best years for Goodall and his company occurred from the end
of the war until the company was sold to an out-of-state firm in
1952. As the war drew to a close, Goodall began to look for a
postwar source of engines. He visited the headquarters of Maytag
Corporation in Newton, Iowa, and Lauson Motor Corporation in New
Holstein, Wisconsin, and corresponded with Briggs and Stratton and
other engine manufacturers.
After considerable negotiations, he signed a contract with
Lauson. That company agreed to provide engines with a vertical
crankshaft, still a rarity in those days. In addition, Lauson built
the engines with a special type of oil pump, which Goodall had
helped develop and which provided better lubrication for the
engines. Perhaps most importantly, Lauson agreed not to sell the
vertical crankshaft engines to anyone but Goodall for five years.
The Lauson engine thereby became the standard engine on Goodall
A review of the 'Lawn and Garden' section of the Kansas
City Star editions after the war indicates that lawn mower
advertising resumed in the spring of 1946. Lawn mower sales are
highly seasonal, and advertisements tend to appear between February
and May. The earliest postwar ads featured reel mowers powered by
individuals pushing them and mowers powered with electric
The earliest extant Goodall ad appeared in February 19479. In
March 1947, a large ad (nearly one-quarter page) showed
Goodall's daughter, Viva, pushing a mower, and declared the
Good-all to be the 'one and only 4 cycle vertical crankshaft
direct drive rotary mower.' The ad listed four models costing
from $110 to $174 each ($657 to $1,040 in 1992 dollars)hardly an
in-expensive piece of lawn equipment in those days. Although
Goodall's associates had their own full-time businesses, Baston
took an active role in the sales side of the business. (Wray had
died in the mid-1940s.) Baston established dealerships around the
country and assumed responsibility for an exhibit at the Missouri
State Fair each August. Goodall, who did not enjoy sales work or
the travel that went with it, appeared content to leave such
activity to others.
In 1949 and 1950, the business expanded by erecting three
buildings on the property Goodall owned behind his home and on the
adjacent lot. The company clearly prospered during these years.
Although sales figures and financial statements for the company
have not been located, Goodall's personal income tax statements
for these years are available. An indication of the financial
strength of the company can be found by studying the dividends it
paid. Goodall's tax records show that he received dividends as
In 1992 $'s
Since Baston and Wray's heirs owned 50 percent of the
company's shares, they divided an equal amount of dividend
income. They must have concluded that the 1939 investment of $
1,500 each had been a wise investment indeed!
No obvious explanation appears for the sudden drop in dividends
in 1951. Two possibilities come to mind. The Korean War may have
affected profits, or 1951 may have been the beginning of the profit
difficulties detailed below.
Only one financial statement of the company has been found. It
indicates that, for the year ending December 29, 1950, the company
made a profit of $138,980.93 ($692,681 in 1992 dollars) on sales of
$954,124 ($4,755,354 in 1992 dollars).12
Although the business had been a financial success, Goodall
considered selling by the early 1950s. Several reasons account for
this. The first was competition. Goodall had an uncompromising
commitment to quality; he remained determined to build the best
mower that could be made. The Good-all mower quickly became known
as the 'top of the line' and the 'Cadillac of lawn
mowers.' The average small homeowner, however, did not need a
mower that could cut five-feet-high weeds and mow through the most
dense of Bermuda grass.
Other manufacturers could build mowers of somewhat less quality,
but still quite adequate for the average user, and sell them at
lower prices. The Good all mowers were not inexpensive. Mowers
selling for $110 to $174 in the 1940s were 'top of the
line' in price as well as quality. Also large retail chains
such as Sears, Roebuck &. Co. and Montgomery Ward became major
competitors. They had retailing, advertising and distribution
abilities hard for a small independent business to match.
Another aspect of competition was that, as time passed, it
became increasingly difficult for Goodall to protect his product
through the use of patents. Patent attorneys and others advised him
that enforcing patents would prove expensive and time consuming.
Goodall came to doubt that it would be worth the effort.
In addition to the competition, health problems tempted Goodall
to sell. His tendency to be a perfectionist made him a worrier. He
seldom slept through the night; thinking about the business often
awakened him. He invented, improved and tinkered with products in
his mind even while he tried to sleep.
He also worried about the financial pressures of the business.
