Monday, July 11, 2011

The Story of International Harvester

This is the second of two postings giving a brief overview of John Glessner’s business.

The last half of the 19th century saw fierce competition in the reaper industry.  John Glessner’s company, Warder Bushnell and Glessner, was large and successful but was dwarfed by the two giants in the industry – McCormick and Deering.  In August 1902, the competition came to an end with the formation of International Harvester, a merger of five companies:  McCormick Reaper Company, Deering Harvester Company, Warder Bushnell and Glessner, Plano Manufacturing Company, and Milwaukee Harvester Company.  Not surprisingly, negotiations were long and difficult.  Representatives from the five companies were placed in separate rooms and messengers carried offers and counter-offers back and forth.  Records indicate that John Glessner played a leading role as a mediator, helping to strike an agreement that all could live with.  When the new company was formed, Glessner was appointed a Vice President and served as Chairman of the Executive Committee.  The company was capitalized at $120,000,000, making it one of the very largest corporations in the U.S. and the world at that time.

In 1907, the company completed a new headquarters at 600 S. Michigan Avenue, designed by architect Christian A. Eckstorm, well known for his industrial and warehouse buildings.  He designed a state-of-the-art modern building featuring a steel skeleton, high-speed elevators, electric lights, the most advanced mechanical systems of the day, and a floor plan designed to maximize natural light for all of its interior office spaces (not unlike the design of the Glessner House).  The 15-story Neoclassical brick-clad building featured beautiful stone detailing including a massive bracketed stone cornice, one of the largest ever designed in Chicago.  Prominently situated directly across the street from Grant Park, the building exemplified the City Beautiful movement and contributed to the civic consciousness that anticipated Daniel Burnham’s famous Plan of Chicago of 1909.   (The building was sold in 1937 to the Fairbanks-Morse Company, and has been owned and occupied by Columbia College since 1975.  It is now known as the Alexandroff Campus Center).

John Glessner retired as Vice President and Chairman in 1919 but remained active in the company for the remainder of his life.  He retained office space at Harvester and came to the office daily until just a few weeks before his passing in January 1936, one week before his 93rd birthday.

In 1985, International Harvester sold its farm equipment business to the Case division of Tenneco, and focused exclusively on the manufacture of trucks.  The name of the company was changed to Navistar in 1986.  Today, it is North America’s leading producer of medium and heavy duty trucks, school buses, and mid-range diesel engines.

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