Submitted by Brian Roulston
Today, Fluke Transport Group is one company operating out of the property of what used to be a sprawling 81-hectare agricultural facility International Harvester dubbed ‘Harvester City’ located along side Burlington Street, in the Lansdale neighbourhood between Wentworth St. and Sherman Ave. This facility would’ve influenced Hamilton’s North End as many of its residents worked here as well.
Abel Land, the son of Robert Land who was one of Hamilton’s earliest settlers, was awarded this land initially by the crown for his loyalty to Britain as a young soldier during the American Civil War. Abel built a small boatyard about where the I.H twine factory once stood. He made heavy, flat bottom boats called Batteaux. The boats were mostly built for his own use to reach mercantile ships that docked alongside the Hamilton Beach Strip. This strip of land which was approximately 3 meters (ten feet) high and stretched 6 km at the head of Hamilton Bay locking in 3000 hectares (10000 acres) of calm and protected waters. The canal was first dredged in 1832, then again in 1850, it was the second dredging that started Hamilton’s manufacturing economy. Abel Land wanted an easier and perhaps cheaper way to bring back his own mercantile supplies.
The Deering Harvester Company of Chicago, Illinois, started building farm implements here in 1902. The Deering name as a standalone manufacturing corporation would change within the year as a result of a merger with International Harvester.
Between 1880 and 1900, a ten year no-holds barred competition dubbed “The Harvester War” erupted worldwide. It was fought mainly in the United States between McCormick Harvesting Machine Company and the Deering Harvester Company. Other agricultural manufacturers, though much smaller, were involved in the harvester war as well, to a lesser extent.
At first, the war was nothing more than salesmen bribing farmers or other buyers with extravagant dinners and other special treatments to get the sale. Soon, the war intensified, companies allegedly ‘sabotaged’ each others implements or physically assaulted competing salesmen and delivery drivers. Sometimes, salesmen would even try to intimidate buyers into buying their products instead of the other guys. Once the cost of this ‘war’ exceeded 40% of their total sales and with a severe downturn in the American economy during the late 1890s, these factories were no longer profitable, something had to be done.
J.P. Morgan’s bank in the U.S brokered a deal with the five largest farming manufactures in America, McCormick, Deering, Milwaukee, Piano Manufacturing & Warder, Bushnell & Glessner(Champion Harvesters) all were brought under International Harvester Corporation. This ended the ‘Harvester War’, at least in the states anyways, it would still be several years before the war would end in other countries.
McCormick and Deering made three attempts to merge their two companies before in 1891,1897 and 1901 and failed. It wasn’t until George Perkins, one of J.P. Morgan’s business partners who was able to negotiate a successful merger and resolved their differences. Perkins picked the name ‘International Harvester Corporation’ to brand the new merger as a worldwide corporation. In the end McCormick was given control of the new corporation with its 43% share. Deering came out second best with 34%. J.P Morgan was awarded a much smaller stake with 14% of the new merger. Milwaukee, Piano Manufacturing & Warder, Bushnell & Champion Harvester controlled the remainder of this new corporation.
Later that same year, when the Deering Company was amalgamated into the new International Harvester Corporation, the name was changed to Deering-Harvester. Deering and McCormick would continue be sold as if it were two completely different entities. Both companies prior to the merger had their own sizeable and loyal customer base; it seemed logical to IHC that farming communities across Canada and the U.S should have each a Deering and McCormick dealership.
When Deering first opened in Hamilton, they manufactured horse-drawn farm machinery.
International Harvester Corp continued making horse drawn implements for a while until tractors became more mainstream. IH then switched over to tractor drawn implements such as tillage implements, Hay binders, wagons. The Hamilton plant produced other things such as Kerosene tractors and engines, trucks, binder twine as well as parts and tools that were sold to farmers whenever the demand was there.
Evidence of the old inter plant railway system that moved big heavy pieces of farm machinery and parts are still visible today when looking at aerial views of the area.
