Thursday, June 7, 2018

Farm Equipment Dealer and Agricultural Developer Sylvester Hill [otd 06/07]

Agricultural pioneer Sylvester Hill was born June 7, 1855 in Dekalb County, Illinois. Bolstered by a business school education, he first worked as a traveling salesman for the Deering Harvester Company. The Deering company was one of several farm equipment firms competing for business in the Midwestern grain fields.
Reaper-binder, ca. 1881. National Archives.

Sylvester spent seven years on the road selling. He then became Assistant Manager and then Manager for the Deering interests in Minnesota. Around 1888, he left to help organize another implement company. Unfortunately, their majority investor died suddenly and the company folded. Hill then became a District Manager for the Plano Manufacturing Company, another of the strong competitors in the grain cutting and binding business.

After five years with Plano, Hill moved on to work for the Milwaukee Harvester Company. At this stage of his career, Sylvester had held management positions in three of the four strongest companies in the farm equipment field. The only one he had not worked for was the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. Cyrus McCormick, Jr., son of the inventor of the patented McCormick reaper, led the company. It was arguably the strongest competitor in the now-crowded business.

In the fall of 1901, Sylvester quit Milwaukee Harvester and moved to Idaho. He never said “for the record” why he quit the business to which he had devoted over half his life. Less than a year later, Cyrus McCormick engineered a consolidation of McCormick, Deering, Milwaukee, Plano, and one other small firm into the International Harvester Company. It is difficult to avoid the notion that there’s more to this story than we know. Perhaps Hill “saw the handwriting on the wall” and left before consolidation forced him out.
Sylvester Hill.
J. H. Hawley photo.

Hill purchased “raw” land near Roswell, 2-3 miles south of Parma across the Boise River. Over the next five years, he converted his sagebrush-covered tract into productive farm acreage. Perhaps his expertise with the latest agricultural equipment aided with those improvements. The Idaho Statesman reported (September 2, 1906) that “One of the best crops of clover seed ever produced in this section has just been threshed by Sylvester Hill … ”

He sold that first spread for almost five times what he paid for it and then homesteaded another, larger plot. Hill held that land for over a decade before again selling at a premium.

Sylvester next had a contract with the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation to build a long stretch of the Golden Gate irrigation ditch. (The Golden Gate Canal branches off from another canal about six miles west of Caldwell and winds about eighteen miles west to end less than two miles from the Snake River.) He spent nine years as Secretary and Treasurer for an irrigation district in the area before retiring in 1917.

At that time, Hill sold his farm property and moved to a home on the east side of Parma. However, Sylvester apparently found sitting at home uncomfortable and sold that place about eighteen months later. He moved his family into Boise and began selling insurance. By 1921, Sylvester and his wife, along with an unmarried daughter, had started wintering in California.

Finally, in August 1925, Hill sold their Boise home. He then retired for good and moved to Glendale, California. Hill passed away there in 1937.
References: [Brit], [Hawley]
“[Sylvester Hill News],” Idaho Statesman (Sept 1906 - Aug 1925).

1 comment:

  1. Very impressive article. Great to know about the famous personality Sylvester Hill!!