As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and perhaps it was one too many trips in the winter to chop ice for the hogs that lead Oskaloosa, Iowa native, Thomas Ritchie, to create a better way to water livestock. In 1921, Ritchie patented the first automatic waterer valve. 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.
“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.”
– Walter L. French from Stratton, Nebraska, January 24, 1925
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 cattle,”…“Our waterers can be found all over the world and as we celebrate 100 years of providing the best quality waterers in the industry, we look forward to creating new innovations and furthering our mission of providing fresh water for life.”
– Robert Amundson, President and CEO of Ritchie Industries.
Impact of Ritchie Industries in Iowa
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.
“Ritchie Industries is such a vital and significant employer for our area,” said Jeff Kolb, executive director of the Butler Grundy Developmental Alliance. ”The Ritchie brand is well established and well respected, not just in Iowa but throughout the country and the world. 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.”
In the 1920 Census of Agriculture compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), detailed how the livestock industry in Iowa was thriving. Iowa was the number two beef producer with over 1.4 million calves, the number one pork producer with 8.8 million hogs and the number one producer of eggs with over 120 million dozen eggs. Livestock production and farming has changed tremendously over the decades including seeing major gains in efficiency, responding to consumer driven choices and a renewed commitment to environmental stewardship. One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that Iowa still maintains the top spot in pork production with over 35 million hogs (2018 USDA & NASS) and egg production with over 16 million eggs. Iowa ranks fourth in cattle on feed and inventory of steers 500 pounds and over. Iowa is also ranked third in dairy goat inventory and tenth in lamb and wool production. The entire Iowa livestock industry produces $15.8 billion in economic impact.
The sustained impact of the Iowa livestock industry lead to the growth of small businesses peppered throughout the state that cater to the needs of the ag community, both locally and globally. Case in point, Conrad, Iowa has a population of 1,108 and is home to not only Ritchie Industries but also Crop Production Services, Green Products, Mycogen (slated to be replaced with Brevant end of 2020) Seed, Heart of Iowa Cooperative and the Mid-Iowa Cooperative – all businesses that serve agriculture. Thomas Ritchie was among many who started out solving common farm problems, but it was his ingenuity and innovative ideas that lead to a small-town business growing into an internationally successful manufacturer.
“Grundy county is a prime example of how to attract young people back to the community,” said Brian Waddingham, executive director of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers. “Companies like Ritchie Industries provide good paying jobs for young people starting out in farming. That job is a source of supplemental income and is a stepping stone to keeping the family farm running. Ritchie also has higher end agricultural engineering jobs. My observation has been that communities that have businesses like Ritchie, attract and keep folks engaged in the community. This helps keep the Main Street economy vibrant. Grocery stores, small retail shops, parks and the whole community build off of the success. Recently, Conrad received a grant to revitalize the downtown area and now when you walk downtown, it is clean, well maintained and has a real charm to it.”
Well-Engineered Designs Solving Problems for 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.
“Our waterers are backed by the best warranty in the business,” said Amundson. “In conjunction with research conducted at places like Iowa State University and Underwriters Laboratory, we constantly strive to innovate and produce the best product to meet the needs of our customers – whether they are large producers, hobby farmers or horse owners. We produce a superior product that is designed with efficient energy use in mind as well as cleanliness and animal safety. Our waterers use 75% less energy than concrete waterers and last much longer.”
Ritchie Industries produces over 40 models of waterers to meet the needs of livestock producers and horse owners.
The EcoFount 1 and EcoFount 2 are the newest, most energy efficient, electric standard heated line of Ritchie automatic waterers. The flip top cover design will allow for easy cleaning and maintenance and the fully insulated casing will provide excellent protection against the coldest winters. 2 models available.
OmniFount blends technology from both the traditional stainless-steel units and the newest poly units to provide the premier livestock fountain. Omni’s stainless-steel trough features heat elements attached to the underside for frost free service even under the most severe winter conditions. 7 models available.
The WaterMatic Family features Ritchie’s drop-in cover design, with the ease of finger lift service, and the insulation of the water seal. The 150S features a unique domed cover to help prevent standing and climbing. All surfaces slope to the drains for easy clean out. 5 models available.
Specifically designed for dairies using input from dairy producers. Featuring a heavy one-piece, fully insulated polyethylene body that holds up even under the weight of cows. The trough slopes to a large drain, and can be emptied, cleaned, and refilled in a fraction of the time other waterers take to empty, helping you maintain a clean drinking environment. The WaterMaster requires 75% less energy in the winter than concrete units and they won’t pit or cause cleaning problems. 6 models available.
The new generation of CattleMaster fountains provide the best of both worlds: blending technology from traditional stainless-steel units and the newest poly units, to provide a premier livestock waterer. The casings of the CattleMaster Series are made from Ritchie’s heavy-duty, impact resistant polyethylene construction that are heavily insulated for energy efficiency and uses UV inhibitors for extended life. 4 models available.
The new Genesis Series waterers combine the benefits of automatic watering with the versatility of portable or permanent mounting options. Ideal for anywhere tanks or buckets are used, they’ll keep water cool in warm weather and are compatible with heaters when the weather is cold. 3 models available.
The newest product in Ritchie’s offerings combines the best features of the OmniFount and WaterMaster lines. The stainless-steel trough is designed with a unique wrap around edge to protect against animal injury. The thermostatically controlled unit and fast refill valve will provide clean, fresh water to large herds even in the harshest weather conditions.1 model available.
Thrifty King Family
Thrifty King insulates the water so well that you can make it through the winter without supplying heat in many areas, and it takes little electricity in those areas where the winter is severe. The water is completely surrounded by fully insulated polyethylene plastic – even the floats are insulated. In summer, the water is cooler and covered water protects against mosquitoes breeding, lowering the risk of spreading West Nile Virus. The covered water also keeps the water cooler and prevent water evaporation during dry months. 4 models available.
Pork King Family
The Ritchie Pork King is designed to withstand the rugged nature of a pen full of swine. Built entirely of 304 stainless for maximum durability, the Pork King fountains are also equipped with electric heat and the industry’s most reliable valve. 4 models available.
Thrifty King for Swine Family
Same rugged construction as the Pork King Series but with the energy efficiency and insulation properties of plastic. 2 models available.
Classic Equine by Ritchie Family
Classic Equine Water Systems are specifically designed for Equine use. They will save time spent watering horses and cleaning out troughs, all while keeping your horse fully hydrated in the harshest of climates. Waterers in the Classic Equine family are designed with an attractive granite finish and made from polymer that lasts for years. 9 models available.
Stall Fount Family
Ritchie offers four wall mounted fountains for your stall watering needs. All models provide fresh clean water using Ritchie’s time proven valve for rapid refill and easy to clean stainless steel troughs. Some models come equipped with energy efficient, heated protection. 2 models available.
For more information, visit ritchiefount.com.