If you could transport a rancher in time from 1921 to 2021, there would certainly be a lot for them to marvel at – everything from new breeds of cattle that have added over 300 pounds of lean weight to using high-tech drones to check miles of fence lines. One thing over the past century that might be familiar? An automatic livestock waterer from Ritchie Industries.
Stagnant water, algae blooms in the summer and stock tanks full of ice in the winter were all problems that Thomas Ritchie, an Oskaloosa, Iowa native, was busy trying to solve. In 1921, Ritchie patented the first automatic waterer valve that solved many of the headaches that farmers faced in getting water to their livestock. His automatic float-controlled watering equipment was connected to underground running water and heated with a kerosene lamp to keep the water flowing during the bitter cold. Farmers liked the labor-saving qualities of Ritchie’s patented waterer, and a new business was born.
Livestock producers from Iowa and several other states were soon installing Ritchie’s waterers. In a written testimonial dated January 24, 1925, Walter L. French from Stratton, Nebraska noted: “We bought a hog waterer from you at the Nebraska State Fair last fall. It sure was a dandy. It has been 26 degrees below zero and have had warm water for our hogs at all times.”
In 1929 Ritchie incorporated and moved to an old machine shed in Marshalltown, Iowa. Part of the manufacturing also took place in a small machine shed in Conrad, Iowa until 1943. That year, blacksmith C.D. Wilson purchased Ritchie, moved the business to Conrad, Iowa and operated the business out of a small blacksmith shop. Shortly after the move, automatic electric heat was introduced to the watering equipment helping to establish Ritchie as the leader in the industry.
After his father’s death in 1979, C. D. Wilson Jr. took the reins of the business, and expanded its market and the technology of the product. To meet demands, the company had gone from making six models, to more than 40, giving it the distinction of being the largest manufacturer and distributor of the most complete line of animal and livestock watering equipment in North America. In January of 2004, Ritchie Industries became employee owned.
“Today Ritchie Industries engineers, designs and manufacturers waterers to serve every type of livestock – from an individual horse to 500 beef cattle,” said Robert Amundson, President and CEO of Ritchie Industries. “All of our waterers are engineered to meet the demands of beef producers everywhere. Troughs can be emptied, cleaned and refilled in a fraction of the time it takes other waterers just to empty. Just like other technological advancements such as nutrigenomics and RFID tags have helped improve the efficiency of beef operations, we are constantly striving to improve your bottom line. If you haven’t thought about upgrading your watering systems, now is the time to look at what new innovations are on the market. Our WaterMaster series require 75% less energy in the winter than concrete units and they won’t pit or cause cleaning problems. Our newest generation of the CattleMaster series blends the best of both worlds – the technology from traditional stainless-steel units and the newest poly units combined to make a premier waterer. The unit has thermostatically controlled heat for ice-free operation with a fast refill valve to give your cattle clean, fresh water in the toughest climates year-round.”
2021 and Beyond – Ritchie Industries Committed to Fresh Water for Life
Agriculture is the heartbeat of Iowa’s economy and over the years Ritchie Industries has grown to be an important employer and economic partner in Grundy and surrounding counties in Iowa. According to the 2019 Iowa Agriculture Economic Contribution Study compiled by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, one in five jobs in Iowa is connected to the agriculture industry. In Grundy county Iowa where Ritchie Industries is located, 39 percent of all residents are employed by agriculture and ag-related industries and this generates $223.9 million in economic impact.
“The Ritchie brand is well established and well respected, not just in Iowa but throughout the country and the world,” said Jeff Kolb, executive director of the Butler-Grundy Development Alliance.
“Ritchie really is the epitome of quality and that has such a positive impact on our community. Ritchie has a strong influence on our Main Street – they provide good paying jobs which helps attract a young workforce that in turn keeps Conrad thriving and growing. Ritchie is also a good example of how to stay in business for a long time, they have evolved over the years to adjust their product mix and seize on new opportunities to sustain their business. They should be applauded for their success and we look forward to Ritchie celebrating another 100 years.”
Providing a long-lasting solution in a simple design that is easy to use, easy to maintain, easy to operate and easy on the bottom line has been at the heart of Ritchie Industries since 1921. Pride in workmanship is also a hallmark of Ritchie and it is not uncommon to hear stories of farmers who have waterers that have lasted for 30 years or more.
“Ritchie waterers last such a long time because of the quality materials and workmanship”…“The longest waterer that I know about was installed at Virginia Tech in 1964 and it ran for over 40 years.”
– Chuck May, president of May Supply Co. of Harrisonburg, Virginia and distributor of Ritchie products since 1977
For 100 years Ritchie Industries has been a leader in providing fresh, clean water for life in an energy efficient manner for beef operations around the world.
“Installing a reliable, clean water source is a key step to becoming a sustainable and profitable beef operation,” said Amundson. “I would encourage producers to also look into any utility incentives programs through your local participating electric cooperatives. Many of our waterers qualify for these rebates. We have supported American beef producers with our American made products for 100 years and we look forward to another 100 years of innovation and progress.”
For more information, visit ritchiefount.com.