Little is known about David S. Stewart, the man
responsible for The Antigo Tractor Co., but his
fertile mind influenced everything from tractors to
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
later he was engaged in the real estate business while
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
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
Stewart's Quadpull tractor had distinctive
characteristics that created unusual interest in the
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
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
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
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
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
had a large plant on the northwest Corner of Third
Avenue and Hudson Street.
Under the Columbia Company the plant soon had
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
it was sold to the English Manufacturing Co. for
Stewart, while living in Antigo, also worked for the
Jones Company at it's mill in Aniwa in the early
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
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
Stewart evidently had no interest in the Elcho
or in the Wabeno mill which operated for many
After the tractor firm closed, probably in 1923, it
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
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
Survivors included his wife, Lola, a daughter,
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
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.