There are quiet, forceful men in every community at least, whose life work is not fully recognized even by those associated with them, to say nothing of that larger body who have benefitted by their ability and great business capacity. Many know them today, some knew them many years ago, while a few know of their beginnings; none know the whole of their service or the real value of their life to the world.
In 1859, there were no such great business and manufacturing centers in Wisconsin as dot the map today. Places then on the map are unknown to business now, while others, then unheard of, have sprung into a glaring public light. In that year, a young man, twenty-six years old, staked his fortune at Lake Five, Waukesha county. He started making such implements as were then required on the farm. He made his own castings and fitted the wood work. His products had an individuality and soon made his wares widely known. How many now can locate Lake Five?
His business prospered, and in 1866 he removed his factory and machine shops to Menomenee Falls. Lake Five faded from the map and the falls began to put on airs. By this time, he had made many warm personal friends, none of whom have as yet forsaken him. Among these are the editors of The Post. Hard industry, integrity, a devotion to his work which impelled a constant betterment of his product and a strong social faculty made and kept his friends and maintained his business reputation. He invented many things to add to the efficiency of his implements and to cheapen them by labor saving devices. He is the originator, patentee and builder of the first five tooth walking cultivator. a machine that is known and has at some time been operated by every agricultural farmer in the United States and even today is recognized by many as a superior to the to the riding and all other so-called improved devices. The royalties offered this young man by the David Bradley Manufacturing company of Chicago for the manufacture of this machine together with the privileges that accompanied the urgent request for his acceptance would have alone made him a multi-millionare. He invented the first press for bending the mold boards of steel plows. He devised the first slip-tooth for cultivators and seeders. He made new model horse-powers and various other implements which caused him to be known to the farmers all over the country.
Among these inventions was one that opened the way for a great expansion in his business. He put up the first machine for bending felloes, plow handles and all other bent woodwork, by using hot steam to soften the wood and then placing it in forms where it was held till dried enough to stay bent. This was the original basic invention for making curved shapes in bent rather then solid wood, one of the greatest inventions of the age. His factory had outgrown his facilities and transportation was wholly inadequate from a place then far from the railroad. In consequence, he again moved his plant, this time to Appleton, Wis., in 1873.
Since 1873, for thirty-six years, Guilford D. Rowell has been active in the business of Appleton and favorably known to all who have had dealings with him, or met him in a neighborly or social way. He was born at Springwater, Livingston Co., N.Y., in 1833 on Dec. 4. He was married to Eliza J. Thompson in July, 1855. In his earlier years, he was a large factor in the life of Waukesha county. He made a wide acquaintance outside of his business. Waukesha had then become one of the leading towns in the new country and there gathered the choice spirits and shrewd business men of the state. Among these, Mr. Rowell was welcome and at home. There a friendship not yet ended was formed.
On coming to Appleton his business became so large that his new shops could not supply the demand. His implements were sought for all over the west as well as in Wisconsin and Illinois. His bent frame seeder was worth a fortune to its patentee and maker. Mr. Rowell sought to meet this great demand by enlargement and expansion of his plants. To this end, he associated with him some men of capital, forming the Appleton Manufacturing Company, in 1876. While this accomplished its purpose in one way, it proved harmful in another to the fortunes of Mr. Rowell. The capital, relatively, a much larger share of the profits than the inventor and founder of the business. Up to this time, the business management of Mr. Rowell had been eminently successful. It was not a failure in this instance, but he, as the brains and skilled head, did not reap a full share of the benefits. He was president of the company for ten years, during which time the business grew to unexpected proportions. The company shipped goods to all parts of the world. The next year, 1887, he bought in the Valley Iron Works, an interest which he retained until 1896. The same year he started the manufacture of railway car movers, which he continues to the present, in which since 1900 his son D. G. Rowell, has been associated with him under the firm name G. D. Rowell and Son. His Car-mover trade grew immensely gave him all he could do. This line of manufacture is still profitable and growing under his management. Its profits have already recouped his losses and given him a competency besides. While his business makes no noise in the commercial circles of Appleton, his plant is yet one of the most substantial among Appleton’s manufactories.
Very few people know the number and character of the inventions patented by Mr. Rowell. He is the originator and patentee of the first wood handle car-mover, which saved him in the crisis. This implement is adopted and used all over the railroad world. It is still in demand and nothing has come to displace it. When first put on the market, he had many competitors to contend with. When he presented his car-mover to the railroad men for consideration, his proposed test was to put his car-mover at one end of a car and that of his competitor at the other end and get at work. He boasted of the fact that his mover would run the car over the others in spite of all they could do. This backward “tug of war” resulted in establishing his trade. Besides those mentioned above, he invented grinding mills, water wheels, paper mill screens, friction clutch pulleys, hay carriers, split pulleys, cement sidewalk-block-machines, fire hose cut offs, fire hose carriers, and many others, as diversified, if not as well known.
Although Mr. Rowell has not reaped the full reward of all his inventions, he has, unlike many if not most inventors, gathered and kept enough to make his years comfortable. And no man can say he has not earned it. None will charge him with taking undue advantage of any under cover of legal right or through the power of opportunity. None sorrow because of his betterment. Through his business and inventive powers, from the Lake Five to Appleton, he has brought his full share of industrial prosperity to his chosen community.
During his life in Appleton Mr. Rowell has been associated in business with the following distinguished citizens: C. B. Clark, H. J. Rogers, B. T. Rogers, A. J. Reid, J. S. VanNortwick, Wm. VanNortwick, A. L. Smith, D. J. Woodward, J. B. Birge, O. A. Byrns, W. A. Clark, F. C. Treat.
The post volunteers this sketch of Mr. Rowell’s career as a Christmas greeting for 1909. May the years of his physical and mental vigor continue to the century mark.
Source: Appleton Wisconsin Post, December 24, 1909.