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Harvestore's big blue history

Harvestore silos were an innovation in their time, and many still stand out along the horizon. And they aren't just a thing of the past. Here's their story.

Harvestore-silos.jpg
Harvestore silo systems were popular on dairies in the 1970s, but the company and the farmers who used them fell on hard times in the 1980s. This system was installed around 1980 in Twin Brooks, South Dakota, but has gone unused for years after the family sold their 100-cow dairy business. Photo taken July 24, 2018. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Walter Grotte started moving Harvestore silos, the big, blue silos that still dot the landscape in farm country, in the 1980s, when many farmers were hit with hard times and could no longer afford the feed systems.

How a farmer's giant self-made silo mover saved the farm when others were losing theirs

But even though Grotte's Mighty Mover took some Harvestores away, the silos have never gone away. What’s the latest on Harvestore? Here’s a brief history of the Harvestore silo, according to company websites. The most silo-related developments are in boldface:

  • 1874 — English immigrant Charles Jeremiah Smith settles in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and makes baby carriage parts.
  • 1904 — Smith’s descendants incorporate as A.O. Smith, (“AOS”), the company becomes the “largest manufacturer of component bicycle parts in the world” and auto frames for Ford and other auto makers.
  • 1929 — AOS is hit hard by the stock market crash.
  • 1933 -- Prohibition ends. AOS, in Milwaukee’s brewing capital, revives with glass-lined steel beer barrel liners..
  • 1936 — AOS builds glass-lined water heaters for home use.
  • 1940 — AOS makes electric motors.
  • 1941 — AOS makes aerial bombs, propeller blades, landing gears, and was targeted in an unexecuted U.S. invasion plan by Adolph Hitler.
  • 1949 — AOS designs a silo made from bolted steel beer vats. The silos “filled from the top, emptied from the bottom, and were dark-colored to prevent wintertime freezing” of the feed stored inside.
  • 1953 — AOS and Dow explore a fiberglass process.
  • 1959 — AOS forms a fiberglass division and introduces glass-lined silos (and Corvette Sting Ray auto bodies).
  • 1979 — AOS’s Harvestore division sales are $140 million.
  • 1980 to 1985 — AOS moves its auto frame business to making frames for trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles.
  • 1984 — Harvestore sales decline to $21 million. The division shutters two plants and consolidates operations to the main plant in DeKalb, Illinois. AOS shifts the subsidiary’s focus to municipal water tank storage and sells Harvestore’s United Kingdom subsidiary.
  • 1990s — The company returns to profitability, making frames for increasingly popular SUVs. AOS makes deals with Japanese automaker Nissan, and in 1995 launches three joint ventures in China, making it the first U.S. company to make water heaters there.
  • 1997 — AOS puts up its Harvestore unit for sale “in the face of numerous lawsuits and class-action suits that Harvestore had sold farmers defective silos.” A sale doesn’t materialize and the unit is merged back with the industrial storage tank unit.
  • 2001 — CST Industries Inc., of Kansas City, Missouri, purchases AOS’s “Engineered Storage Products Company” including Harvestore. (A CST predecessor company name was Columbian Steel Tank Co.)
  • 2006 — The Sterling Group L.P. , a Houston, Texas, private equity firm, acquires CST Industries Inc. The company introduced an XL Unloader for Harvestores, nearly doubling unloading capacity. A new, 25- by 90-foot Harvestore was costing $175,000, and unloader $35,000.
  • 2018 — CST Industries, Inc., celebrates 125 years in business.
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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