Worcester Historical Museum

Ruggles, Nourse & Mason

The beginning
Joel Nourse learned to make plows from his father, a farmer/blacksmith in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. In 1833, he gave up farming and moved to Worcester where he opened a shop on Thomas Street and began to make cast iron plows as a full-time occupation. His agent advertised in The Massachusetts Spy:

Joel Nourse is now furnishing to order . . . Cast iron Ploughs, of the most approved kinds and of all sizes, from the light seed Plough to the breaking up or highway Plough. The Castings are from the Hartford Iron Foundry, which are universally approved of wherever they have been used.

Nourse soon expanded the range of his production to include side-hill plows and cultivators. In 1835 he formed a partnership with his brother-in-law John C. Mason under the firm of J. Nourse & Company. Two years later Draper Ruggles joined the partnership, and the business moved to larger quarters at Court Mills. In 1842 Ruggles, Nourse & Mason introduced the Eagle Plow, which quickly became the best-selling plow in the country and made the company the leading plow manufacturer in America.

With the addition of new investors in 1849, the business was renamed Ruggles, Nourse, Mason & Company. Six years later Draper Ruggles retired and the firm became Nourse, Mason & Company. In 1861, Oliver Ames & Sons, already the nation's largest shovel manufacturing company, bought the business. They continued making agricultural implements at Court mills until 1874, when they relocated to a new brick factory on Prescott Street. Ames Plow Company remained there until 1912, when it relocated to a new plant in South Framingham.

In the 1830s, Americans overwhelmingly were farmers. Plows were their most important tillage tool, implements used to turn furrows in and turn up the soil. In the early nineteenth century, plows were significantly improved in design and materials. The biggest improvement was the use of cast iron mould boards and plowshares, rather than wrought iron parts forged by local blacksmiths. In contrast to hand-forged iron, cast iron parts had smooth surfaces and were uniform in size. Because of this, as Joel Nourse's agent explained to potential customers, "They run more easily and can be kept in repair for less than half the expense of the common plough, and are decidedly preferable in rocky as well as plain land." Nourse's cast iron plows were of superior quality and they found a ready market.

Ruggles, Nourse & Mason introduced the Eagle plow in 1842. It immediately became the number one seller in the country. They explained in the company's 1851 catalogue:

It is the peculiar form of the Worcester Eagle plows to perform their work in the best and easiest possible manner, their varied adaptation to different soil and tillage, throughout the whole country, . . . that has gained for them so enviable and widely extended celebrity.

Initially the company hired a Boston agent to handle regional sales. But beginning in 1841, Ruggles, Nourse & Mason opened a sales headquarters at Quincy Marketplace in Boston. Joel Nourse moved to the city to oversee marketing and distribution of the company's wide variety of agricultural and horticultural implements and seeds. The partners also retained agents in New York City and Albany. The author of an 1851 Worcester Daily Spy article highlighted the magnitude of their business:

We find it quite impossible . . . to convey to the reader's mind any adequate idea of the quantity and number of implements of agriculture which this great hive of thriving industrious mechanics can turn out in a single year. In order fully to realize it, a person should visit the immense sales-room of Messrs. Ruggles, Nourse & Mason in Boston, which occupies nearly the whole second story of Quincy Market, or walk through the immense store rooms in this city, where the various implements are temporarily stored, awaiting for a brief season the demands of the consumers who come from the north, south, east and west, and also from the distant isles of the ocean, to have these demands supplied. Some idea of the variety . . . of the wants which Messrs. Ruggles, Nourse, Mason & Co. are expected to supply, may be formed from the fact that they have no less than three hundred different forms, sizes, shapes, and patterns of ploughs alone.

As noted in the 1851 Worcester Daily Spy article, this enormously successful company attracted "an industrial population" to the city. Upper-level management built or purchased handsome houses on newly laid streets, while many young laborers lodged in private boarding houses or tenements near the factory.


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Present-day Worcester "What's Next?"

The following is a sampling of men involved with Ruggles, Nourse & Mason
(click on a name below to read their bio)

Draper Ruggles, company owner
Salem Copeland, company foreman

William Allen, company foreman

Luther Ross, foreman and pattern maker
Sarah Patch Porter, boarding house operator