Sidney Manufacturing Company
Sidney, Ohio 45365
By Jon F. Baker, President
Written in 2002
SMC, Sidney Manufacturing Company or just “Sidney” as many call us today started life in 1859 as the Philip Smith Manufacturing Company. Philip Smith learned the foundry trade as a very young man and at the age of 20 years old and with $25.00 rented a building in Sidney, Ohio and began business. His early efforts were in the casting of bells for schoolhouses and farms. He soon became the largest bell manufacturer in Ohio. This was followed with casting kettles, stoves, decorative iron for building fronts and hollow ware for cooking.
Philip Smith later sold his hollow ware business to Wagner Manufacturing Co., which went on to become the worlds’ largest cast iron cooking utensil foundry. You can’t walk into an antique store in the United States without finding an old cast iron skillet with Wagner Manufacturing, Sidney, Ohio printed on the bottom.
Also at that point in time, our part of the Country was building a wood crib house every 3-5 miles, so Philip Smith soon diversified into warehouse machinery, grain elevators back then were known as grain warehouses. The earliest catalog known was printed in the late 1800’s and refers to the equipment as warehouse machinery. This catalog actually shows horse drawn wagons of ear corn being dumped with a Smith hand crank overhead wagon dump, which eventually evolved into the cradle type truck hoist. These hoists can still be found hanging in many old grain elevators today.
At the turn of the century the “Sidney” cone type corn sheller was developed and literally thousands were produced for various shelling capacities along with accessory items such as revolving corn cleaners to remove the husks and cob blowers to blow the cobs to the burner.
All wood elevator legs were being manufactured with capacities geared to what the sheller would do. Ear corn chain drags were manufactured using wood troughs and installed in the elevator pits to pull the ears to the sheller or ear corn leg. As time passed screw conveyors began to perform the function of moving grain throughout the facility. Prior to that the storage capacity was limited to what could be fed by gravity from the distribution spout.
The Smith hand-powered Safety Man Lift was introduced around 1910 and sold for $100.00 for 40 foot of travel and $0.60 per foot over. This hand-powered or “rope pull” man lift was electrified over the years and went on to become the most popular and widely used personnel elevator in grain elevators in the United States. This personnel elevator remains a unique product of Sidney Manufacturing Company today.
Philip Smith died in 1914 and per his rearranged request a marching band led his funeral precession through the streets of Sidney to the cemetery on the south edge of town.
The business struggled without Smith’s entrepreneurial leadership and in 1922 was sold at a U.S. District Public Bankruptcy Court to a local scrap dealer primarily for the mounds of cast iron left on the property.
Because of the demand, the new owner continued to produce machinery and parts for local grain elevators and in 1925 several young businessmen joined in and formed the Sidney Grain Machinery Company. The new Company acquired patents on various grain and feed mill equipment and built a full line of grain and feed handling machinery. This ownership saw the change from equipment made from wood, cast iron and riveted steel to the fabrication process of using sheet steel and welded seams.
Sidney Grain Machinery Company thrived and eventually spawned two other machinery manufacturers in Sidney, Ohio when employees left and started their own manufacturing firms. Oscar Burns left the wood working department of Sidney Grain and stared Shelby Manufacturing. Bud Seving left an office position and formed The Hawthorne-Seving Company.
As the story goes, Sidney Grain sent Mr. Seving to an auction to buy a large 3-story brick building located a block from the factory. Little did they know that Mr. Seving had the best of both worlds on that day. If the property sold high he would buy it for his employer. If it sold low, he would buy it for himself and launch his own competing business. When he returned from the auction the President said, “Well, did you buy us a building today?” and Mr. Seving said, “No, I bought myself a building today and I’m leaving you to start my own business.”
These three businesses were archrivals for years, competing for the grain machinery business in several States however this rivalry had two sides to it. The owners disliked each other but the shop superintendents would trade parts with one another out the back door in order to complete orders on time.
My father, Herman Baker, went to work selling for Sidney Grain in 1947. He was good at it, raising 3 boys, paying for their college educations, paying for homes and buying new cars every year just from selling grain machinery. I remember his story about the first major job he sold. The only reason he got to bid the project was because the Hawthorne-Seving salesman spent his selling time telling the customer how bad Sidney Grain equipment was. Herman’s lesson to me was of course don’t put down your competitor; sell yourself and the merits of your equipment.
The early 60’s brought a downturn in business. A combination of this and some bad business investments made outside the Company put Sidney Grain Machinery Company into a receivership status.
My father couldn’t resist the all American dream of owning your own business but more so he could not sit by and watch the last 19 year of his life and love close its doors, so in May of 1966 he bought the business and renamed it Sidney Grain Machine, Inc.
I remember the day well, not because of the business transaction, what did I care, I was 19 years old; but because I totally demolished my brand new GTO on that same day. Like my father needed to get that phone call just after he had begged, borrowed and stole every thing he could to keep the Company doors open.
Another thing that took place on that day in 1966 I credit with giving my Dad an intensive drive and initiative to survive was a visit from the owners of Shelby Manufacturing. They suggested that they buy the defunct company and hire my father to run it for them. When Herman refused the offer their parting statement was, “OK then, we’ll bury you.” Another lesson learned; don’t every say that to your competitor.
Most of the product line was maintained and production never stopped during the receivership period allowing us the claim today of 143 years of continuous operation.
Through the 70’s and 80’s it was feast or famine swinging from government storage programs that boosted sales to government programs that paid the agricultural community not to grow grain. To survive, our sales market expanded for a three-state area to the entire U.S. with our personnel elevators (manlifts) leading the way. The emphasis from strictly grain handling changed with the ever-vulnerable grain industry to the processing side of animal feeds, pet food as well as the dry bulk material handling in non-agricultural related industries.
Because of our “Sidney Grain” name we found it more and more difficult to get in the door of industrial accounts like Proctor and Gamble, for instance, so in 1990 a marketing decision was made to remove the word “grain” from our name, a word that had served my father and those before him well. This name change to Sidney Manufacturing Company with SMC as our new logo came just two years after my father’s death.
The 90’s have and into this decade served us well with the growth in the Pet Food Industry and the invention of our patented SIDEWALL RETURN Drag Conveyor. This unique conveyor has not only become the conveyor of choice in the Pet Food Industry but has also expanded our sales into many different industrial applications and the human food processing industries both in the U.S. and foreign markets.
Self-preservation and determination runs in the veins of a Company that has survived 143 years of continuous business. The secret is simple – youth. We are excited about our future and the youth in our company that will take us there.