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Moment of Indiana History

James Oliver and the Chilled Plow

Since its earliest days, Indiana has been an agricultural state. Not surprisingly it was a South Bend resident, James Oliver, who was responsible for simplifying farmers’ lives by revolutionizing plow design.

Prior to the 1850’s, farmers used wooden plows with a metal edge to help them work the earth. These plows were not sturdy and often broke against the hard ground. Damp soil would also stick to them, making the whole process difficult and less efficient.

In 1857, Oliver received a patent to make “chilled” plows. The plows were cast in a mold which allowed the metal to be cooled rapidly, resulting in a hard surface that kept a sharp edge. The plows were also extremely smooth, alleviating the problem of sticking soil.

Oliver’s plows became commonplace throughout the United States and around the world. By the turn of the 20th century, he employed over a thousand men and produced as many as three hundred thousand plows a year, living up to its slogan, “Plowmakers for the World.”

(Photo Credit: Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

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