Jerome Increase Case (1819-1891)
Before machines were developed to do the work, a man could thresh six or seven bushels in a day’s work, just as farmers had for centuries. Jerome Case did not invent the first threshing machine. In fact his father sold a crude version imported from England when Jerome was a boy in Oswego County, New York. At 21, Case started a business using a horse-powered machine to thresh the crop for nearby farms. At 23, he set out for Wisconsin with six machines purchased on credit, selling five along the way and keeping one for himself. Over the next two years, he worked on making improvements and in 1844 the J.I. Case company introduced a more effective threshing machine.
He proved to be very skilled at both manufacturing and sales and was able to build a 3-story manufacturing facility in 1847. In 1852 he demonstrated a further improved machine that could thresh 177 bushels of wheat in half a day. In 1862 another improvement further increased his the productivity of his threshers, but they were still powered by horses. In 1863, with three partners, he formed J.I. Case & Company.
The next step for the company was building steam engines. At first, they were pulled from one farm or community to next by horses and did their work as a stationary power supply for threshing machines and sawmills. But it wasn’t long before the company introduced a self-propelled steam engine… in effect the first tractor. In 1876, Case won a gold medal at the Centennial Expositon in Philadelphia for it self-propelled steam engine. By 1885, the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company (formed in 1880 with the dissolution of the partnership) was the largest manufacturer of steam engines as well as the leading threshing machine company. Jerome Case died in 1891, and the company was then headed by his brother in law, Stephen Bull.
The company built its first experimental gasoline powered tractor in 1892, it was not until 1913 that it was producing a (small) tractor. A version weighing between 12 and 13 tons was produced from 1911 until 1916. Case went to be a major manufacturer of tractors. In 1957, the company merged with The American Tractor Corporation based in Indiana. The company was then acquired by Tenneco, Inc. of Texas in 1967, which ultimately purchased International Harvester in 1985.
Gone are the days when companies such as Case were run by the men who invented the machines. Sarting in the second half of the 20th Century, it has become a world of large corporations. But the Case name can still be seen on the side of a modern tractor.