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March 19, 1869: Birth of lawyer/inventor John R. McGiffert

On this day in 1869, future Duluthian John R. McGiffert was born in Hudson, New York. After a “liberal education,” he received a law degree from the New York Universoty in 1892 and made his way to Duluth that same year. According to one biographer, “while in school and during his law practice Mr. McGiffert found time to encourage his inventive genius and allowed it more or less full scope.” One of his inventions was for a steam-powered machine that loading felled logs onto trains and sleighs. At about the same time, the Clyde Iron Company, which made boilers and engines, was reorganizing as Clyde Iron Works, which would manufacture logging equipment. McGiffert showed Clyde’s officers his idea, and they bought it. The McGiffert Log Loader almost at once “completely revolutionized the log handling industry.” The machine, which could be run by unskilled workers, eliminated a great deal of manual labor. Sales quickly expanded the operation, forcing Clyde to move to a new facility at Twenty-Ninth Avenue West and Superior Street in Duluth’s West End. Clyde then began producing modern hoisting equipment. McGiffert eventually obtained more than twenty other patents covering different types of logging machinery. In 1902 he became superintendent of Clyde’s logging machinery department and later served as  treasurer and secretary and then vice president in general charge of design and construction.. McGiffert lived to be eighty, dying in 1949. Read about other Duluth metal fabrication companies here.

Postcard ca. 1905 showing a McGiffert Log Loader at work. (Image: Zenith City Press)