Project Launch: Digital Collection of Agricultural Machinery Product Literature

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A new digital collection is in the works: the Agricultural Machinery Product Literature Collection. If agricultural machinery is not of interest to you, why might you want to check out this collection?  Illustrations throughout the collection are often eye-catching (both on the cover and inside the material).  The various design and marketing techniques used provide a window into how companies promoted their products, in addition to being informative on what companies believed might be of interest to potential buyers. Covering the middle of the 19th century through the 20th, the material is also revealing in how companies changed their techniques with the onset of the industrial revolution. In addition to being useful for a wide variety of research and scholarship, the promotional materials for the agricultural machinery can also just be a lot of fun to look through.

The digital collection contains a variety of materials used by companies to advertise their agricultural products – tractors, threshers, plows, fertilizers,  reapers…and many others. Digitized materials include advertisement cards, catalogs, calendars, and even primers for learning the alphabet (and, of course, as a fun way for companies to further promote their products!).

The advertising in this online collection reveals multiple layers at which companies were trying to sell their products. The covers are often eye-catching, and the first few pages can include article-like information on the company and products. This 1886 Aultman, Miller, and Company catalog, for instance, has a lot to say about the history and merits of its Buckeye harvesting machine, starting on the second page of the catalog. To read more (including what the tree illustrates!), see the online catalog here.

The primers can be especially intriguing – multiple themes are woven into one small  book, and verses are packed with promotions for one aspect or another for the company and its products. Whether or not the alphabet was learned from these primers, they can be a fun read.  For instance, one can find under F in the 1881 A.B.C. Buckeye Primer:

F is for Farmer, to whom all posterity
Will owe heavy debts for America’s prosperity
All hail the the Farmer, all hail to his wife,
May they live long together and never know strife

The creativity of the advertisements are fairly imaginative at times. For instance, see the advertisement for a plow in the form of a tattooed hand (as originally pointed out by the library’s Preservation Department blog post on their digitization work).

Front of undated advertisement card for the Bucher and Biggs Company imperial plow.
Back of undated advertisement card for the Bucher and Biggs Company imperial plow, this time showing the plow itself.

Another interesting advertisement is one done by the Aultman, Miller and Company for their Buckeye products. The 4-page booklet packs a lot in – a scene where the company is receiving first place in a contest, workers building the machines, a factory enclosed in an arch listing all of the places where the Buckeye has received first place, and, finally, the closed doors of a shed with a company sign above the door (or, perhaps, when one doesn’t look closely at the signage, the storage place for the proud owner of a new Buckeye thresher?).

Buckeye receiving their gold medal (later in the advertisement you learn that it is the first gold medal ever awarded to a harvesting machine). From an 1889 Aultman, Miller and Company Buckeye advertisement.

The ultimate goal of the project is to digitize the majority of the Lawrence H. Skromme Agricultural Machinery Literature Collection, housed in the Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives. Unlike many digital collections which are selections from archival collections, this one will contain all that can be digitized from the Skromme collection – barring limitations due to copyright and other considerations (we’ve left out most correspondence and materials that are not advertisement-related from the digital collection).

Curious to see more? Visit the Agricultural Product Machinery Literature digital collection online! Where else can you view advertising techniques, images of agricultural machinery, factories and  laborers busy at work, artwork, and poetry all in one place?

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