Harris Manufacturing Company


including Janesville Machine Company; Harris & Smith; and Janesville Barbed Wire Company

1859 - 1908 - ?

Many small companies sprung up to serve farmers' needs, "but there was no united
effort on the part of men of such means until 1859."
That year, James HARRIS, Zebediah GOULD, D. R. ANGELL and Leonard
TYLER built shops to make farm implements on the West Side near the lower bridge and expanded the business until 1866 when it was transferred to new owners - J. HARRIS, E. G. and Leavett FIFIELD and Horace DEWEY - who incorporated the next year.
By the 1870s, the corporation, known as HARRIS Manufacturing Co., employed
125 people and had annual sales of $250,000...
Janesville Machine was incorporated in 1881 by James HARRIS, J. B. CROSBY
and others with $100,000 to take over the operation of HARRIS Manufacturing Co. on Jan. 1, 1882. [T. O. and Fred HOWE also were "extensively interested" in the Janesville Machine Co.]
HARRIS Manufacturing was started by HARRIS and others to continue the
business started by HARRIS, GUILD & ANGELL: the manufacture of agricultural implements.
By 1908 and under the direction of general manager J. A. CRAIG, the concern
was the city's largest. New buildings increased the company's physical plant until it occupied nearly three city blocks - south from Pleasant Street on both sides of River Street - and employed 250 to 300 men.
It was CRAIG who convinced W. C. DURANT, president of GM, in 1918 that
Janesville Machine would be a good investment for the small but growing General Motors Corp. GM also bought Samson Tractor Co. of Stockton, Calif., and merged it with Janesville Machine to form the corporation's Samson Tractor Division here.
HARRIS invented the Little Champion mower and a safety oil lamp. In 1880, the
firm of HARRIS & SMITH made about $30,000 selling the lamps worldwide with a large trade in Europe.
About [1885], HARRIS & SMITH "drifted into the manufacture of barbed
wire." SMITH withdrew from the business after a few years, and it was carried on by HARRIS and his son, A. J. It grew to a large operation, also making wire nails and the "more humane" woven wire, which supplanted barbed wire for livestock fences.
The HARRISes incorporated the business in 1903 as the Janesville Barbed Wire
Co. with a capital stock of $150,000.
[Source: "Water power turned wheels of first industry," The Janesville Gazette, August 14, 1985, p. 2G, 6G; Courtesy of Lori]

HARRIS Manufacturing Company, A. P. LOVEJOY, President; Isaac
FARNSWORTH, Secretary; L. L. ROBINSON, Treasurer; J. B. CROSBY, General Manager; S. C. COBB, Superintendent.
[Source: The History of Rock County, Wisconsin by C. W. Butterfield, ©1879 Western Historical Co., p. 709; Courtesy of Carol]

The Janesville Machine Company was incorporated Oct. 7, 1881, the incorporators
being James HARRIS, Hiram MERRILL, William A. LAWRENCE, J. B. CRABE, J. D. REXFORD, S. C. COBB, A. P. LOVEJOY, David JEFFRIS and H. D. REICHWALD. The capital stock amounts to $100,000, and the company engages in the manufacture of mowers, seeders, disc pulverizers, disc corn plows, reapers and harrows. The annual business aggregates $250,000, and the principal markets are in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Kansas, extending into Montana and California. The first officers of the company were J. D. REXFORD, President; A. J. GLASS, Vice-president and General Manager; Isaac FARNSWORTH, Secretary; L. L. ROBINSON, Treasurer; S. C. COBB, Superintendent. The present officers are J. D. REXFORD, President; A. P. LOVEJOY, Vice-president; L. B. REYNOLDS, Manager; S. C. COBB, Superintendent; Isaac FARNSWORTH, Treasurer; and Collin C. McLEAN, Secretary. In the manufacturing department of the Janesville Machine Company from ninety to 130 hands are employed. This is a leading enterprise of the city and has had a prosperous existence from the beginning.

In 1908, Janesville Machine Co. was the top company in the city. Janesville Barbed
Wire Co. was one of the top 15 companies.

Click here to see an 1889 advertising postcard from the Janesville Machine Co.

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Site Coordinator: Lori Niemuth