When Robert Ransome moved to Ipswich in 1789 he did what many of his contemporaries were doing, in establishing an iron-founding business. Cast iron was now a cheap commodity easy to turn into standard products for industrial, municipal and domestic use.
Then there were agricultural products. Before the advent of cast iron, the cost ensured that most parts of agricultural implements were of wood. Cheaper iron extended its use to almost all wearing parts, and enabled more durable and reliable machines to be produced. Ransome specialized in the manufacture of plough shares when he set up, later going on to making complete ploughs. Other firms of ironfounders did the same, and made harrows, threshing machines and all the other implements farmers needed.
These were the firms that became the agricultural engineering industry. Several others were established at about the same time as Ransomes, including Burrell in 1770, Garrett in 1778, Hornsby in 1815. By 1850 these firms had supplanted the millwrights, wheelwrights, blacksmiths and carpenters who had made the farmer’s tools in earlier times. The engineering firms were household names in the farming world, supplying their products all over the kingdom, and the world.
At the Great Exhibition in 1851, the section devoted to agriculture was one of the largest. The engineering firms were of a large size now. Ransomes’ Orwell works at Ipswich covered nine acres and employed 900. One journalist wrote, ‘The range of manufacturing skill of Messrs Ransomes appears almost unlimited’, including now threshing machines, ploughs, harrows, barn machinery and steam engines.