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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jean Cole Hatcher, June 13, 1980. Interview H-0165. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Technological advances in planting and competition in the market

In this excerpt, Hatcher describes the technological advances in planting made by the Cole Manufacturing Company and other such companies during the first half of the twentieth century. With a market that spanned the Southeast, Cole Manufacturing Company specialized in tobacco planting. Hatcher describes what kind of competition the company faced, the different kinds of machines being used, and the difference between "short line" and "long line" companies.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jean Cole Hatcher, June 13, 1980. Interview H-0165. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN TULLOS:
Let me get back and ask a few more questions about the operation of the Cole Manufacturing Company. Do you remember who the competition was, when the company first started up. Would there have been other Southern companies? Would most of these machines been coming in from out of the South, or were there just not any other machines like them?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
There weren't any other machines like it. Oh, there any number of machines which had been developed, for agricultural purposes. The McCormack machine, and all that sort of thing. Big machinery, harvesting machinery. One of the older plants that I can think of now was called Avery Plow Company, in Georgia, which I think maybe, eventually, made planters for a while. But they were principally for plow, cultivation tools. And it was not until after the war years, the Second World War, really, that John Deere and Ford, and the big people-the long-line manufacturers are what they're known as-went too much into the planting equipment end of it. So, as far as competition was concerned, we had a great deal of problems along the way, a good many times. One of our biggest competitors was Covington Company, which was in Dothan, I guess.
ALLEN TULLOS:
This is before World War II?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Yeah. But they purely copied. They had started out being farmers. In those days, all of our equipment, of course, then, was animal drawn. They were dealers who sold for Cole Manufacturing Company, and they proceeded to copy Cole planter, and market it. And, to this day, what Covington planters are found around, and they can still put Cole seed plate in it, and it'll work. And there were a good number of suits about people who infringed on the patents. Of course, the patents, until more recent ones, have long since worn out. But we had competition, of course. But, I can't remember it ever worrying us, other than just keeping us on our toes, and making us probably a little more alert, and a little more alive, and a little more aggressive. I think competition is the life of business, anyway.
ALLEN TULLOS:
As back as far as you know about, the teens or twenties or thrities, or you've heard tell of-how did the market develop? Was it first a North and South Carolina Market, or was it a whole South? Were there other parts of the country?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
You mean for Cole Manufacturing Company? It was the thirteen original states, really. I mean, the Southeast.
ALLEN TULLOS:
So you-all were sending things North, and Northeast?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Not in the early days, no. In the early days, I said Southeast.
ALLEN TULLOS:
I see.
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida. The bulk of our business was in the southeastern part of the United States. Then it stretched up. Then it went west to Texas. Pretty well all over, now.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you-all ship rail, in those early days?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Mm-hm.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And did they change over to truck, later on? Or how did the shipping develop?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
It changed over to truck, but not until way after World War II. We had our own railroad siding to receive our raw materials, and to ship. And warehousing was no problem, in those early days, prior to World War II, let's put it that way. Because tractor planting, as such, did not really come into being a force until World War II was over. It was beginning to burgeon, but it didn't come into its own until after the World War II. Everything we make now is designed to be drawn by any tractor which is built, by mounting what we manufacture onto a tool bar type thing. And then having the device that is properly fitted to whatever kind of linkage the tractor has itself. So we don't build anything that has a motor in it. We sell our goods through tractor dealers. All of 'em.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Let's say-again, trying to draw a line about World War II, about 1940-what would have been the variety of things that the company would have made in 1940? Would it have just been planters, or would there have been-
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Well, was always planters and fertilizer distributors.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Ok. And those were all, that were made. Would there have been other items?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
There would have been other items that were accessories to the planter, or the fertilizer distributor. That adapted 'em to different soils. I don't know how much you know about farming.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Not a lot.
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
But, in certain soils-well, you have Alabama soil, where you got your blackstrap. All it does, on certain types of wheels-you know how sticky and bad it is-it would just build up mud wheels. And you finally had no traction, nor nothing. And using opening plow devices, if you'd used an ordinary plow, you'd just build up-so you have to have a disk, which is just a round sharp-edged thing, that would cut through that, rather than push through it. You had to develop certain devices to adapt your planter to the type of soil in which it was being used. So we did manufacture those, yes.
ALLEN TULLOS:
That's helpful. You mentioned earlier, or kind of suggested, that, by comparing International Harvester, that they were really dealing with a different scale of farming, perhaps, than you-all.
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Right. Well, here's the thing. There are two divisions in agricultural manufacturing. One is called the short line, the other one is called the long line. The long line would be John Deere, International Harvester, Ford, J. R. Case. The ones who build tractors, motorized equipment. Then they build harvesting equipment, planting equipment, highway equipment, as far as that's concerned-big equipment. In other words, their line is a long line of variety of things. The short line manufacturers are people who specialize in their one field. Our speciality is planting and fertilizing. You got other agricultural people, throughout the Southeast, as far as that's concerned. Very good ones, who specialized in other things. Tobacco farming, tobacco curing, tobacco planting. But we, for row cropping-we like to think we're still considered the leader in that.