Louden Machinery Co., Fairfield, IA

January 21, 2011

The Louden Machinery Company, world-renowned manufacturer of barn equipment, remains Fairfield, Iowa’s most famous success story. William Louden was born on October 16, 1841 in Cassville, Huntingdon Co., Pennsylvania. His parents Andrew and Jane (Speer) Louden had recently immigrated from Ireland, having married on January 6, 1840 in Belfast. William’s older brother John had died as a baby in Ireland, leaving William the oldest of eight more children, the only one not born in Iowa. In the spring of 1842, when William was six months old, the Loudens moved to Jefferson County, Iowa, where Andrew worked at a sawmill on Cedar Creek before purchasing a farm in Cedar Township the following spring.

Growing up frail and sickly, William could not pitch hay as well as his father and younger brothers, and so set his genius to making farm-work easier. By 1867 he had obtained the first two of his more than 100 patents: one for hay-stacking, and one for hay-carrying. On January 2, 1868 he married his neighbor, Mary Jane Pattison, and began manufacturing his “universal hay pitcher” in his father-in-law’s barn. In 1870 he built a fifty-by-fifty-foot brick three-story factory near the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad tracks for $7,000. Then known as Louden Manufacturing Works, his factory stood on the north side of West Stone Street, between North Sixth and North Seventh Streets, where Fairfield Glove and Mitten Co. stands now.

But hard times came; the business failed in 1876, and William Louden was even charged with forgery and over-issuing his bonds the following year. In 1879 the Louden shops were still unoccupied, and the townspeople tried unsuccessfully to get Joel Turney & Co. builders of Charter Oaks Wagons, to move from Henry County to Fairfield and occupy the works. (Turney later did relocate to Fairfield, but constructed his own factory on Depot Street.) That October Ward Lamson bought the Louden buildings, and in August 1880 the Fairfield Manufacturing Company was incorporated with Moses A. McCoid as President, Samuel C. Farmer Jr. as Secretary and Treasurer, W. H. Bartels as General Manager, and Gus Vote. They leased the Louden Works from Ward Lamson before buying them in May 1881, and did a flourishing business making and selling furniture before the old Louden building burned completely in January 1884.

Meanwhile, the indebted but determined William Louden had bought an old wagon and two horses on credit and traveled the country for seven years, constructing hay carriers and other equipment in the barns of his farmer friends. He then concentrated again on manufacturing, first only with his wife and then in 1889 with his youngest brother, Robert Bruce Louden. Three years later J. C. Fulton acquired an interest in the firm, which was then organized and incorporated as the Louden Machinery Company with R. B. Louden as president, William Louden as vice president, and J. C. Fulton as secretary and treasurer. Buying four lots in 1892 at 605-607 West Broadway near the C. R. I. & P. Railroad depot, the Louden Machinery Company built a 6,000-square-foot factory and grew to become one of the world leaders in barn construction and farm equipment.

William Louden purchased the double lot at 501-503 West Washington Avenue, and rebuilt the house on it in 1881-1882. He rebuilt it again in 1896-1897, and it remains outwardly nearly unchanged today, though it now houses five families. His brother R. B. Louden owned and remodeled the white brick house several blocks east at 107 West Washington; it too remains essentially unchanged today.

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