Catalog Numbers: 2014.fic.419 & 420
Catalog Numbers:The artifacts in the accompanying photos are sales models of two La Crosse Plow Co. plows.
The one in the bottom image is the Ryder Sulky Plow. It stands not quite 8 inches high and is 9 inches long. The writing on the plow indicates the patent for that plow was from Nov. 16, 1880.
Sulky plows were meant to be ridden while being pulled by a mule or a horse.
Most were made from a combination of wood and metal pieces, but because Albert Hirshheimer was a master blacksmith, most of his plows were completely made of metal.
The upper image is also a sulky plow, built entirely of metal; this model is only 5 inches high. A bit more ornate, with gold design and lettering, the second model was made circa 1895.
Born in Wurttemberg, Germany, Hirshheimer immigrated with his family in the 1850s. The family settled in Pennsylvania for several years before moving to La Crosse in 1856.
Hirshheimer soon began a blacksmithing apprenticeship with Barclay & Bantam, a shop in the area that specialized in plows. By 1865, he was considered a master blacksmith and Barclay & Bantam made him a partner in the shop.
Throughout the 1870s, Hirshheimer worked at buying Barclay & Bantam out of their shares of the business. He succeeded in 1881, when he incorporated the company as the La Crosse Plow Co.
Initially the La Crosse Plow Co. was only producing versions of sulky plows, like most other manufacturers.
But in 1911, Hirshheimer expanded his business. He helped incorporate the Sta-Rite Engine Co., an engine manufacturer, and instigated a merger with the Happy Farmer Tractor Co. — bringing tractor manufacturing to La Crosse in 1916. This marked the end of sulky plows and the start of engine-powered tractors in La Crosse.
Albert Hirshheimer’s son, Harry, took over his father’s business after Albert died in 1924. However, by the time of his father’s death the company was struggling. Son Harry Hirshheimer tried to hold on, but in 1929 the company was sold to Allis-Chalmers, a large manufacturing company.
Allis-Chalmers renamed its new location the La Crosse Works, and it was open for decades. In 1969, the plant was down to 400 employees from a postwar high of 1,593, and when the workers went on strike, the company closed the plant.
After the shutdown, the buildings were vacant for many years.
The G. Heileman Brewing Co. purchased the largest tract of what used to be the La Crosse Plow Co. in 1970, and Machine Products, a Heileman business, used the location until 1994. Now, the historic buildings are being developed for mixed residential and commercial use.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on October 29, 2018.