Family Stories · Luke's 1877 Diary

Ethan Keith: Inventor

Foundry B

On a recent trip to Michigan, as I was driving around the area, I happened to notice the above sign for “The Foundry.” What a coincidence! The previous month I had been working on getting Luke Keith’s 1877 diary ready to add to my blog and there were so many references in there to his son Ethan working on “the binder,” of Luke himself working on “the patterns,” and of the many trips (77 mentions) taking Ethan to and from “the foundry.”

This foundry is at 600 East Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo, Michigan and since Luke and Ethan had lived in Comstock, which was roughly 9½ miles away, I presume it couldn’t be the same foundry – it was just too far away for a horse and buggy trip, especially sometimes twice in one day. However, it piqued my interest and looking online I found their website ( where it was noted: “With roots dating back to 1872, The Foundry was once home to the Kalamazoo Foundry & Machine Company. Formed by Thomas Buckley, a blacksmith by trade, and a local machinist named Thomas Wilson, Kalamazoo Foundry & Machine Co. (KFM) was a grey-iron foundry and steel fabrication facility. Simply put, it was a place where people melted, shaped and sold metal.” It now is a business incubator as well as an event and meeting space.

Foundry A

While the above picture of the original foundry at Kalamazoo most likely isn’t where Ethan was working on his invention, it gives a peek back into what foundries might have looked like during that time period.

Ethan received a patent for his Platform Grain Binder on August 16, 1881. Some of the more interesting diary entries relating to the events leading up to this are noted below:

  • April 18, 1876: Moved machine down to Foundry.
  • June 15, 1876: Went down to Marts. Got some timber for slats for Binder. Went up to Foundry. Sawed out slats.
  • June 22, 1876: Bent slats for Binder.
  • July 8, 1876: Carried Ethan up to Foundry. Went up to Foundry at night, took machine home.
  • July 26, 1876: Put flange on pattern. Went up to Foundry in morning.
  • July 29, 1876: Carried Ethan to shop. They put Binder on machine.
  • April 10, 1877: Ethan gone up to shop after chain wheel pattern.
  • May 9, 1877: Went up to Foundry. Got chissel made for Binder.
  • May 29, 1877: Elward Agent called on the boys to see Binder.
  • June 6, 1877: Ethans patent papers came or a part of them.
  • June 8, 1877: Ethan and Henry at work on patterns. (There are many entries of Luke working on the patterns also)
  • June 13, 1877: Ethan finished patterns.
  • June 16, 1877: Went up to Foundry. Henry went up to Battle Creek with patterns.
  • June 22, 1877: Henry came down to have pattern alterd some.
  • September 10, 1877: _____ worked in shop on mold pattern.
  • September 11, 1877: Finished mold pattern.
  • April 23, 1879: Worked on patterns some. Warm day. Henry and Ethan work on binder.
  • May 21, 1879: Went to Kalamazoo after some steel $2.61 for Binder.
  • June 1, 1879: R. C. Strait and George Yumans came over to see binder.
  • June 24, 1879: Henry came over worked on binder.
  • July 13, 1879: Fine day for harvesting. Davis Stafford came down. Put Binder in opperation. Bound the first bundle of wheat quarter to one P.M. Put six bands around one bundle.
  • July 31, 1879: Mr Olin came over to see the Binder.
  • December 17, 1879: Blake made needle for Binder.
  • April 2, 1881: Ethan went to Kalamazoo to pay L. C. West $25.00 for patent which Henry agreed to pay.

The Henry mentioned in the diaries was Ethan’s half-brother, Henry Lindsey Keith.

1881-08-16 – Platform Grain Binder Patent

Ethan was successful in patenting his invention, along with several others; however, it doesn’t appear that anything ever came of any of them. So many letters towards the latter years of his life reveal that he and his sister Hannah were having a very hard time money-wise. One letter in particular from Hannah mentions that they badly needed a horse. Ethan had to cart corn and wood in a wheelbarrow and she hoped that their nephew, Claude Brown, could help them with the expense of buying a horse. It was very humiliating for her to have to ask for assistance.

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