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Louden, William
(October 16, 1841–November 5, 1931)

–inventor and businessman—was one of nine children born to Andrew and Jan Louden, who came to the United States from Ireland. In 1942 the Louden family moved to Iowa and purchased land near the small community of Glasgow, seven miles southeast of Fairfield. Eventually, the family farm became known as Loudendale.

    Bouts of sickness–he nearly died from inflammatory rheumatism at age 23–kept Louden from engaging in farm labor. Instead, he put his inventive genius to work devising ways to make farm work easier. After watching others pitch hay from a wagon into a barn by hand, Louden devised a mechanism he called a hay carrier–a means of moving hay from the wagon into the barn using a system of pulleys, rope, and a trolley. It was the first device of its kind to be patented in the United States. Louden assembled a number of these hay carriers at Loudendale, then traveled the countryside trying to sell them. He would install them in barns for farmer to use. When many farmer failed to pay for them, Louden went broke.

    Undeterred by his lack of financial success, Louden built a small factory in Fairfield and tried to expand into the manufacture of farm implements, such as cultivators, hay rakes, and harrows. That venture was not successful, either.

    In 1889 his brother R. B. Louden and C. J. Fulton rescued him. R. B. would become the company's chief financial agent, leaving the development of farm products to William. Fulton brought the capital that would enable the company to grow. They incorporated as the Louden Company, dropped farm implements, and expanded into several types of barn products, such as door hangers and manure handling equipment.

    The high quality of the company's products enhanced the firm's standing among farmer Louden was very protective of the company's name, which appeared somewhere on nearly all of its products. The company also had a staff of lawyers available to prevent infringement on Louden's patents.

    It has been said that William Louden did for barns what Cyrus McCormick did for reapers and John Deere did for plows. As farmer began to use hay carriers, the design of barns changed radically; they could be built higher and longer, enabling farmer to store more hay, which in turn meant they could keep more livestock over the winter.

    Louden saw the change in barn design as a chance to help farmer by offering them a free barn planning service. The plans used the most up-to-date barn innovations, including litter carriers to save labor; cupolas to provide fresh air and remove foul air and moisture, thus improving livestock health; and cork brick floors to prevent leg and foot injuries among animals that were confined for long periods of time.

    Over time, the Louden Machinery Company expanded, building factories in other midwestern cities, such as St. Paul, Minnesota, and Kansas City, as well as in Canada. The expansion enabled Louden to establish an international market, with Louden products sold in Scotland, France, and Russia. The company also acquired other hay tool companies, giving the firm patent rights to innovations that could be incorporated into Louden products. Still, Louden remained loyal to Fairfield, Iowa, and promoted his hometown whenever he could.

    When William Louden died in 1931 at the age of 90, the company still held 118 patents. The patents dealing with the moving of manure by using a rail system attached to the ceiling would allow the Louden Company to expand into material handling systems that would eventually be used by factories all over the country, enabling Louden's legacy of agricultural labor-saving devices to carry over into modern American industry.

    After William died, other members of the Louden family ran the company until 1953, when it was sold to Mechanical Handling Systems Inc., which in 1965 discontinued the manufacture of farm products.
Sources include William C. Page, The Louden Machinery Company, Fairfield, Iowa, Intensive Survey (1996); Charles J. Fulton, History of Jefferson County, vol. 2 (1912); and Susan Welty, A Fair Field (1968).
Contributor: Terry Wilson