Because of the seasonal nature of the lawn mower business, mowers
had to be sold between about February and May in order to have a
successful year. Every year, Goodall went to the bank and signed a
personal loan for $50,000 to buy the supplies and to cover the
other expenses necessary to get ready for the season. Even though
the business proved successful, the bank insisted on his personal
guarantee on the loan. He knew that one bad season would affect not
only the business but also his personal financial situation and
that of his family. His worrying caused ulcers, and then bleeding
ulcer shealth problems he had the rest of his life.
Goodall also realized that he did not need more money. His life
style changed very little as his income grew. He never moved from
the house he and Eula had built in 1929, although they added a
third bedroom and a second bath. He had no interest in joining
country clubs, playing golf or moving in the social circles
associated with wealth. He seldom wore a suit or a tie except to
church. He did want to drive a nice car (on which he could tinker),
and he and Eula bought a country home in the Ozarks near Stover in
1953. The desire for more money, however, soon held little
motivation for him.
Finally, Goodall had no heirs with an interest in the business.
If his son had expressed an interest in engineering or
manufacturing, Goodall would have continued until his son was old
enough to take over the business. Such was not the case, however,
and Goodall realized it. For all of these reasons, he decided to
sell the business.
Goodall, Baston and Garrett Crouch, the company's attorney,
let it be known that the company might be for sale under the right
conditions. They contacted several of the larger mower
manufacturers, engine manufacturers and lawn equipment retailing
They also secured the assistance of F.C. Moseley and Co. of
Kansas City, a commercial real estate firm. Foley Manufacturing
Company, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a company well known for making
chain saws and saw sharpeners, learned of the availability through
Moseley. They soon expressed interest, and talks began.
After extended negotiations, Foley purchased the corporation for
$317,520 ($1,598,121 in 1992 dollars).14 A $1,500 investment made
in the company in 1939 had grown to be worth nearly $79,000 by the
time of the sale in 1952. The sale agreement also included a
no-competition clause, in which Goodall agreed not to go into
competition against the company and to give the company first
opportunity to purchase any of his future inventions.
The company remained in Warrensburg and marketed its mowers with
the Goodall name. Henry Garwick, a manager with the company in
Minneapolis, moved to Warrensburg and assumed day-to-day management
responsibilities. Goodall retired, although he remained on the
board of directors, and continued his experiments. He sold several
inventions to the company over the following decade.
Foley, the new owner of Goodall, experienced financial problems
almost from the beginning. Only in 1956 did annual sales exceed the
1950 figure of $954,124.
Comments made at board meetings suggest reasons for the
financial difficulties. E. F. Ringer, vice president of Foley, told
the board in 1957 that the lawn mower business was 'getting
more competitive.' Minutes of the January 25, 1960, meeting
note that corporate profits had been hurt by having to offer prices
and early bird discounts and by having to pay more for engines. The
company had changed from Lauson engines to Clinton engines because
the former had discontinued manufacturing that line of small
Although Goodall remained on the board until 1962, no written
record exists of his view of the company's financial troubles
in the 1950s. As noted, expectations of increased competition and
the difficulties of protecting patents had influenced his decision
to sell the company in 1952. He also often stated to family members
his belief that increasing paperwork and the administrative costs
associated with operating a subsidiary company far removed from the
home office hurt the business. Goodall believed in 'hands
on' management. When he ran the company, he spent most of his
time on the floor of the plant, effectively serving as plant
manager as well as chief executive officer. That approach was
impossible once the company became a subsidiary of a larger
corporation in a distant location.
In 1962 Foley officials reached a similar conclusion and decided
that it was too difficult to operate a business that distance from
its home plant. It moved Goodall Manufacturing Corporation to
Winona, Minnesota, much closer to the Foley main office in
Minneapolis. Records in the office of the Secretary of State of
Missouri show that the company ceased to exist as a Missouri
corporation on November 13, 1962. On the same date, the company was
merged into Goodall Manufacturing Corporation (a Minnesota
The decision to remove the company from Warrensburg caused
considerable excitement in the community. The Chamber of Commerce,
city council, and the Warrensburg Industrial Development
Corporation all had the matter on their agendas for discussion. In
the years preceding Goodall's departure, Missouri Public
Service Corporation had moved from Warrensburg to Raytown;
Brook-field Unitog had departed to Clinton; and the company that
made 'Warns-burg Sausage' had relocated to Sedalia. A state
agency, the Missouri Commerce and Industrial Development Division,
also discussed the Goodall removal at a meeting attended by a
delegation of Warrensburg businessmen.
