Ottumwa Iron Works

Allen Johnston

Allen Johnston

Content Tools

1408 N. Van Buren Ottumwa, Iowa 52501

The Ottumwa Iron Works located at 402 W. Main Street, Ottumwa, Iowa, was one of five large companies in the United States that manufactured large mine hoisting equipment. The firm had its beginning in the early six-ties of the past century, when the firm of Drake and Spively began the first iron works in Ottumwa. The firm of Duckworth and Harper succeeded these pioneers, and in 1871 or 1872, the Ottumwa Iron Works purchased the Duckworth and Harper interests.

This iron works was established by Allen Johnston, owner of the Johnston Ruffler Company, for the purpose of manufacturing machinery for the building of sewing machine attachments that Mr. Johnston had invented about 1870. The early plant also produced mining equipment, thus forming a nucleus for the later industry.

In later years, the iron works did custom machine work, including the machining of herringbone gears for such companies as Gardner-Denver of Quincy, Illinois. The iron works was shut down in 1943 or 1944 and the equipment sold at public auction.

In 1898 the ruffler business was sold, and in 1903 the Ottumwa Iron Works was incorporated for the purpose of manufacturing mining equipment. At the time of incorporation, the officers were Allen Johnston, J. T. Hackworth and A. G. Harrow.

Over the years, many improvements were made in the mining industry. The company held a number of patents, including electrical controls for hoists. Another was a cylindro-conical drum for hoists, which revolutionized hoisting in mines. The company sold its products throughout the world.

In later years, the officers were J. W. Neasham, president; Allen Johnston, vice president; D. J. Neasham secretary-treasurer; E. B. Mead, chief engineer and Howard M. Dancer, sales manager.

Several names of the leaders in the manufacturing in Ottumwa were Allen Johnston, his son Roy W. Johnston and his son-in-law Frank Sharp. Also Martin Hardsocg, Lester Hardsocg, Bane Hardsocg, W. E. Hunt, Henry Phillips, F. W. Simmons, George B. Simmons, E. W. Phillips, D. J. Neasham and Moses Nicholls.

Allen Johnston was with Ottumwa Iron Works and the Johnston Ruffler Company, Johnston Pressed Gear Company, maker of lawn mowers.

Roy Johnston was associated with Ottumwa Iron Works and Ottumwa Box Loader, Johnston Pressed Gear Company.

W. E. Hunt and Henry Phillips organized the Ottumwa Box Car Loader Company to make a loader to load bulk material into box cars.

Lester Hardsocg, was with Hardsocg Mfg. Company, mining tools; Nicholls Mfg., maker of carpenter squares. The Hardsocg Company manufactured the first loader for the Ottumwa Box Car Loader Company in 1906.

Moses Nicholls held a patent on a framing square. Mr. Nicholls, Martin Hardsocg, T. F. Norfolk and A. Wheeler formed the Nicholls Mfg. Company. Fred Hardsocg bought out the other and became full the full owner of the Nicholls Mfg. Company.

F. W. Simmons and George Simmons owned the American Mining Tool Company. This factory, in east Ottumwa, was also the site of Janney Manufacturing that made farm tools, and the Wilson Tractor Company that manufactured four wheel drive tractors in 1919-23. George Simmons was involved with the Hardsocg family in the making of the Little Wonder Drill used in mining.

Allen Johnston with his invention of sewing machine attachments and then going to heavy mining equipment, was from one extreme to the other. When he left the iron works, the family established the Pressed Gear Company to make lawn mowers and sash pulleys. They developed a hollow ball used in ball bearings. Some of these larger balls were used by kids to play marbles with and are now collectors' items.

Several of these men were involved in more than one of the firms in Ottumwa.

These firms were the American Mining Tool Company, 1906, that made a variety of mining tools; Whistler Mfg. Company, 1922, produced jointer heads, grindstone shafts, drill chucks and nut splitters; Midland Metal Mfg. Company founded in 1909 by E. W. Phillips of the Box Car Loader Company; and W. A. Heinzman, makers of steel culverts. This company was sold to Klauer Mfg. Company of Dubuque in 1917. Then in 1918 Mr. Phillips founded the Central Culvert Company to continue the making of culverts.

Ottumwa, like many small towns, had a variety of industries. Most towns of 10,000 population and up had a grey iron foundry. Wherever there was a foundry, many small manufacturers sprang up. Most of the smaller ones are no longer in operation. The Joseph Dain Hay Tool Plant is an exception. It became a part of the John Deere Company. It appears Joseph Dain was not connected with any of the other industries in Ottumwa, although when the Janney Manufacturing Company went out of business, it was taken over by the Dain Company.

Sources: Ottumwa City Directories,

History of Wapello County.