116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa All Over: Charles City is the birthplace of the farm tractor industry
Nov. 15, 2015 7:00 pm
CHARLES CITY — In the winter of 1901, Charles Hart and Charles Parr came to Charles City, the county seat of Floyd County.
But while Hart and Parr were there, the two men built the first factory in the world to manufacture tractors.
'From then on, they built tractors here in Charles City for almost 100 years,' said Mary Ann Townsend, director of the Floyd County Historical Museum.
Today, the museum features an extensive collection of Hart-Parr history, including files, annual reports, photographs, technical manuals and blueprints from the factory and tractors produced in the Charles City plant. The collection spans the years 1889 to 1995.
Hart's family originally was from Charles City, and Parr was from Wisconsin. The two met at the University of Wisconsin, Townsend explained.
Together, they wrote a thesis on internal combustion engines, she noted.
That first factory was open from 1901 to 1993. The museum features a replica of Hart-Parr No. 1, made in that first year. In 1903, the factory began producing the second version.
'When it was up and strong, it was wonderful,' Townsend said of the factory's economic benefit to the community. 'Sometimes it had four, five, six thousand men working there, all from a 60-mile radius. It built a lot of new homes, put kids through college, it was a big impact.'
The museum also features a tractor addition, a log cabin and early pioneer display, and a county emporium. The first-floor gallery boasts a mail wagon used in Floyd County and a Floyd County plat map from 1878.
One of the most interesting parts of the museum is a collection of artifacts from the Legel Drug. The John Legel family owned and operated a drugstore at 107 N. Main St. When John retired, he donated the store and its items to the Floyd County Historical Society as a museum, according to the county museum's website.
The drugstore first opened in 1884 and closed in 1962. While inside the drugstore museum, which is part of the historical museum, visitors can see an impressive collection that included apothecary bottles, store fixtures, distilling and dispensing tools and medical appliances.
The Legel Drug Store is considered one of the largest and most complete drugstore collections in the world, according to the museum. On the museum's website, visitors can take an interactive tour of the drugstore, complete with an audio accompaniment.
Today, there are many people in Charles City who worked at the tractor factory at one time, Townsend said.
More on Charles City
Charles City has a population of 7,513, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2014 estimate. It became the county seat after Floyd County was established in 1851 and officially organized in 1854. Charles City was at first was named Charlestown, for the son of the first-known white settler to the area, Joseph Kelly, according to the city.
Floyd County likely was named for Sgt. Charles Floyd of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, according to the city on its website.