Henry L. Ferris (1850 – 1932) Charles E. Hunt (1846 – 1925) Nathan B. Helm (1825 – 1904)
In 1883, Henry L. Ferris invented and patented a hay carrier while working at his butter and cheese factory, the Cold Spring Creamery, near Alden, Illinois. As news of the carrier spread through the farming community, a number of men visited Ferris with the thought of forming a business venture. Charles E. Hunt, associated with his father-in-law, Nathan B. Helm, in a hardware store in Harvard, Illinois, suggested that Ferris set up shop in the basement of the store for manufacturing the carrier, and he and Helm would sell the merchandise from the floor above. Ferris agreed and the Hunt, Helm, Ferris and Company business began.
As Ferris’ engineering skills and inventiveness progressed, the company grew and prospered. Soon, Ferris sold his dairy and moved his family to Harvard. In 1888 the company built a new and larger manufacturing facility in Harvard. Continued prosperity meant continued growth; they built additional buildings, and by 1898, constructed their first three story building. Product innovation allowed the partners to buy out the Church Hay Tool Company of Harvard prior to the turn of the century. Hunt, Helm and Ferris decided to incorporate in 1902.
Through the years, the company manufactured more than 50 products and acquired over 250 patents on equipment designed to streamline farm work. Their 1914 brochure boasts “The most durable construction commandable by brains, capital and experience, is due the phenomenal success of the Star Line – the largest, most complete and most sanitary line of barn equipment on the market.” Ferris also invented a windmill regulator, land roller, spring tooth cultivator, a barbed wire stretcher, fence posts, milk house equipment, barn hardware, automatic gutter cleaners and manure spreaders, silo unloaders, and a cattle feeder. Along the recreational line, Hunt, Helm, and Ferris manufactured a two-wheel bicycle, steel coaster sleds, coaster wagons, and roller skates. A 1926 brochure lists company branches in Albany, N.Y., Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Although the Star Line Goods logo appears on company letterhead as early as 1909, Hunt, Helm and Ferris officially renamed the corporation Starline in 1931. This preceded a long line of alterations for the company. In 1943, Starline purchased the Federal Malleable Company of Wisconsin. Federal Malleable was sold in 1959 to facilitate purchasing a 50% interest in the Howard Rotavator Company, an American branch of the British farm machinery manufacturer, Rotary Hoes. Starline also acquired half interest in the Hawk Bilt Company of Iowa in 1961; a company built around the invention and manufacture of a patented tank-type manure spreader.
In 1969, Starline merged with Chromalloy American Corporation. Rotary Hoes declined to be part of the transaction and bought back Starline’s half interest in their American company. The Hawk Bilt Company agreed to the merger. In 1989, the CannonBall:HNP division was bought by National Material Limited Partnership, which continued to operate in Harvard until 1991 when it moved to facilities in Beloit, Wisconsin.
Starline continues as the Farm Systems Division of Chromalloy Farm and Industrial Equipment Company; still headquartered in Harvard, Illinois. S.G. Burritt, the first non-family member elected chairman of the board, strives to keep Hunt, Helm and Ferris’ objective alive – to streamline American farming.
Source: Article by Dennis Mcgrew