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100 Years Ago


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Steel Scrapers

One of Sidney's greatest contributions to the industrial world was the steel road scraper (pictured above at right). Three large companies made Sidney, Ohio, the ‘road steel scraper capital of the world’. As reported in a "Sidney Daily News" article, Sidney was ‘stamped as the center of the steel scraper industry’ much like ‘Detroit would later be for the automotive industry’.

The story, however, started on a farm in Salem Township, just north of Sidney, in 1828. An extraordinarily bright child, Benjamin Slusser was born into a family of farmers that year. His parents sent him to Philadelphia to obtain an engineering degree. Returning to Sidney at the age of 21, he patented a series of inventions. The most famous one was the steel road scraper which reportedly was inspired by Slusser observing a black boy playing in a sand pile, moving the sand around with a piece of rolled up tin. This gave him the idea of the drag or slip scraper which he manufactured from sheet steel. The pattern became universally used by all manufactures. Before this, road construction and basements had been dug with picks and shovels.

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He founded the American Steel Scraper Company in 1876.   After a brief partnership with W.S. Magill, Mr. Slusser sold the company in 1880 to W.H.C. Goode.  Goode built a large new factory on Wilkinson Avenue.  The enormous profits from his business enabled him to construct Whitby Place, the Victorian castle at 429 N. Ohio Avenue.  He also owned vast grain fields in North Dakota and oil fields in Texas.  Meanwhile, Ben Slusser went into competition with Goode by forming a partnership with son-in-law William McLean and founding the Slusser-McLean Company in 1880.  A fine brick facility was constructed on Canal Street.  It was then the largest scraper works plant in the country.  The Ferguson Construction building is now located at that site, and incorporates part of the Slusser-McLean structure at 400 Canal Street. 

The canal feeder not only provided access to transportation, but ‘power’ as well in an era before commercial power companies. There were a multitude of industries located at various points on the canal feeder that went through the heart of Sidney, Ohio.  At right is a picture of the Slusser-McLean Scraper Company.

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1880 also saw the formation of another competitor, The Sidney Steel Scraper Co., by William Haslup and J. H. Doering. This business expanded rapidly. It once had 14 sales offices in foreign countries, from Hong Kong to Rio De Janeiro to Cape Town, South Africa. It was located west of the Sidney Grain & Milling Company on Poplar Street (where the fire department is today). The May 11, 1906, edition of the "Shelby County Democrat", reported that the company was manufacturing five train car loads of scrapers and wheel barrows for use in the construction of the Panama canal. A decade or so later, the company’s products were used by many governments to construct airfields and other earthworks. All three firms made scrapers, dirt excavators, and wheel barrows of all sizes. This equipment played a major role in building the railroad beds across the continent, and forming the Mississippi River levees. Sadly, little trace of these once great companies remains.

Industry segment written in January, 1998 by Rich Wallace

 

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