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The Gravely Story
The first Gravely tractor was actually a regular, push-by-hand plow utilizing an Indian motorcycle engine. It was mounted on a tractor wheel with belts. Little by little, improvements were made to the tractor, and the Gravely tradition was born.
As interesting as the idea itself was the man behind it.
His name was Benjamin Franklin Gravely. From all early accounts, he was described as an "articulate, tall, handsome gentleman who was a sort of tinkerer, always interested in inventions and so driven that he often worked until 2 or 3 a.m."
Gravely secured 65 patents in his lifetime. Some were obtained in the field of photography, but most of his patents were in the farm implement field. By far the best known of all his inventions was the Gravely garden tractor.

An Educated Man
Benjamin Franklin Gravely was born near Martinsville, Virginia on November 29, 1876. He attended a high school for men located near Mount Airy, North Carolina.
In those days, that kind of higher educational training was a bit unusual even for a young man like Ben, whose father owned a plug tobacco business.
After school, Ben took a position as a salesman for the Eastman Kodak Company so he could learn photography. He worked for another photography firm for a short time after he left Eastman Kodak. This job took him to Huntington, West Virginia, sometime around 1900, where he became acquainted with a young photographer and the two went into the portrait business.
In 1902, Ben met his wife, Elizabeth Downie of Pomeroy, Ohio, and they settled in Charleston, West Virginia, where he opened his own photography studio in 1903. With the help of several family members, including his wife's cousin, Marguerite Moore, his son, Charles, and a daughter, Louise, Gravely & Moore Photographers thrived for 60 years, before closing its doors in 1963.

Invents Photographic Equipment
Always looking to build a better idea, Ben Gravely invented a photographic enlarger for his business. Called the "Gravely Auto-Focus Camera Projector," the enlarger made the photographer's job easier. Early promotional material said the machine "saves time, does better work." Instructions were to "turn the crank and get any size print or copy adjustment almost instantaneously." The enlarger boasted capabilities such as adjustable lights, enlargements up to nine diameters, and reductions to 1/5 diameter which at that time were considerable accomplishments in the photographic process.
But photography wasn't Ben's only interest.
As early as 1911, Gravely had been tinkering with a power-driven push plow. He and his large family (five children) had about two acres of land and a large garden to supplement their food bill.

The Idea That Grew
It was while Gravely worked in his own garden that he realized there ought to be an easier way of cultivating his garden, other than with just the push plow. So, using his creative mind and energetic drive, Gravely began working with an Indian motorcycle and his own push plow. In effect, he made a motorized plow, which he rigged up on a tractor wheel with belts. On that first tractor, the engine and fly wheel were on oside and the gears were on the other. Gravely saw the potenin his invention and continued working on it to make improvements. He had a dream; to build a tractor which would revolutionize gardening and lawn maintenance for the homeowner.
Gravely had no training as a draftsman, but he was quite adept at making complex drawings of gears, wheels, and the like-things he conceived in his mind and for his new invention. It was in the basement and the kitchen of his home that the basic, early Gravely tractor was transformed from an idea into a working reality.
When friends and neighbors got a look at Gravely's tractor, they were impressed. A friend who owned a machine shop in the area offered to let Gravely build some of his tractors at his place.

Improvements Continued
It was in the machine shop that Gravely designed the engine. The crank shaft went through the hub of the wheel, so the weight of the piston and crank case was on one side and the reduction gear drive was on the other. Those modifications led Gravely to build six or seven of the first tractors, which weighed about 190 pounds each. During this time, Gravely also developed several new commercial tools for his engine and drive train.
Around 1920, Gravely decided to build and market the tractors commercially. He and several backers raised enough capital to purchase an old factory in the Dunbar, West Virginia area that had previously been used for the manufacture of tires. The Gravelycompany subsequently incorporated in 1916.
Gravely gave much credit for some of the first tractor's mechanical works to a gifted engineer and close friend, Eustace Rose, who was also stockholder in the company. Rose was a mechanic, inventor, and engineer whose work with Gravely was important in the development of the tractor. (It is purported that Rose invented the first automatic transmission used by the Chrysler Corporation.)

Selling His Idea
Gravely not only was an intelligent inventor, but he was also a gifted salesman, a believer in jobs for every man, and knowledgeable about the current business conditions in his community. It was around the mid-to-late 1920s-before the stock market crashed in 1929-that Gravely wrote fellow l
businessmen for their help in raising capital for his business venture.
The general economy in Charleston was becoming weaker, coal industries were weakening, and people were borrowing money for "get rich" schemes that did not prove profitable. Gravely could see the bad times ahead. To him, it was inevitable, as this letter to prominent Charleston businessmen indicated:

Dear Sir:
During the past year, I have had occasion to discuss the business situation with practically every business man in the City of Charleston and suburbs. Our very limited number of productive enterprises and our crippled coal industries are not sufficient. The trade balance is against us. What is the remedy? There is but one remedy-Production. We must produce something that will bring in more money than we pay out, or we are bound to go broke. People and jobs are two things necessary to keep the wheels of business going. How are we going to get them? Make the jobs and the people will come. Put some of (your) money into productive enterprises and the problem is solved. INVESTIGATE, INVEST, BOOST, KEEP YOUR MONEY AT HOME AND BRING IN MORE. Start factories, produce something that people will buy. Production is the very foundation of our existence. Without it, we are lost. Vacant lots, empty houses and idle factories do not pay dividends.

'Our Product Sells'
Gravely's letter also included a description of the business at that time:
The GravelyMotor Plow has been developed from an Idea to a commercial reality and a factory with a small production. We are getting orders by the carload. Today's mail brought orders for 31 Motor Plows. The number that we can sell is limited only by the number we can make. There are approximately twenty million people in the United States alone that need the machine. One salesman sold all we made last year in 90 days time. The question is, does Charleston want a factory, something like the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, and others that employ workmen by the thousands and make real business for the community or does it not? Our product SELLS, STAYS SOLD, AND REPEATS. The Motor Plow is one of a number of things that will help to bring prosperity back, by bringing the money back and making jobs for men. Think it over.
Yes, Ben Gravely believed in his product. In the first days of manufacturing, he would often take his Studebaker touring car, with five or six tractors loaded in it, and travel south as far as Florida, stopping at farms and selling his tractors. Then, he would drive back and pick up another load. These first plows retailed at approximately $175.

The World Responds
Within a few years, sales outlets had been established in Florida and California, and there were European representatives in France, Switzerland, and Germany. Gravely's daughter, Mrs. Louise Eden of Pomeroy, Ohio, has even now a stack of correspondence to her father's company including letters from Puerto Rico, Palestine, Venezuela, The Netherlands, Belgium, Kenya, Hungary, Turkey, El Salvador, Iceland, Guatemala, and many other faraway places. Advertisements and promotional material for the Gravely t r
were testimonials from satisfied customers. Here are some examples all published in 1924:
time which means considerable money, and for labor, it simply puts pleasure in plowing instead of drudgery."
with his inventions, always drawing and "tinkering" with new ideas.
1953 at the age of 76.
family and community, and possessing an energetic urge to make life a little easier for other human beings.
giving people
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