When I was a young boy my parents took me to a local Apple Harvest Festival. While we were there walking around looking at all of the exhibits we noticed a big old steam engine in the back corner of the show grounds. My father and I walked back to see what they were doing.
They were cutting logs into lumber. I noticed on the side of the steam engine there was a picture of an eagle. I asked my Dad why there was a picture of an eagle on the steam engine. He replied to me that it was, "Old Abe the Case tractor insignia."During this past winter I read a book entitled, Full Steam Ahead. One of the sections described how a bald eagle became the symbol for America, the state of Wisconsin, and for J.I. Case.
Daniel McCann was a farmer who lived in Wisconsin. Mr. McCann was physically handicapped. He lived near Jim Falls, Wisconsin on the Chippewa River. In the year 1860, Daniel McCann's wife traded a bushel of corn for a young eaglet to the Chippewa Indians. The eaglet became the family pet. The McCann children would feed the eaglet whatever they could find such as small rodents. The bird became very tame. Even though Mr. McCann was physically disabled he could play the fiddle which the bird loved. The bird would stand on his perch and hop up and down and flop his wings. The bird grew to love human attention. It came upon the point where the McCann family could not keep up with the demands of the bird's eating habits.
In the spring of 1861, the Civil War was in its early stages. President Lincoln told each state governor to get local groups of men to form into a militia. Mr. McCann tried to enlist in the Chippewa Falls Militia Company but was unable to because of his handicap. So Mr. McCann thought that maybe they would be interested in having his eaglet as the Chippewa Falls' mascot. The Chippewa Falls Militia were not interested in the bird as a mascot. So Mr. McCann ran into the company from Eau Claire Militia Company and asked the captain John E. Perkins if he was interested in purchasing the eagle as their mascot. Mr. Perkins was very interested in having the bird as a mascot. Mr. McCann was paid $2.50 for the bird. From this point on, Mr. Perkins' Militia was known as the Eau Claire Eagles. Mr. Perkins named the bird as Old Abe in honor of President Lincoln.
The first time Old Abe marched in formation with his militia was in Madison, Wisconsin. As music played, Old Abe made a spectacle of himself. He grabbed the flag in his beak and flapped his wings. Old Abe was in thirty-eight battles over the four years of the Civil War. After the Civil War, stories of Old Abe grew into folklore. Some of the stories that he was accredited with included: artillery guidance, the capture of a rebel map, and also with air reconnaissance. After the Civil War, Old Abe spent 16 years in a cage in the basement of the state capital of Wisconsin.
In February of 1881, a small fire started in the basement of the state capital. It was captured quickly. However the smoke played a toll on Old Abe's health. On March 20th, 1881, Old Abe refused to eat. On March 26th, 1881 he died in the arms of his keeper. After his death, his fame grew to higher levels then during the war. Even President Theodore Roosevelt viewed Old Abe. He was quoted as saying, "By George I'm glad to see him. I read about him in my reader at school!"
Old Abe was mounted and moved to a new exhibit at the state capital building in Wisconsin. A fire destroyed the mount of Old Abe. At this point there were three replicas that were made. One of them is at the Smithsonian Institute.
In the early periods of the Civil War, Jerome Case was traveling through Wisconsin and came across the Eighth Company of Wisconsin marching with Old Abe. While they were marching, the eagle made a spectacle of himself and made a great impression on J.I. Case. Not long after, the eagle became the official trademark of the J.I. Case Company. The trademark eagle stance changed several times. After the death of J.I. Case in 1893, the company changed the eagle's design. This has the eagle standing on top of the globe. This showed how the J.I. Case Company wanted to be known as a leader internationally in agriculture. This design lasted until 1969 when the J.I. Case chose a more modern logo.
I found this story captivating because the eagle stood for freedom back then and still stands for freedom today. I found this information while I was reading the book, Full Steam Ahead. I discovered that the J.I. Case Company was an innovator in the early years of agriculture. They were also a diverse company because they produced threshing machines, steam engines, cars, and tractors. They also made proto-type aircraft and were involved in automobile racing. I would encourage anyone to read who this book who would like to learn more about the J.I. Case Company. This 352 page book Full Steam Ahead: J.I. Case Tractors and Equipment 1842-1955 can be purchased from ASABE. You can contact Sandee at martin(at)asabe(dot)org for details or visit their website at www.asabe.org.
Erb, D and Brumbaugh, E. (193). Full Steam Ahead J.I. Case Tractors & Equipment 1842-1955 Volume One. St. Joseph, Michigan: American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
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