In this regular feature, we explore the early inventors and businessmen behind today’s most popular antique tractor brands. Today, will look into Edward P. Allis, one of the men whose name appears on Allis-Chalmers tractors.
Unlike many other names we see on tractors, Edward Phelps Allis was never an inventor. Instead, he was a businessman – and an excellent one.
Allis’s first line of business was leather – together with a partner, he opened a leather shop and a tannery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After 10 years he sold his share in the successful business and looked for a new challenge.
He found that new challenge in a troubled ironworks. The Reliance Ironworks of Milwaukee, founded by two men from Dayton, Ohio, hit hard times during the panic of 1857. When Allis and two partners purchased the Reliance Works, it was in bankruptcy. It quickly became apparent that the ironworks would need a sharp infusion of capital to stay afloat. Allis’s partners grew skittish and backed out of the deal, but Allis rounded up the money to buy their shares and to keep the business open.
Allis’ faith in the Reliance works was soon rewarded. Within 4 years, the Ironworks had pulled out of its nosedive and was booming.
Tractors weren’t a part of the picture when Edward Allis was in charge – instead, the company produced a diversified assortment of equipment for milling and mining, including steam engines. The roller flour mills that Allis built for Washburn-Crosby Mills and the Pillsbury mills changed the industry. Because these two companies were on the leading edge of the mill improvements, they quickly grew in prominence – it’s why we have Gold Medal and Pillsbury Best flour on our shelves today.
Edward was a quiet, studious type with a keen mind for business. He enjoyed reading and even ran for governor with the Greenback Party (a break-off of the Republican party that differed on currency policy). He and his wife, Margaret, had 11 children.
Allis built a solid company, but he didn’t have any sons interested in continuing to lead it. (One son, who showed an interest in the family business, eventually went off to form his own.) Two years after his death, the Edward P. Allis Company merged with the Fraser and Chalmers Company – giving birth to the Allis-Chalmers combination that we recognize today.