A person born and raised on a farm in northwestern Grand Forks County appeared to have the golden touch in the business world.
Directly after graduating from the University of North Dakota, Ken Hyslop and two friends went to New Mexico where they worked and invested in the copper mining industry. In six months they earned $64,000, worth $1,770,000 today. Hyslop later served as an executive with three major corporations: International Harvester, the Ford Motor Co. and Massey-Ferguson, serving as president and general manager of the latter. He also owned thousands of acres of productive farmland in North Dakota, Minnesota and Canada.
During the 1940s, Hyslop had two huge responsibilities that not only greatly affected North America, but also had a worldwide impact. His company, Massey-Harris (MH), was a large farm implement company that introduced and manufactured the first self-propelled combines.
During World War II, MH focused on manufacturing tanks and other military hardware that were needed by both the U.S. and Canada to help defeat the formidable Panzer tank divisions of Nazi Germany. The MH self-propelled combines enabled farmers to harvest their grain in a much faster and cleaner operation, and this greatly enhanced the amount of grain harvested each year.
William Kenneth Hyslop was born May 19, 1885, on a farm in the extreme northwestern corner of Grand Forks County to George and Catherine (Hamilton) Hyslop. Both of his parents were born and raised in Ontario, Canada, but met in 1881 in Fisher’s Landing, Minn., shortly after emigrating to the U.S.
Both George and Catherine’s family learned that there was available fertile land in the Red River Valley of northern Dakota Territory, so later that year they made their land claims in Elkmount Township in what became known as the Belleville district. George claimed 240 acres and Catherine’s adjacent homestead was 80 acres. The closest town was Inkster, located about 8 miles to the southeast.
George and the Hamiltons then returned to Fisher’s Landing where he and Catherine got married in 1882. Then, the newlyweds returned to Dakota Territory to build their house and began their farming operation. George was a very progressive farmer, purchasing the first twine-tying binder and the first steam threshing machine in Elkmount Township. George helped build a school 2 miles away where William, now known as Ken, and his three siblings attended the lower grades. They completed their elementary education in Inkster.
It became apparent at an early age that Ken was very precocious, so after completing the eighth grade, George rented out the farm and moved his family to Grand Forks where Ken could attend high school. Besides the profit earned from renting the farm, George also took on odd jobs, like carpentry, in Grand Forks. On the census records, George listed his occupation as “landlord,” but I don’t have any evidence that he owned any property, other than the farm.
At Grand Forks Central High School, Ken Hyslop was an excellent student and also played football and baseball. He was popular and “had a reputation as the nerviest (student) in the class.” Following graduation in 1902 he enrolled at UND, and in college, he was also a good student and played baseball during his last three years at the university. He was primarily a third baseman, but was capable of playing many different positions, and was named captain in 1906 for the team that finished the season with a 14-1 record.
While a student at UND, he was active with the Literary Society and was junior class president. He was a founding member of the Bungaloo Club, which later became the Sigma Chi Fraternity. “Hyslop studied mining engineering at UND” and graduated on June 14, 1906, with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Having lived his entire life in North Dakota, Hyslop said, “I had an urge to travel,” and he, along with two friends, traveled to Santa Rita in southwestern New Mexico Territory to get involved in copper mining. It appears one of his two friends was Charles Watson Boise, from Hope, N.D. Boise, a geologist, was one year older than Hyslop and a fellow member of the Bungaloo Club.
Boise later made a fortune mining for diamonds in South Africa and purchased Emmette Gardens, an Edwardian estate in Kent, England. He also provided financial support for famed paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey in his quest to find the origins of man at Olduvai Gorge in Africa.
During the early 19th century, the copper mine in Santa Rita produced over 6 million pounds of copper annually, but by 1905 most of the easily accessible copper had been mined out and the total average amount was down to less than 4.5 million pounds. That year, John M. Sully decided to implement the first open-pit mine, and he was looking for investors. When Hyslop and his friends arrived, they were hired to help in the mining operation.
After working a couple of weeks, they contributed over half of their earnings to purchase a six-month lease and, at the end of that time, they had made $64,000. Hyslop said, “We were in the money,” and he took his share of the earnings and purchased a 3,000-acre farm near Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
While managing his Canadian farm, Hyslop became involved with the International Harvester Co. that manufactured farm machinery. IH, also called McCormick-Deering, needed a manager for their European operation so, in 1914, he was sent overseas. Being based in Europe did have some risks because, during the first five years he was there, World War I was being waged. He resigned in 1924, and the following year “began a position with the Ford Motor Company, as their head of operations in Spain and France.”
Because of his executive positions with lucrative international corporations and through wise investments, Hyslop had become very wealthy, but he lost much of his fortune with the stock market crash of 1929. With a tenacious spirit, he pushed forward. While in Europe he met James Duncan, president of Massey-Harris, and they became friends. In 1931, Duncan offered Hyslop the position of European manager of his company, and Hyslop accepted the offer.
MH was “a farm equipment manufacturer with a large presence in Europe and the British Empire i.e. Canada, England and Australia.” The company was founded in 1847 in Canada, by Daniel Massey, and by 1931, MH was one of the leading manufacturing companies in Canada, and it had a vast international market. However, in the '30s, "the firm caught the backwash of the depression and drought on the prairies... and from 1930 to 1936 MH lost $20,000,000."
In need of new leadership, Hyslop was promoted to president and general manager in 1938 and moved to Racine, Wis., the American headquarters of the Canadian company. This was a pivotal year for both MH and for Hyslop, because it not only marked new leadership of the company, but it was also the time they introduced the self-propelled combine.
Both of Hyslop’s parents died in 1938.
We will conclude the story of Ken Hyslop next week.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.