The Harris family made a big impact on Salem

Several generations of Salem High School students bought school supplies at the Harris Printing Co. store across North Lincoln and up a few doors from the school, and probably a good many Salem residents are aware of the Harris Printing Company which got its start in town way back in 1866, and which is still busily printing labels on Salem Parkway. But how many know there was another Harris company in town that produced barn equipment?

Printing shop

The story begins back about the time of the American Civil war when an Englishman named Isaac Wright came to visit a brother who was running an apothecary, or drug store, in Salem. The druggist needed labels for his vials of magic potions and nostrums and Isaac knew how to print them. The first labels were crude, but before long other apothecaries wanted them so Wright and a man named Walton established a small label printing shop here in 1866.

Dr. John Harris, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1808, had been practicing medicine and dentistry in Salem for a number of years and saw the need for ready to use labels for medications. In 1869, Dr. Harris bought the Wright & Walton print shop and he and a son, Augustus, established Harris & Company.

Drug labels

Harris & Co. prospered as their labels became known to druggists and doctors and orders poured in from across the country. The firm developed gummed labels that quickly caught on due to their convenience.

Buyout

Dr. Harris’ other son, Charles W., was born in 1845 and grew up in Salem. He studied civil engineering and went to Harrisburg, Pa. to work on the Pennsylvania

Canal

Returning to Salem in 1876, he bought out his father, who apparently retired. Before long, Charles bought out Augustus and built a new building along what is now Cleveland Street, a building that still stands.

Now, to move on to the other Harris Company: Charles W. Harris fathered two daughters, Mary and Virginia, and three sons, Charles D., Frank G., and Augustus E. Charles D. went into the label business with his father and later took over the firm.

Barn equipment

Frank G. Harris seems to have been the main man in the “other” Harris Company, although both his brothers Charles D. and Augustus E. are listed in at least one city directory as being the proprietors of the barn equipment company along with Frank.

Born in 1880, Frank went to school in Salem and during his twenties worked at first for Westinghouse Electric, before becoming an erector for the Buckeye Engine Company here in Salem. Augustus also worked at Buckeye as a machinist. It’s unclear just why the two brothers became interested in barn equipment as no evidence can be found that they ever lived on a farm, but interested they were. In 1909 F.G. and A.E. Harris received a patent for a cow stanchion and four years later for a steel stall frame.

Dairy barn tools

In 1907, Frank and Gus started the Harris Manufacturing Company to make stanchions and stalls for dairy barns. For those readers who don’t know what these are, the stanchion was a wood or steel frame-like gadget that loosely clasped the cow’s neck when it was brought into the barn to be milked. The stanchion was elongated and suspended by chains at top and bottom to allow the beast to move its head up and down or from side to side for drinking or eating, and to lie down or stand. Cow’s necks are narrow and their heads are large, so a device wide enough to be loose on the neck was also narrow enough that it was impossible to withdraw the bovine head.

Stanchions

Also, cows are creatures of habit and once trained would, upon entering the barn and being enticed by feed in the manger, head for their stall and stick their head through the opened stanchion and begin to eat.

The dairyman came along and latched each stanchion closed, holding the critter securely in its place. The steel stall frame made by Harris provided a solid structure from which to hang the stanchions, along with a curved pipe divider between each cow to keep them from shifting too far to one side or the other and interfering with their neighbors.

In a 1909 Buyer’s Guide, Harris is listed as making only stanchions; by 1911, they had added the “Sanitary Steel Stall” while the 1920 Guide lists litter and feed carriers and feed trucks.

Agriculture depression

Harris Mfg. was listed in the 1924 Salem City Directory, but wasn’t in the 1927-28 issue, so the firm was probably a victim of the severe agricultural depression that existed all through the 1920s and that caused the demise of many farm related businesses.

I’m not sure what became of Harris Mfg. but The Ney Mfg. Co. of Canton, who made all sorts of barn equipment including stalls, stanchions and feed and litter carriers among other things, may have bought out the Harris firm, as the 1939 Buyer’s Guide lists Ney as the source for repair parts for Harris equipment.

Other financial interests

Frank Harris had other interests as well. He ran a Buick dealership and Freedom Oil station along West State Street in Salem near the railroad crossing (which is where the Harris Mfg. Co. was located as well) for many years.

This concern was called the Harris Garage & Storage Company and at first sold GMC trucks as well as Buick cars and Freedom oil and gas. Later, Harris was a DeSoto-Plymouth dealer and also handled Auburn and Packard cars, as well as Mobil oil products.

Sometime about 1940, Frank seems to have sold the garage business and dealership and he died in 1949, while his brother, Charles D. lived until 1956 and Augustus didn’t pass until 1965.

Looking for Harris Mfg. Co. info. I’ve lived in Salem for nearly sixty years and only recently heard of the Harris Mfg. Co. If anyone reading this has any examples of Harris barn equipment or, better yet, one of their catalogs, I’d enjoy hearing from them.

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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