1850: Hiram Abial Pitts to Nathaniel Hanson

Pitts' 1838 Machine

Pitts’ 1838 Machine

This letter was written by Hiram Abial Pitts (1799-1860) of Alton, Illinois. A descendant writes that Pitts, “with his twin brother John A. Pitts, are considered the inventors of the first effective threshing machine. They patented the thresher in December, 1837. They also held patents on a horse power (treadmill) and improvements to a chain pump. Before opening the H. A. Pitts & Sons Manufacturing Company in Chicago in 1851, Hiram and his family were in Alton, Illinois.” Hiram came to Alton in 1848 from Winthrop, Maine, where he worked with his brother-in-law, Nathaniel Hanson, to sell Pitt’s designed machines. “Hiram died in 1860 and the firm was taken over by his four sons. In about 1872, they moved the firm to a larger site in Marseilles, in LaSalle County, and operated there for about another 20 years.”

The factory appears to have occupied as much as the full east half of a city block on Jefferson Avenue, between Randolph and Washington (a directory listed addresses of 7 S. Jefferson and 108 W. Randolph ). The owner, Hiram Pitts also had a residence on the same block. An idea of the value of the firm is suggested by Hiram Pitts’ worth in the 1860 census – $36,000 real estate and $86,000 personal. [Source: Elise Morris, Rootsweb, 2004]

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Nathaniel Hanson, Esqr., Alton, Illinois

Peoria [Illinois]
February 5, 1850

Brother Hanson,

My last letter was dated at Havana including a draft on St. Louis [Bank] for 102 dollars which I hope you have received. I now inclose a draft drawn by Mr. Stepp of Canton on Woodruff & Co. of St. Louis for 125 dollars. This is all the draft I have been able to obtain in Canton or in Peoria. I have now 375 dollars more to send you but the river is closed with ice so I cannot send by any boat. I have concluded to send the money by telegraph and take a receipt for the amount.

I arrived here last evening and am now waiting for Mr. Rysinger to come into town and pay the demand against him which he promised me he would do provided I would stop for him in Peoria where, as he says, a part of the money now is. It is now 11 o’clock and he has not come yet. If he disappoints me, I shall make up my mind that your demand against him is a little “Bilious.”  However, he may come yet and do something. Mr. Bass is here with me and we think best to get some security for that demand if he fails to pay it now.

I got to Mr. Bass on Thursday Evening and staid with him (Monday) yesterday morning when I left for Peoria by the way of Farmington in order to see Rysinger. What money I have now, I got of Mr. Bass being what he had on hand and collected while I stopped with him.

Wemple's horse-powered thresher

Wemple’s horse-powered thresher

I have seen Bolivar & Co. in Peoria. They have no money on the note in their hands. Bolivar & Co. informed me they have sold 10 machines the passed season for Wemple & Gates ¹ of Chicago. They say they could have sold more if they could have got them. Now, I think Peoria is an important point and you ought by all means to have this market well supplied with your machines at an early day the coming season. This will be the most effectual way to set a back fire that is raging here from Chicago. As I go on to Chicago, I make inquiry about the sale of Wemple’s machine [as] it may be of service to me perhaps in Chicago on a settlement with Wemple.

In coming to this place it was not convenient for me to go to Pekin and I have felt compelled to pass that place for the present but I will make arrangements with Mr. Bass to see to the business you have given me for that place if I am unable to attend to it. I shall leave here as soon as I can dispose of the Rysinger business, the end of which I will inform when I close this letter.

The traveling from Canton to this place was first rate, but the weather since last Saturday has been the coldest for the winter. I bot a buggy and harness of Mr. Bass and had a comfortable ride to Peoria.

My corn mill gives complete satisfaction at Canton. I could [have] sold a dozen for $50 each if I had had them with ne. I have promised to make some as soon as I am able and on my return to Alton. I must make the manufacture of corn mills a part of my business. For this reason, I almost begrudge the time I am traveling on this tour and if I do not go through the whole rout as was expected when I left home, you must charge it to the anxiety I feel for my own business, for I now see must be detained from home several weeks longer than I anticipated when I left home if I go the whole rout as before stated. I will write again as soon as I have anything of consequence to say.

My best respects to all. Yours truly, — H. A. Pitts

P. S. ½ past 4 P.M.  Rysinger has not come into town. I therefore send 375 dollars per telegraph as per statement in this letter.

¹ Later Wemple, Kline & Company.

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2 responses to “1850: Hiram Abial Pitts to Nathaniel Hanson

  • Dick Morris

    Thanks for taking the time to post the images and transcription!

    Hiram A. Pitts was my ggg grandfather and I’ve done considerable research on him and the H.A. Pitts firm and its successors. Nathaniel Hanson built threshers and other equipment under license to the Pitts brothers’ design and for a few years Hiram worked for or with Hanson. This letter gives the most information I’ve seen to show their business relationship. It appears that Hiram was representing Hanson’s firm and at the same time he was manufacturing the corn (and cob?) mills. Hiram left Alton sometime in late 1851. A July 19, 1851 ad announces that the thresher patent was extended and gives Hiram’s address as Alton. An August 8, 1851 announcement of hotel arrivals in Milwaukee also gives his residence as Alton. Sometime between then and January 12, 1852 he started manufacturing on Randolph Street in Chicago. A letter in the “Prairie Farmer” praises his corn and cob mill and states that it was built at the steam works H. Witbeck, Randolph Street, Chicago. By May 1, 1852 he was advertising threshing machines and corn and cob mills from the Randolph Street factory in Chicago. The ad stated that, “The premises were formerly Witbeck’s Wagon and Plow Factory, and more recently occupied by J.V.A. Wemple as a manufactory for Threshing Machines and other agricultural implements.”

    A patent infringement case, Hiram A. Pitts, vs. J.V.A. Wemple was decided in February, 1856 in the U.S. District Court. , H.A. Pitts and J.V.A. Wemple. Pitts claimed that Wemple had appropriated four distinct improvements which were covered by the Pitts brother’s patents. Wemple prevailed.

  • Brian D. Szafranski

    Thank you for sharing this letter! I find it frustrating there’s a lack of historical notoriety for twin brothers Hiram & John Pitts, co-inventors of the landmark Pitts Thresher. The Pitts Thresher (U.S. patent #542 dated December 29, 1837) is considered by many agricultural historians to be one of the three most significant agricultural inventions of the 1800’s. The other two are the steel plow (John Deere and others) and the Reaper (Cyrus McCormick). Many people have heard of the Deere and McCormick, but few know of the Pitts Brothers or their invention.

    After building machinery together in Winthrop, Maine, the brothers split up and headed West. Hiram ended up in the Chicago area, and his firm was often referred to as Chicago Pitts, although that was only a trade name used by his firm. That is, Hiram’s firm was never actually named Chicago Pitts, based on research performed by Dick Morris.

    After spending time in Albany, NY; Rochester, NY; and Springfield, OH, John finally settled in Buffalo, NY. John’s firm was often referred to as Buffalo Pitts, but that too was only a trade name used by his firm… initially. Many years later (long after Hiram and John passed away) John’s Buffalo, NY firm was incorporated as Buffalo Pitts in 1897.

    I hope to write a book about Buffalo Pitts. In it I expect to devote a section to Hiram Pitts and his firm. The book is several years away, assuming my health holds out. Again, thank you for sharing this letter.

    B. Szafranski
    –Elma, NY USA
    –webmaster of http://www.BuffaloPitts.com
    –Western NY manufacturing history columnist

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