A Warrensburg Star journal editorial entitled 'We're On
The Move All Right' began: 'The people of the Warrensburg
community were somewhat stunned yesterday when they learned they
were to lose another industry. Its product, the original rotary
lawn mower, was the product of the mind of a man who is today a
part of this community, Leonard Goodall. From the very first his
power mower was an immediate success and carried the name of
Warrensburg all over the United States.'18
Could the community have done anything to convince the company
to stay? Some argued that the company had needed more space, made
its needs known and found no positive response among community
leaders. More space might have helped. But corporate executives in
Minnesota, concerned about having only one subsidiary not near
corporate headquarters, would probably have made the move at some
Goodall and his wife spent their retirement years in Warrensburg
and at their Ozarks home south of Stover. The Stover property,
known historically as Boyler's Mill, included a small lake and
about seventeen acres of land. Goodall continued to experiment with
mowers and used them to keep his property well mowed.
He also resumed some of the activities he had initiated in the
1930s. In the depression years he had worked with wood to make
products he could sell to supplement the family income. In
retirement he built grandfather clocks over fortyas a hobby. Some
were sold, and some remain in the family. He erected a workshop at
Boyler's Mill, where he built clocks and continued with mower
experimentations. The work he did in retirement reflected the same
commitment to quality and workmanship that had characterized his
Deteriorating health marked Good-all's later years, and he
died at the Johnson County Medical Center in July 1971. After his
death, Eula sold their home in Warrensburg to the Warrensburg
School District. Today, the building contains the offices of the
superintendent and other school officials. The buildings that once
housed the mower manufacturing facilities are now a district
vocational school. Eula Goodall continued to live at the
Boyler's Mill property until her death in 1983.
Goodall's legacy, which began in a basement on East Market
Street in Warrensburg, can be seen today on every suburban home
lawn, park or golf course cut by rotary mowers. Upon his death in
1971, the Kansas City Star referred to him as 'the father of
the rotary power lawn mower.'19 Goodall would have liked that
Leonard E. Goodall is a professor of management and public
administration and former president at the University of Nevada,
Las Vegas. He holds a B.A. degree from Central Missouri State
University, Warrensburg, an M.A. degree from the University of
Missouri, Columbia, and a Ph.D. degree from the University of
1 Editors of Consumer Reports, I'll Buy That (Mount
Vernon, NY: Consumers Union, 1986), 143-146.
2 See Marvin Frahm, 'Goodall: First Rotary Mower,'
Gas Engine Magazine 24 (March 1989): 16-18, for a detailed
discussion of the technical aspects of the mower's
3 Office of the Secretary of State, Jefferson City,
Missouri, Sworn Articles of Association, 14 January 1939.
4 U.S. Patent Office, Official Gazette 516 (July-August
5 U.S. Patent Office, Trademark No. 380331, 20 August
1940; Application No. 428479.
6 'Lawn Mower Takes Work Out of Cutting Grass,'
Warrensburg Star Journal, 1 June 1939.
7 'Multi-Motor Powers New Type Rotary Grass
Cutter,' The Maytag News (October 1941): 7.
8 Goodall often repeated this comment to family members and
9 Kansas City Star, 16 February 1947.
10 Ibid., 23 March 1947.
11 Taken from copies of individual income tax returns of
Leonard B. Goodall currently in possession of the author. The
author based the calculation of 1992 dollar values on the Consumer
Price Index of the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor
12 Goodall Manufacturing Corporation, Financial Statement
as of December 29, 1950.
13 Edwin F. Ringer, Minneapolis, Minnesota, interview with
author, 5 October 1990. Mr. Ringer also provided access to
corporate records of the Goodall Manufacturing Corp. in his
14 Memorandum of Closing and Receipt, 21 February 1952.
15 Figures derived from the minutes of the meeting of the board
of directors of Goodall Manufacturing Corporation, 31 August
16 Ibid., 25 January 1960.
17 Office of the Secretary of the State, Jefferson City,
Certificate of Change of Registered Agent and Registered Office by
Foreign or Domestic Corporations, 22 November 1962.
18 'We're On The Move All Right,' Warrensburg
Star journal, 21 March 1962.
19 'Warrensburg Man Invented a Mower,' Kansas City
Star, 31 July 1971.