In 1909, Oliver Chilled Ploughs (Plows) of South Bend, Indiana built two large docks and a factory in Hamilton. The Hamilton docks were built exclusively to ship over 30,000 plows a year worldwide. J.D Oliver contracted International Harvester to handle both distribution and sales for Oliver Chilled Plows until they bought out the company in 1919. International Harvester continued manufacturing Oliver plows under their own name.
In 1926 International Harvester opened a playground at Harvester city where workers and their kids could have some after work fun. The playground was also opened to area children as well.
Prior to September 1936, International Harvester used the colors most people associated as battleship blue and red. Side note, the blue International Harvester Corporation used was actually a darker blue than battleship blue.
The red that was used as their brand was initially used on the wheels of the first Farmall tractors for safety reasons when that line was introduced in 1922. From that, International Harvester adopted its famous International Harvester Red as their brand color for all of its manufactured products, tractors included. John Deere took its famous colors, ‘John Deere Green’ around same time while Allis Chalmers picked Persian orange as their color about five years before that. Other agricultural manufacturers used other colours as their branding. The theory behind this was that it would be great advertising if one could look out in the field and instantly recognize the brand of tractor or implement solely by its color.
International Harvester later received the nickname “Big Red” because of its chosen colour.
During the war years of World War II, International Harvester produced some of the components used for the very first Lancaster bomber that was built in Canada in 1943. Parts for tanks, guns, bomb throwers, gun mounts, artillery trailers and carriages were also produced here in the Hamilton plant.
During the first year of the war, the Wartime Housing Commission built a huge dormitory style housing project on the North-East corner of Sherman Avenue. It was one of 46,000 similar projects underway for the war effort across Canada. The housing project cost $250,000. Over Five-hundred single and married men (without their families) were housed here while they worked at the factory during the war. After the war was over all the staff housing was demolished. A small Tim Hortons and several smaller manufacturing businesses occupy this area today.
In the 1950’s employment at International Harvester peaked at 3000 workers when threshing machines and Hay rakes were made part of their product lines. Hamilton’s IHC plant started making parts and tools for other International Harvester plants as well. The 1959 opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway expanded trade for Hamilton and International Harvester to many European and other Commonwealth countries. The Hamilton plant later produced combines destined for the American Great Plains.
In 1959 International Harvester started manufacturing heavy duty diesel trucks.
During the 1960s and the 70s International Harvester became the largest transport truck, tractor and farm implement manufacturer in the world with sales around $1 Billion American.
In 1979, International Harvester plowed into the perfect storm. Sales dropped drastically in 1980 due to technical mistakes, droughts in the Great Plains, rising Canadian interest rates and an expected economic depression looming on the horizon. IH head office in Chicago named a new CEO, Archie McCardell, who was determined to drastically cut costs and improve profit margins. Unprofitable lines were terminated, and factory production was curtailed. By the end of the year, profits were at their highest levels in 10 years, but cash reserves were still dangerously low. Union members became increasingly irate over these cost cutting measures and in the spring of 1979, IHC prepared to face a strike. On November 1, International Harvester announced that McCardell had received $1.8 million in bonus pay. After Cardell pressed for more concessions from the United Auto Workers, a strike was called on November 2, 1979. By the time the strike ended, it had cost the company almost $600 million U.S. International Harvester’s debt was mounting and the Chicago corporate office started looking for a buyer. The Payline construction division was sold off to Dresser Industries in 1982. In 1984 International Harvester finalized a deal selling all of its agricultural holdings, including the Hamilton plant to J.I Case. The Texas oil giant Tenneco Inc. owned J.I Case and renamed its new acquisition Case IH.
International’s truck and engine division was reorganized as Navistar-International and continued to be run by International Harvester Corporation. Navistar as it is called today, is one of the largest and leading coach, school bus, mini airport shuttle buses and transport truck manufacturers in the world.
It would be many years before J.I Case and IHC organizations would be truly blended.
After 15 years of struggling with poor sales, Case finally closed the Hamilton International Harvester plant in 1999.
(Image of International Harvester plant, 1911. From Vintage Hamilton Facebook page. Submitted by Tom Newcomb)