Image courtesy of Karen Kruse
The marker is located at 403 Edward Street in Sycamore.
DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, Inc. (www.daaha.org) and The Illinois State Historical Society
In the mid to late 1800s, northern Illinois witnessed substantial agricultural innovations. Along with such developments as John Deere’s steel plow and the barbed wire of Glidden-Ellwood-Haish, the Marsh Harvester brought significant change to agriculture.
In 1857, two enterprising young brothers who farmed near Shabbona in southern DeKalb County had a labor-saving idea. Starting with a reaper, the new design of Charles and William Marsh used a moving belt to elevate cut grain to a wagon bed where two men hand-tied it into bundles. For their invention, the first “Harvester”, they were awarded a patent in 1858.
After several experimental machines, and with the help of John Hollister, the design was greatly improved. In 1863, commercial manufacture of the first harvester began in Plano with partners George and Lewis Steward. In 1869, the Marsh Brothers organized their factory at Sycamore. The Marsh Harvester Manufacturing Company became Sycamore’s first major industry. The manufacturing complex covered six acres in 1892, doing an annual business of more than one million dollars.
Over the years, thousands of Marsh Harvesters were built and sold. In 1888, the British Colonial Trade Journal reported, “Without a doubt the greatest reformer of the age in the agricultural world has been the American harvester and binder.”
William Marsh built a fine Italianate brick home on West State Street in Sycamore where he lived until he died in 1918. The home was named to the National Register of Historical Places in 1978.
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