Foundries of Wapello County

Content Tools

1408 N. Van Buren Ottumwa, Iowa 52501

The early manufacturers depended on cast iron for their source of material. These small foundries were at various locations in Ottumwa. My source of information came from Ottumwa city directories dating back to 1886, and from old Ottumwa Courier records. In researching the history it was found that some of the foundries changed ownership and some of them changed locations.

The first record of a foundry was the Ottumwa Iron Foundry, operated by Drake and Spivey in 1864, the location of which could not be found. It was a foundry that made an iron to iron clothes that was an invention patented by May Webber of Ottumwa. The Ottumwa company produced the iron that was the most widely used of its kind for 30 years.

My nephew found some sled runners that were cast by the Western Machine Works located at 105-09 South Wapello Street in 1886. In their advertisement, Kretzer, Findley and Company, Proprietors, were listed as 'General Founders and Machinists. Manufacturers of all kinds of machinery. Engines and boilers for commercial creameries and printing offices and coal hoisting a specialty. Vertical and horizontal engines as required. Job work promptly attended to.' The Pollard and Belmont Wagon and Carriage was located on South Wapello Street. They probably used these sled runners to make sleds. The 1888-89 directory lists the Western Machine Works at 403 W. Main Street, which is the same location as the Wapello Street location. The 1898-90 directory does not list the Western Machine Works, but the Union Iron Works is listed at 403 W. Main. Whether this was a new company or a change of name is not known. The Union Iron Works officers were C.G. Keyhoe, president; E.L. Keyhoe, vice president; H.P. Keyhoe, secretary; and H.J. Keyhoe, treasurer. In 1902 the Ottumwa Iron Works had a foundry and machine shop, at 402 W. Main Street, that made mining hoists and steam engines. The officers were J.T. Hackworth, A.H. Harrow, Allen Johnson and Guy Major.

The Janney Manufacturing Company was incorporated August 1, 1898. The Janney Company moved to Ottumwa from Muncie, Indiana, to make corn planters, corn shredders and grinding mills. This plant was located at Main and Ash Streets with eight or nine buildings including a foundry. Janney operated this farm implement factory until 1906, when Joseph Dain was listed as receiver of the Janney interests. Was the Janney foundry used for Dain castings?

In 1907 the American Mining Tool Company was located at the Janney buildings, and Mr. Janney was operating a blanket and pad business from his home at 309 E. 5th Street. The officers of the American Mining Tool Company were F.W. Simmons, president; G.B. Simmons, secretary-treasurer and general manager. The American Mining Tool Company was last listed in 1931.

A number of factories were located in Ottumwa that did not have their own foundries and depended on the local foundries for their castings. Some of the larger ones were the Hardsocg Manufacturing Company, Hardsocg Little Wonder Drill Company and the Ottumwa Box Car Loader Company. The Hardsocgs were in the mining tool business. They made mine cars and a number of mining tools. The Little Wonder Drill Company was a pioneer in mining drills that were shipped worldwide. The Ottumwa Box Car Loader Company made a machine to load bulk material into boxcars. At first they were made to load coal from the local mines into boxcars. One of these loaders was installed on a pier in Portland, Oregon, to load bulk material from ships.

In 1935 Clem Leedom was manager of the Ottumwa Foundry at 513-515 West Main Street. This was the same location as the Whistler Manufacturing Company. It is unknown what the tie was between these companies. Clem Leedom had worked as a molder at John Deere, and it appears he wanted to have his own foundry. In 1937 the Ottumwa Foundry was on West Main Street, but in 1939 Mr. Leedom had moved to 907 South Madison Street. In 1945 the Ottumwa Foundry had left the building on South Madison and moved into a new building at 214 South Benton Street. This new foundry made hog oilier, castings for water mains and fire plugs, along with spacer spools for disc harrows. They advertised they could make castings up to 500 pounds.

The Hawkeye Jobbing Foundry, operated by George Bower at 1500 West Mary Street for about five years, was a small foundry that made small castings and ornamental iron work. This was a one-man operation Mr. Bower had in his backyard that he operated with very little help.

The Pressure Cast Products Corporation made pressure cast metal pattern and core boxes for foundry use, as well as wood master patterns. They also manufactured ESKO products for farm machinery. They were located at 207 South Sheridan.

The John Deere Hay Tool Company had a rather large foundry from the early 1900s until about 1960. At the present time they get most of their castings from the Moline, Illinois, foundry. Dexter Foundry in Fairfield, Iowa, furnishes some small castings for John Deere. The Dexter Foundry produces about 150 tons of castings per day. They manufacture commercial washers and dryers.

In the area of the 400 block of West Main Street were located several factories and two or three foundries in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The largest of these was the Ottumwa Iron Works, located at 402 West Main Street. They had a large machine shop and a foundry. They made mining tools and steam engines. The Union Iron Works was at 403 West Main Street. They later moved to the corner of Ash and Main Streets in East Ottumwa along with the American Mining Tool Company. It might be assumed that the Union Iron Works became a part of the American Mining Tool Company. George Simmons, general manager of the American Mining Tool Company, was also vice-president of the Little Wonder Drill that was operated by the Hardsocg family making mining tools.

The Wilson Tractor Company was at this same location on East Main Street for three years in 1919-22. They made a four-wheel drive tractor. Economics and the Fordson tractor, which sold for less than $400.00, put the Wilson Company out of business.

The Janney Manufacturing Company, Union Iron Works, American Mining Tool and the Wilson Tractor Company were at the same location on East Main Street making it quite confusing as to who the real owners were.

Fair-Williams Bridge and Manufacturing Company was at 403-407 South Vine Street in 1902. They were listed as founders and machinists making engines, boilers, coal cars, steam pumps etc. J.H. Williams was president and E.D. Fair was secretary-treasurer. In about 1920 the company name was changed to Ottumwa Supply and Construction, with George Zika as general manager.

In 1915-16 the Ottumwa Moline Engine and Pump Company was located at 802-822 South Madison. They did not have a foundry, but had to buy castings from one of the other foundries.

The Whistler Manufacturing Company owned and operated by John Whistler came to Ottumwa from Gibson, Iowa, May 22, 1922. A new plant was built at 513-515 West Main consisting of a foundry and machine shops. A business of joiner heads, grindstone shafts, drill chucks and nut splitters was carried on by the company.

In 1943 Fred Smith had the Acme Brass Foundry east of Ottumwa on US Highway #34 for a few years. I think they cast both brass and aluminum.

The Nicholl Manufacturing Company marketed cement finishing tools and their castings had to be obtained from one of the local foundries.