Revised 3 February, 2007


Bottom of Page

American Manufacturers

Ariens   Graham-Paige & Frazer   M-E   Rototiller, Inc.   Watco, Troy-Bilt, and MTD
The Other Players

  In the early 1930's with America and the rest of the world sinking into The Great Depression, only three companies were involved in the rotary tillage industry. One started as a distributor of European machines, one modified European models and renamed them, and the other as a manufacturer.

  In October, 2000 I visited Troy, New York and went to the Downtown and Lanisburgh Branches of the City of Troy Library, and the Folson Library at Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute. Thanks again to the Ladies of the libraries.

C. W. Kelsey and Rototiller, Inc.

Rototiller, Inc. & Roto-Ette

Top of Page

  In 1930 Cadwallader Washburn "Carl" Kelsey a automobile manufacturer, was introduced to the rototiller by
H.B. Hiller an German immigrate who once worked for Kelsey Automobile Company and later worked for Siemens "boden frasen" division. Kelsey opened a sales office using the name Rototiller Co. on Broadway in New York City. He then started importing Siemens "boden frasen" or earth grinders from Germany.

Rototiller Flyer 1932

  In 1932, Kelsey incorporated using the new company name Rototiller, Inc. and the "Rototiller" trademark. Kelsey didn't coin the name 'Rototiller' it was already being used in Europe. The operation was moved to Long Island City, NY. and SIMAR's from Switzerland was added to the line. Ironically Kelsey was born in Switzerland to American Parents on holiday, July 30th, 1880.

Rototiller Flyer 1937 Front

Rototiller Flyer 1937 Back

  Carl Kelsey designed, patented and made several improvements to the SIMAR and Siemens machines because of the different American soils verus the European soil that had been farmed for many more centuries. One major improvement was a shock absorber to reduce tine spring return bouce.

  In 1934 Kelsey and Rototiller, Inc. introduced its first rotary tiller of its own design, the Model AA All-American. And in 1937 Rototiller, Inc. moved from its Long Island City facility to 102nd Street and 9th Avenue in Troy, New York after Troy industrialist George B. Cluett offered financial backing convincing Kelsy to move.

Flyer1937.htm Rototiller, Inc. model A-1 (1937)

Rototiller, Inc. model A-1 (1939) Flyer1939.html
After the model AA came the A-1 4-1/2hp machine in 1938. The A-1 was the first Rototiller manufactured in Troy.

  In 1938 Kelsey who was interested in bringing the advantage of rotary tillage to the general public introduced two new models, the commercial Wheelbarrow Cultivator and the low speed Home Gardener model. The Home Gardener was powered by a 1-hp Briggs & Stratton engine. The Wheelbarrow tilled a path 6" deep and adjustable to 8" wide.

Rototiller, Inc. Wheelbarrow Cultivator(1938) Flyer 1940

  In 1940 the B-1 4-1/2hp machine was introduced. The B-1-2 came in 1941 and the B-1-3 in 1942. Kelsey's automotive background inspire him to introduce a new model every year. In the 1950's when sales were poor this added expense added to the demise of Rototiller, Inc.

Rototiller, Inc. model B-1(1940) Flyer1940.html

Rototiller, Inc. model B-1-2 (1941) Rototiller, Inc. model B-1-3 (1942)

  Rototiller, Inc. last commercial machine was the B-1-3. Production was stopped in 1944. This machine was purchased new in 1945 after WWII ended. This was the first antique rototiller I acquired. There two versions of the B-1-3 this is the later version, note the sheet metal & gas tank is different then the early version. The data tag is not readable on this machine. Graham-Paige used this later version to annouce their intension to produced Rototillers, see this July 1945 ad under Graham-Paige section.
  A model B-1-3 was used in the 1970's TV series 'Falcon Crest' about a family that operated a Winery in California.
Rototiller, Inc. model B-1-3

  Kelsey also designed and built 6-foot-wide tillers power by its own engine and pulled by a tractor and units powered by the tractor PTO. Rototiller made a 45 h.p. tractor-tiller unit at one point. And between 1938 and 1942 a specialized "Rototiller Road Maker" was built to make Portland Cement Company's "Soil-Cement" roads and runways. These were powered by a 95 h.p. engine and pulled by a tractor or bulldozer.

  In 1945 after selling the B-series Rototillers and trademark to Graham-Paige Motors, Rototiller, Inc. converted to full time production of home garden size rototillers. Using the trademark of "Roto-Ette" the Troy based manufacturer redesigned its low speed version of the Home Gardener for this post-war model. Both the Roto-Ette and Home Gardener names are cast in the transmission case.

