Oliver Chilled Plow Works - 1835-1855
South Bend’s Oliver Chilled Plow Works manufactured some of the world’s most popular plows, calling themselves “Plowmakers to the World.” Immigrant and inventor James Oliver’s patented method of chilling the cast iron during the molding process allowed for a strong, durable, and affordable plow.
James Oliver emigrated from the Newcastleton, Scotland area at 12 years old. Some of his older siblings had already made the move to America, sending home letters detailing their improved lives. The rest of the family set sail in 1835 and traveled west to Indiana. Here, James worked odd jobs before landing at the St. Joseph Iron Co. in 1847, where he learned the molding trade that allowed him to invent and perfect the chilled plow. He was issued his first of 45 patents for plow improvements on June 30, 1857, for a technique that hardened the plow exterior and eliminated soft spots that lead to breakage.
Becoming the Oliver Chilled Plow Works - 1855-1920
James Oliver bought into the South Bend Foundry in 1855. His son Joseph Doty “J.D.” Oliver joined him in 1867. Their collaboration allowed him to improve his plows while J.D. looked after the finances. The foundry reorganized as the South Bend Iron Works in 1868, with 100 workers and $100,000 in capital. In 1871, the South Bend Register said of Oliver’s Iron Works, “if he keeps on improving his plows, it will soon have no rivals in the country.” But Oliver did have competition. By the 1880s, South Bend housed four chilled plow manufacturers including Bissell Chilled Plow Works and South Bend Chilled Plow. These competitors, involving Thelus M. Bissell, were rumored to use Oliver patents to produce their chilled plows. Although not in the plow business, Birdsell’s clover hullers rounded out South Bend’s farm implement industry.
In 1874, James Oliver purchased 32 acres of farmland to build the Oliver factory. With the expanded space, daily shipments from the factory sometimes reached 30-40 railcars of 150-200 plows each. In 1901, the company reincorporated as the Oliver Chilled Plow Works, the world’s largest plow manufacturer. With James’ passing in 1908, J.D. took over the company and began expansions in 1920. During this time, the smokestack and powerhouse were added to the property.
Oliver Industrial Park - 1933-Today
After J.D.’s passing, the company changed names, merged, expanded and was finally sold to White Motor Corporation in 1960. White gradually transitioned its subsidiaries to using the White name while closing factories to reduce overhead costs. South Bend produced White tractors from 1976 until closing in 1985. The Oliver powerhouse and smokestack stand as the only structures from the Oliver factory after demolitions in 2002. Their current location, named Oliver Industrial Park, houses Rose Brick & Materials Incorporated. The smokestack still displays the Oliver name, letting visitors know where the factory once stood.