Why, you little rebel! Well since you’re here, read on…

J.D. Adams, King of the Road
In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, the state of Indiana’s roads was deplorable: bumpy, pitted, rutted and treacherous. Spring rains would hinder not only travel but commerce. Consider these average travel times:
– Indianapolis to Noblesville, 4 to 6 hours
– Indianapolis to Lawrenceburg, about 3 days.
– Indianapolis to Richmond on National Road (now US 40) 2 1/2 days
– Indianapolis to Fort Wayne 5 days
– Indianapolis to Westfield 54 hours

Enter Indianapolitan Joseph D. (J.D.) Adams who cleverly invented the first successful leaning-wheel pull grader in 1885 which he called the “Little Wonder.” It was a small, two-wheel, contraption with a blade set at a fixed angle, capable of angling its wooden wheels to one side. Though he had no formal training as an engineer, Adams’s machine was a massive technological advance in the process of road building and maintenance.  The initial model was intended to be pulled by a team of horses or mules.

Suddenly all other road grader manufacturers were using Adams’ “leaning wheel principle” in their devices.

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The success of the Little Wonder led the way for the introduction of Adams’ “Road King” model in 1896. The Road King was a four-wheel, all-steel grader with an eight-foot blade, and wheels capable of leaning in either direction. It could be pulled by a team of horses, or mules or adapted for towing by steam engine.

Business was brisk and by the 1890s Adams had established a production company to make graders and steel highway bridges. The Company later expanded their line of road building machinery to include elevating graders, sheepsfoot rollers, dozers, grader attachments, pull and rotary scrapers, force-feed loaders, and welding equipment. Though the Adams Company headquartered in Indianapolis, it eventually grew to include a Canadian affiliate (J. D. Adams Ltd.) with offices in Ontario, and Manitoba.

J.D.’s brothers, William and Roy Adams, took over the business and ran it together until 1940, when William died. After 1940, Roy continued to control the bulk of the business with the help of the company’s board of directors.  In 1955, J.D. Adams & Company became a division of LeTourneau-Westinghouse, and at that time, ceased manufacturing products.

Other J.D. Adams advertisements:




A turn of the last century Adams road grader found recently for sale on the Internet:



J.D. Adams & Co. must have been prolific advertisers and their products, quite resilient, because nearly 60 years after the firm closed its doors, numerous examples of its ads and premiums are easily found. And, a search for J.D. Adams’s products yields scores of results with photos of machines in various states from “still in working order” to “rusting behind the barn” on Flickr, Youtube, eBay, historic websites and trade articles.

Did any of your relatives work for J.D. Adams & Co.?

Did your grandpa, perhaps, own a road grader?

Tell us about it in the comment box below.

9 responses to “Sunday Adverts: Don’t Read This”

  1. Emilie Parsons Bender says:

    My dad worked there for 30 years. It became Letourneau Westinghouse and then American Standard before it closed.

  2. Joseph Reedy says:

    My Mother worked in the office during the war

  3. Ralph Robinson says:

    My grandfather was a salesman for J.D. Adams from about 1916 until his death in 1933. He had been a teacher in the Philippines from 1900 until 1915, one of the original “Thomasites”, a group of 600 men and women commissioned by President McKinley to go to the Philippines after the Spanish-American war. He returned to the U.S. in 1915, hired by the Philippine government to help run the Philippine Pavilion at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Being a native Indianan from Spencer, he went to work for Adams after the Exposition closed. I have every letter he wrote to my Grandmother while on the road. I would love to find out anything that is available from the period he worked at Adams

  4. Lisa Lorentz says:

    Ralph, the Indiana State Library has quite a few materials from J. D. Adams & Company, between 1929-1977, in their Manuscripts & Rare Books Division.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your grandfather’s story!

  5. Ralph Robinson says:

    Lisa, I’m sorry I couldn’t thank you sooner for the information, I am just seeing your note for the first time. I can’t thank you enough for passing on the library information, I can’t wait to delve into it.
    Ralph Robinson

  6. Lisa Lorentz says:

    My pleasure, Ralph! Happy hunting 🙂

  7. Bryan Bowlin says:

    I’m a nut when it comes to these old graders, I currently own a road patrol #3 and if memory serves a #4. I found on the net today a JD Adams road grader and ditcher Square deal number 0. Has anyone ever heard of model 0. Thanks a million!

  8. Joseph PatRicio says:

    Dear Ralph,
    I happen to stumble upon this comments section while searching for leads to a research I’m doing that involves the story of the Thomasites. I come from an island called Catanduanes, and according to the list of teacher assignments in the 1900s, your grandfather was assigned to the island. I dont know if you could still read this, but it would be amazing if we could get in touch. I am so curious to find out more!
    Peace and love,

  9. Spudth says:

    I appreciate the information. I just became familiar with these graders when I bought a doepke toy power grader last year. I ended up actually buying a grader on purpose so I could restore both toys. Now I happen upon a name plate from a #10 that I think is the tractor drawn unit (not the motor grader) Anyhow its all great information. We have taken for granted for so many years having powered equipment to create level smooth roads.

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