For this monthly column, I like to write articles that correspond to the calendar and season whenever possible. Surfing the museum’s online archives brought up this Banker and Hamilton advertisement, which appeared in the March 9, 1901 edition of the Pacific Rural Press publication (previously known as the Pacific Rural Press and California Fruit Bulletin). Over the years, the magazine absorbed a number of similar titles, becoming California Farmer before morphing into Penton Media’s Western Farm Press. The ad features a contented farmer resting his foot on the handle of a plow and gazing off into the middle distance. He seems to be idly stirring something in his hand with his finger, perhaps seeds of some kind. This farmer is one natty dresser, by gum, and his clothing suggests a certain agricultural prosperity, no doubt due to his high quality instrument-of-choice, the Baker and Hamilton plow designed with “… special attention to the requirements of the coast.”
What follows is a severely truncated version of Baker and Hamilton (B&H) history: In 1879, the wholesale hardware company B&H bought the Benicia Pacific Mail Steamship Company plant and docks, into which they decanted their San Leandro-based Sweepstake Plow Company. Prior to this final move, the company had been variously located on Mormon Island and in Sacramento and San Francisco. In its infancy, B&H sold mining tools, medicine chests and stable provisions. The explosive growth in California agriculture prompted a move into farm implements; the Benicia move also initiated a name change from B&H to Benicia Agricultural Works (BAW), the new name signaling their primary manufacturing focus. B&H world-famous plows were shipped all over the planet—at its peak, the firm employed approximately 400 workers. Competition from Midwestern mass-manufacturing companies resulted in falling profits and, in 1914, it was sold to Yuba Manufacturing Company, which has a long and interesting history of its own.
Today, the largest California cash crop is marijuana, followed by fruit and nuts. Since the DEA began its Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression Program in the late 1970s, most California weed, including medicinal marijuana, is now sown and harvested in large grow houses, making the use of the plow in its planting and harvesting cycle totally redundant. I like to think that somewhere, perhaps in the Philippines or Holland or other far-away place to where the plows were sent so long ago, someone is still working the land with one of these implements, “…braced as no other plow is!”