The Parlin and Orendorff Factory
Born in 1817 in the small farming community of Acton, Massachusetts, William Parlin brought with him from his homeland to Canton a mere twenty-five cents, three hammers, and an apron. Young Parlin had traveled through his own state then gradually drifted west through Illinois to St. Louis, where he practiced blacksmithing for a year. Since his success seemed minimal, he decided to travel up the Illinois River to Copperas Creek and proceeded to Canton. There, Parlin started his career as an inventive and skilled blacksmith. William Parlin's innovative talent as a blacksmith and his dynamic partnership with Thompson Maple and William Orendorff led to his success as a businessman.
Parlin began his innovative work as an apprentice for Robert Culton, who purchased a blacksmith shop after moving to Canton in 1836. Located at 231 East Elm Street, this small shop would later become the Parlin and Orendorff factory. Culton appreciated Parlin's talent and soon named him a full partner.
As a team, Culton and Parlin produced their first steel plow in 1842. These early plows, which had wooden moldboards with metal plates, helped the farmers of the community greatly. The extensive success of the early plows created the need for an additional foundry, added in 1846. Parlin's success was great, though his partnership started to crumble.
The partnership dissolved just two years after it began because of Parlin's urge to work on his own. Alone, he constructed a small foundry on the northwest corner of Main and Walnut. Just as Parlin began to improve in his trade, tragically in 1847, an enormous blaze engulfed the foundry. In despair, Parlin went back to Culton's shop, now managed by his son, John Culton. Parlin and John Culton worked together for a few years, until Parlin bought out Culton. Again, Parlin produced plows on his own.
William Parlin's dynamic partnerships with Thompson Maple and William Orendorff eventually led to Parlin's success in business. As the demand for Parlin's plows grew in the early 1840s, Maple realized a business opportunity in Parlin's
Ulysses G. Orendorff inherited his father's interest in the Parlin and Orendorff steel plow company.
plows; he proposed a partnership. Since Parlin had financial problems he accepted Maple's offer. In the summer of 1846 the Maple-Parlin firm officially began business. The new firm allowed Parlin to focus all of his time on manufacturing, while Maple provided the capital and handled the office work.
Parlin stayed busy producing the steel moldboard plow. The new positions in the firm permitted Parlin to personally inspect every piece the company manufactured so that the workers made them to the highest of standards.
After two successful years as the Maple-Parlin firm, the company slowly began to deteriorate because of Maple's old age. In 1848 the Maple-Parlin firm dissolved due to Thompson Maple's retirement. Though alone again, Parlin continued his success.
As a result of the success of Parlin's plow, he decided to take on another partner. In 1852 Parlin's brother-in-law, William Orendorff became his full partner. Similar to the earlier years with Maple, Parlin remained in charge of the company's manufacturing, while Orendorff acted as sales manager. Called William Parlin and Company until 1860, Parlin and Orendorff agreed to rename the company Parlin and Orendorff.
Parlin and Orendorff produced many successful farm implements. Parlin invented implements such as the walking cultivator in 1856, the shovel plow in 1857, the riding cultivator, and the first lister in 1865. Altogether, the plow factory produced more than fourteen hundred different sizes and styles of farm implements.
Parlin's farm implements became extremely popular in the agricultural world, though none as famous as the "Canton Clipper Plow." In 1870 Canton's factory alone manufactured more than 8000 clipper plows, which were shipped throughout the western hemisphere. Over the next fourteen years the factory continued to gain acceptance in the agricultural industry.
As their success grew rapidly, William Orendorff made a proposal to allow the company's equipment to be sold through distributors. Parlin agreed, and in 1891 the small factory of Canton contracted with approximately fifty distributors located in towns such as Kansas City, St. Louis, Dallas, Decatur, Minneapolis, Portland, Dubuque, Madison, Denver, Nashville, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Spokane. The Parlin and Orendorff line peaked after less than a century in production.
The factory experienced some drastic changes in management around 1900. In 1901, four years after William Orendorff died, William Parlin also died. William H. Parlin and Ulysses G. Orendorff inherited management of the plow factory after their fathers' deaths. The factory grew until 1919 when it ranked number one in the plow manufacturing industry. The factory had grown as much as it could when the two sons decided to sell the factory to the International Harvester Company. The factory became known as the Canton Works, and they continued to produce farm implements until 1983, when it shut down due to financial problems.
With his innovative talent as a blacksmith and his ability to realize his need for a partnership, William Parlin, with the help of others, created one of the greatest farm implement industries of the 1800s. Parlin's factory brought the Canton community recognition as well as many jobs. It will remain a part of Canton's history forever.—[From Fulton County Historical Society, Historic Fulton County, Sites, and Scenes—Past and Present 1823-1973; Jesse Heylin ed., History of Fulton County Illinois; Jesse Hollandsworth Clark, ed., A History of Fulton County Illinois in Spoon River Country 1818-1968; Edward R. Lewis, Jr., Reflections of Canton in a Pharmacists Show Globe; Edward R. Lewis, Jr., "The Industrial Development of Fulton County" The Natural Resources of Fulton County; Dennis N. Stremmel, Canton Illinois Heritage; Alonzo M. Swan, Canton; C.H. Wendel, One Hundred and Fifty Years of International Harvester.]