  In 1947 the Roto-Ette standard tiller with adjustable tool holders for tilling either 14" or 9" widths sold for $360.00. The Roto-Ette tiller and Roto-Buster with adjustable toll holders for tilling both 16" or 11" widths sold for $416.00.

Attachments offered were:
· 25" Lawn Mower
· 30" Field Mower
· 30" V-type Snow Plow
· 32" Blade-type Snow Plow
· and about 15 other items

  Late 1949 saw the introduction of the less expensive Model T, a two-wheel, four-speed machine to compete with the front-tine tillers flooding the market.. The Model T was sold for $194.50, a dollar a pound. The Model T tilled 16" wide and 6" deep

In 1952 the Model 2 and Model 3 was introduced.

  The Model 2 came with either the Briggs & Stratton model 8 like this one or Briggs & Stratton model 9 engine. Clinton engines were also used for a brief time at first. This early Model 2 also has a spring-loaded handle so the handlebars could be swung from side-to-side on the fly. The Serial Number is under the round "Lighting Change Front" plate. The Model 3 has a reverse gear.
Model 2

  The Model T, 2 & 3 had several attachments available. Such as this rotary mower. Thanks to Frank D. for this picture of him at about 5 years of age. Frank's Dad worked with Lyman Wood marketing the Roto-Ette.

Carl Kelsey was the driving force behind Rototiller Inc. but there were three other men that had an important role in its history.

  Ed Robinson who wrote the pamphlet "The Have-More Plan" in 1944 with his wife Carolyn developed this comprehensive guide to establishing a small family homestead, provide up to 75% of the family food in just a few hours a week, while working a regular non-farming job. This was the ultimate Victory Garden.

  Kelsey read the plan and decided this would be the perfect tool to spread the ideal of rototilling. Kelsey hired Robinson to write a new pamphlet and incorporate his Have-More plan with the Roto-Ette Rototiller doing the work. In 1952 the first pamphlet "A Little Power-A Lot of Living" was published. The second pamphlet "How To Do Wonders With A Little Land" was published in 1954.

  Lyman P. Wood and his Noroton Publishing company published the pamphlets for Rototiller Inc. Wood and his associates later were instrumental in the advertising and marketing of the Watco Trojan Horse and Troy-Bilt Rototillers.

And of course George Done, Rototiller chief engineer, who designed the Model T and later the Watco Trojan Horse

  Carl Kelsey retired in April 1957. He died thirdteen years later on May 17th, 1970 at the age of 89. Kelsey's first wife, Marion Sharwood, died in 1918 during the influenza epidemic. They had four children, Barbara, Marion, Anita, and C.W. Kelsey Jr., and nine grandchildren as of 1975. Anita Sharwood Kelsey married an British Colonial Police Offier, Penry Price, and lived in Nigeria after WWII for several years.

  Penry Price became President of the company after C.W. Kelsey retired. Anita Kelsey Price lives in California these days and has published her memoirs of her Nigerian Interlude.

  In 1959 Rototiller was now a public stock company, the Porter Cable Company of Syracuse, N.Y. purchased a controlling interest and the majority of the operation was eventually moved to Syracuse.

The machines had some cosmetic changes and model numbers changed to 123 and 133.

  Porter-Cable was acquired by Rockwell Manufacturing Co. of Pittsburgh in 1960. The rear-tine rototiller business continued to decline and Porter-Cable sold its Rototiller and small engine division to Moto-Mower Division (Richmond, Indiana) of the Dura Corp. of Detroit (formerly Detroit Harvester) according to a May 10, 1962 article in the Richmond Palladium-Item & Sun-Telegram.

In 1961 Rototiller, Inc. and the Roto-Ette trademark disappeared.

Watco Machine Products, Troy-Bilt,
and now MTD

  The manufacturing of rotary tillers at 102nd St. and 9th Ave. in Troy, New York didn't end with Rototiller®, Inc. demise. But that's another story, later.

For more information order my new book:

The Rototiller in America

You can ordered the book directly from me, the author, I also have copies listed on
or from the publisher, Infinity Publishing, website,
a Print On Demand (POD) publisher.

Home  American  Suisse  German  British   French   Other Europeans

Copyrighted 1998-2007 Donald A.Jones

I don't have the time to answer everyones email so I started a forum where you can ask your questions, receive answers from other collectors, even make new friends. You don't have to join the forum to post a message but to get an email reponse it helps. Check back often to see what is being discussed.

Antique Rototiller Forum

Top of Page