Mills County, Iowa

Inventions

Valveless Revolving Hog Oiler

      The valveless revolving hog oiler was invented and patented in 1913 by E. J. Smith, father of Charles Ellsworth “Elly” Smith. The oilers were built in Red Oak, Iowa at the Kernhardt Foundry, and shipped to Hastings, Iowa by the C. B. & O. Railroad. They were delivered to Smith’s shop on the west side of Main Street by drayman, Mr. Jim Clark. E. J. would next assemble, tag, and set in front of his shop. The drayman would then pick up the oilers and transport them to the depot for shipment to customers. The longest shipment was forty oilers to Italy.

      Smith did not have any foreign patents. A man from Italy was in this country and upon seeing these oilers ordered forty machines to be shipped to him. After he showed them in Europe and found they were a saleable item, he took out patents in that area.

      At first, Smith was the only salesman. He would load the machines and cans of crude oil in a wagon and would stop at the farmers’ homes and ask if they would allow him to put the oiler filled with oil in their hog lot. He would leave the oiler and return in two weeks to pick up the machine or if they decided to keep the machine, collect $14.95. In short time, the wagon and team were replaced by a Model T Touring car and then later by a Carter car, which made it possible to expand his sales area.

      One incident he would tell happened in the Stanton, Iowa area. He sold a few oilers one fall but did not cover the entire territory. The next spring he returned to finish his sales calls in that neighborhood, but could not leave or sell a single machine. This was very odd as they were ready to buy six months before. He finally found a Swede who would take an oiler and he also was very talkative. After visiting with him, he learned that an old Swede carpenter in Stanton was making them out of wood and selling the oilers for half the price. The wooden oilers would last only two years before breaking. E. J. went into the man’s shop, visited and explained he could be fined if it was reported to the patent office in Washington, D. C. That was the end of the wooden hog oilers and two years later, E. J. was invited back to Stanton, Iowa to sell his oilers.

      In later years, salesmen were all over the Midwest, with each having his own area to work. One of the top salesmen sold forty to fifty oilers a week. One week he had an order of four machines and the next week an order for only three machines. The following week none and the next week only one. When E. J. investigated the drastic drip, he learned that the salesman and a friend had started a small foundry in Kansas City. The patent office closed them down, fined them and shipped the molds to E. J.

      For years these oilers were also sold by Sears & Roebuck. E. J., for many years, bred Chester White hogs and would ship these hogs and his oilers to the Iowa State Fair and Nebraska State Fair. He had a large tent to show his hogs and to demonstrate his hog oilers at the same time. Before going to the fair he would find a farm that had hogs infected with lice. He would then collect these “little critters” in a bottle and take the lice to the fair. When a crowd gathered at the tent, his helper would shake some lice on one or two hogs and let them out into the pen at the front of the tent where his patented oiler was setting. The lice infected hogs soon were using the machines and the farmers were ordering hog oilers for their farms. After the patent expired, anyone could make the oilers. Katleman Foundry of Council Bluffs, Iowa was making the oilers in this area. E. J. Smith of Hastings, Iowa is credited for inventing the first widely used valveless revolving hog oiler.

By Ellsworth “Elly” Smith
August 22, 1989
Malvern, Iowa

~Reprinted by his Granddaughter-in-law, Debra (Leu) Smith, July 23, 2004

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