Ottumwa Iron Works

By Staff
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Allen Johnston
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Advertisement from an Ottumwa Courier.
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Advertisement from an Ottumwa Courier.

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.

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