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  Feature on Steel Plow. Topic: INDUSTRY
Written by Rich Wallace in June, 2000


With Copeland, Honda, Alcoa Building Products, Ross Aluminum and many other companies leading the way, Sidney is poised at the beginning of the next century to continue its record as an amazing center of industry and growth. Certainly during our lifetime, Sidney has maintained a diverse economic base that enabled its citizens to enjoy a prosperous way of life.  Surrounding the concrete and steel acres of industry are rolling fields that will soon contain acres of corn and soybeans. Area farmers have things in common with their business neighbors, as both strive to take advantage of the most current trends in technology to increase efficiency. Both also share some common origins.   An early group on intrepid pioneers, inventors, and would-be businessmen in Sidney sowed the first real seeds of prosperity. Their efforts would benefit both the agricultural and industrial communities of Shelby County, Ohio. This is the story of those men and the early days.

When John Blake built the first log cabin on the north side of the court square, there was no industry and little commerce. Survival was the order of the day. Items needed for survival were, out of necessity, made of wood and other natural products. Crude iron implements were brought in by horseback. Their repair gave rise to a need for a village blacksmith. One of the early pioneers to settle here filled that need. He was Christian Kingseed.

Operating out of a shop at the corner of Ohio Avenue and North Street, Kingseed saw a need for more than just a repair shop. Responding to what he perceived to be a demand by local farmers struggling to clear the land, he built an early form of plow. It was constructed of iron.

At the same time, a young lad named Daniel Toy was working his way, on foot, with his family from New Jersey, to Mansfield, Ohio. After a brief stay, they traveled to the Brandt, Ohio area. Mr. Toy furthered his skills by making wagons for use in the Mexican War, and after a time, moved to Troy. Having learned the plow building trade along the way, he went into business with Colonel William Swaim for two years in Troy. Daniel Toy moved to Sidney by 1848.

Shortly before his arrival in Sidney, Daniel Toy had laid claim to being the first person to make a steel plow in the country. As related by his son, William Minor Toy, to a reporter in August 1927, his father purchased part of a load of steel which was being transported along the National Road (now U.S. 40) to John Deere's plow shop in Illinois. When the shipper returned along the same road two months later, Daniel Toy had already fashioned five new steel plows. Steel plows were destined to revolutionize agriculture because they made tilling the fields much easier.

An interesting historical footnote has developed over whether or not the steel plow was invented by John Deere (as history now records) or Sidney's Daniel Toy. The Shelby County Democrat obituary of Mr. Toy in 1903 concluded that "The name of the man who made the first steel plow in the United States is a much disputed question, but undoubtedly Mr. Toy made one of the first."

The arrival of the Toy family in Sidney, along with the Christian Kingseed plow works, gave the town its first mini-industry. Toy set up his shop on West Avenue. in the old courthouse building. Many early plows were formed here that put area farmers on the cutting edge of agriculture beginning in the early 1850's. The Toy plows were instrumental in constructing the roadbeds for the C. H. & D. railroad beginning in the 1850's.

Another early manufacturing family had arrived in Sidney by the 1860's. G. G. Haslup also worked in the iron and steel foundry business. Daniel Toy and Christian Kingseed sold their shop to John Heiser, and Mr. Toy entered into a partnership with G. G. Haslup. He married Mary White Haslup, thus uniting the Toy and Haslup families in one of Sidney's first great business unions. Toy and Haslup also manufactured a sulky plow invented by the soon to be famous Benjamin Slusser.

John Heiser continued the Toy and Kingseed success in the plow business. His North Ohio shop produced the 'Eagle' plow, which an 1870's Shelby County Democrat ad promoted as follows: "Farmers who have used the "Eagle" plow will use no other." Heiser continued in the trade until the early 1890's.

Those interested in local history know the name of Philip Smith. Within a few years of his 1859 arrival in Sidney, Smith with his brother bought into the steel plow business and apparently lured Dan Toy out of retirement. A newspaper advertisement from that time touted the firm as follows:

"We are manufacturing the celebrated Toy DOUBLE-BREASTED STEEL PLOW. We have secured the services of Daniel Toy, who has no superior as a plow maker."

The notoriety of the Sidney plow makers such as Toy, Kingseed and Heiser soon spread to adjoining states. Sales to other states were brisk. A Peoria, Illinois, businessman wrote a letter to a Sidney resident in 1912, telling of a finely made 1868 steel plow made in Sidney, Ohio.

The talents of Daniel Toy were passed down to his son. William Minor Toy was the head of the W. M. Toy & Company. Sutton's History of Shelby County reported that by 1881 this business was making 250 to 300 plows annually at its South Main Avenue location.

Sidney's early agricultural successes gave rise to a string of new business ventures that created a strong industrial base by the 1890's. Philip Smith expanded his early plow business to a long line of iron and steel products, including grain-cleaning equipment. Benjamin Slusser moved from inventing sulky plows to road scrapers. No other innovation had quite the impact on Sidney that the scraper did. Well into the twentieth century, Sidney was home to three road scraper manufacturers employing hundreds of workers. Signs at the city limits proclaimed Sidney as the "Steel road scraper capital of the world."


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