Make your own free website on Tripod.com

This is from an article in the Antigo Daily Journal Wednesday October 26, 1994 about my great grandfather, David S. Stewart.

Antigo's David Stewart influenced everything from tractors to cycles

BY HAROLD KLESSIG

 Little is known about David S. Stewart, the man responsible for The Antigo Tractor Co., but his fertile mind influenced everything from tractors to bicycle rims.

 Stewart evidently had no formal education that would assist him as an inventor and designer, but by the time of his death in 1938 he had dabbled in tractor manufacturing, logging, screen doors and even manufacturing the rims for bicycle tires.

 He was born in Canada in 1858 and the family moved to The United States in 1865, settling in Winneconne [WI]. Later Stewart moved to Clintonville [WI].

He may have graduated from high school, but there is no indication that he ever attended a college, university or technical school.

 His obituary in 1938 states that he was engaged in the sawmill and timber industry in Clintonville [WI] and in 1884 he operated his own sawmill at Morris, east of Wittenberg [WI]. He came to Antigo [WI] in 1899 and was associated with the Jones Lumber Co. in Aniwa and later he was engaged in the real estate business while in Antigo.

 When Stewart became interested in tractors is not known. He took out his first patent in 1892, according to the Antigo Daily Journal of June 26, 1915, which also stated he was the "first patentee of the four wheel drive and also of the caterpillar tractor."

 While in Antigo in 1915, he assembled his first four-wheel drive tractor. Two years later in 1917 he had another four-wheel drive tractor that was built by the Topp-Stewart Tractor Co. in Clintonville. Topp was the son of a Clintonville doctor who married Stewart's daughter Mollie. Topp was later killed in an airplane accident and the name of the company was changed to Atlas Engineering Co. in about 1927.

 Stewart's Quadpull tractor had distinctive characteristics that created unusual interest in the tractor industry.

 Not only was it a four-wheel drive, which was rare at that time, but all four wheels turned when the machine made a corner.

 Stewart eliminated the use of grease cups which took an hour for a farmer to fill. All quadpull's gears and bearings were submerged in oil.

 What part Stewart played in the actual operation of the Antigo Tractor Co. is also not known, although he was present in the office during the time the plant was operating.

 While Stewart was the designer and inventor of the tractor, the actual work on the blueprints was left to the engineers on the staff.

 Another of Stewart's inventions revolutionized the manufacture of bicycle rims.

 Stewart's involvement with the G.W. Jones Lumber Co. of Clintonville led to the development of a new bicycle rim making machine. In 1897, Stewart entered into an agreement with the Jones Company to use the machine he invented to cut strips for bicycle rims directly from hardwood logs instead of from lumber.

 The project was so successful that the plant manufactured a carload a day, according to a history of the Jones Lumber Co. written by Dr. Randall Rohe of Waukesha.

 The plant was located at Morris, a small lumbering village on the Embarrass River west of Wittenberg.

 Rohe, an instructor in geography and history at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, wrote that "when Stewart's plant ran at capacity it made 800,000 rims per year and for several years it produced almost the entire U.S. output."

 The bicycles of those days were crude and difficult to handle compared to the slick machine of today. Tubeless rubber tires were cemented to the hardwood rims making for a rough ride.

Rohe, who makes a specialty of writing historic articles on Wisconsin saw mills, said he does not know how long the Morris mill operated, but it's life was probably short. Today, Rohe said, there is no trace left of the once prosperous village of Morris.

Stewart and his bicycle rim machine were not the only business contracts the inventor had with the Jones Co.

 In the early 1900's the Jones firm was, according to the Hardwood Record, an industry publication, "one of the largest and best known manufacturers and loggers of hardwoods in the country. They had timber holdings and mills in Missouri, Louisiana, besides plants in Aniwa, Elcho, Wabeno and other cities in Wisconsin. At one time they had offices in Chicago and Minneapolis."

 In 1902 Stewart joined G.W. Jones to organize the Columbia Manufacturing Co., capitalized at $50,000, to take over the Antigo Screen Door Co., which had been in bankruptcy.

 A 1893 map of Antigo shows the Screen Door Firm had a large plant on the northwest Corner of Third Avenue and Hudson Street.

 Under the Columbia Company the plant soon had a capacity of 900 plain and 500 fancy screen doors per day with a 60 man crew.

 Prosperity for the Columbia plant did not last. In 1905 it was sold to the English Manufacturing Co. for $100.

 Stewart, while living in Antigo, also worked for the Jones Company at it's mill in Aniwa in the early 1900's.

 In 1894 G.W. Jones bought the Elcho plant of the Frost Veneer Seating Co. and 500 acres of timberland. The Elcho mill had a capacity of 35,000 feet of lumber a day and some years cut 20 million feet. The Elcho mill also produced 75,000 white cedar shingles a day, according to Rohe's history of the Jones firm.

 The Elcho mill burned down once and was rebuilt. When the company exhausted it's timber in the area, the property (including the store, boarding house and mill), was sold to C.W. Fish and a man named Mullen.

 Stewart evidently had no interest in the Elcho project or in the Wabeno mill which operated for many years.

 After the tractor firm closed, probably in 1923, it is believed Stewart retired.

 He lived at 702 Willard Ave. and it was there that he died, Jan. 11, 1938 at the age of 79.

 Despite the impact Stewart and the tractor company had on Antigo, his obituary paid little notice to his accomplishments. Near the end of the obituary he was credited with being the "inventor of the Quadpull tractor and was one of the organizers of the Antigo Tractor Corp."

 Survivors included his wife, Lola, a daughter, Marion, who taught in Antigo schools for several years, and a son Blaine, of Elcho.

 After the failure of the Antigo project, Stewart sold his patents to the Caterpillar Tractor Co., according to his great-grandson, Richard Stewart. He did not know how much Caterpillar paid for the patents.

 Blaine Stewart, who at one time was an assessor in the Town of Elcho, died in 1960. He had a son, John, a mason in Pearson, who died in 1991. His widow, Thelma, still lives on the family farm.

 She has the only known photograph of David S. Stewart, which obviously was taken some years before the Antigo plant manufactured tractors.

 


Patents

The dates listed are the dates on which the patent applications were filed. Some have the same name, but different patent numbers, so they are different in some way.

Dec. 21,1891 - Link Belt
May 11,1892 - Traction Engine
May 23,1892 - Traction Engine
Aug. 4, 1897 - Sawing Machine
Sep. 1, 1898 - Sawing Machine
Jan. 4, 1914 - Four Wheel Drive Truck
Jul. 24, 1916 - Gripping Device for Tractor Wheels
Nov. 11, 1916 - Four Wheel Drive Truck
Dec. 26, 1916 - Gripping Device for Tractor Wheels (This is a patent by Alexander Stewart, David's father - my great-great-grandfather)
Oct. 22, 1918 - Four Wheel Drive Tractor
Jan. 20, 1919 - Four Wheel Steering Gear
Feb. 3, 1919 - Road Gripping Device for Tractor Wheels

I don't know if these are all his patents (there seems to be some gaps). If you do a Google patent search, you'll get thousands of hits. The later ones obviously aren't his, but his patents are referenced by other inventors for their own inventions.



Click here to see a map of Breadalbane, ON: