Free Grease: Arbuckle-Ryan Company by Alan Borer
On September 29, 2005, an old warehouse at the corner of Ontario and Monroe was destroyed by fire. Believed to be the work of an arsonist, the building was empty and facing foreclosure. The building had housed among other things, a paint store and Ohio Unemployment offices. But for many years, the building was the headquarters of a farm machine and implement dealer, Arbuckle-Ryan Company.
Arbuckle-Ryan had a long history in Toledo. The company was founded in 1871 by John M. Arbuckle and Charles Ryan. At first it sold mainly general hardware and garden seeds. Gradually, the company grew into an agricultural equipment dealer, specializing in kerosene-fueled threshing machines and farm implements. At its height, Arbuckle-Ryan was a notable supplier of power sources. The company’s “automatic department” built “complete power plants” for large customers such as the Owens Bottle Machine Company.
The company built the aforementioned four story warehouse in 1887. Arbuckle-Ryan did not manufacture farm equipment; they were a distributor, of in the business lingo of the time, a “jobber.” They participated frequently in trade shows and salesmanship. For example, in 1916 the company “were exhibitors at the big tractor demonstration at the Bannister farm a mile and a half northeast of Wauseon, O.” [Farm Power, June 27, 1916] In 1922, at the National Farmer’s Exposition, held in Toledo, a company representative was in charge of the division which showcased threshing equipment [Farm Implement News, November 9, 1922] Another ad from 1922 listed some of the equipment offered by Arbuckle-Ryan: “…tractors, steam engines, threshers, silo presses, potato diggers, and boilers.” [Agrimotor, July 15, 1922]
Arbuckle-Ryan had branch offices in Hillsdale, Michigan, and Goshen, Indiana. Traveling salesmen were used to expand the company’s reach. The company was well thought of by customers. In 1906, a Michigan reader of the trade journal American Thresherman wrote: “We buy our machinery of Arbuckle Ryan & Co., of Toledo, Ohio, who are gentlemen to deal with.” [American Thresherman, October 1906]
The company also tried promotions. One offered ten pounds of “cup grease” (!) free to any customer ordering “oils and supplies.” If you truly needed grease, you could qualify for”Fill in the card below; send in with supply order and we will include a sample 1 lb tin of Arno Graphite Grease Free.”
Arbuckle- Ryan was in business until 1928. By then the company had moved to 1152 E. Broadway. It was a difficult time to be in the farm supply business. The Great Depression started in 1929 in the cities, but earlier on the farm. Changing technology on the farm and a drop in on-farm population also helped bring an end to Arbuckle-Ryan.