The Tobacco Tying Machine

The tobacco tying machine played a significant role in the mechanization of the tobacco industry, and Bill played a small but important part in its development. Up until its invention tobacco was tied onto sticks by very skilled (and very fast!) women. It was hard, back-breaking work, and for many years numerous people had tried and failed to come up with an automated solution.

There is more to the story of how the tobacco tying machine came into being. I will elaborate a bit later.

Click on the picture for a larger view
View From Above
A high resolution TIF file (13 Meg) of this image can be downloaded from here.

The tying machine was based on a regular sewing machine – complete with needle, looper and thread. The main difference is that the needle was very large (about 8″ long and 1/4″ in diameter), the thread actually heavy duty rayon twine, and the looper very large.

Bill shot a short 16mm film of the tying machine that he designed being used on a farm in 1962.

Click on the picture to watch the video
Tobacco Tying Machine Video

The machine in the picture at the top of this page was a special machine built for the Imperial Tobacco Company. The image was taken in the Reynolds tobacco factory in Delhi, Ontario.

As always, if anyone has more details or information about the TTC tying machine and the role Bill played in its development, please post a message with details.

Posted by: Ron Warris | 12-03-2005 | 10:12 PM
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The Kelsey Boiler & Customer

Bill Kelsey and a customer standing next to a new Kelsey steam boiler. For more details about this boiler, see this post.

Click on the picture to download a high resolution TIF (6 Meg)
Family Portrait

Posted by: Ron Warris | 11-27-2005 | 08:11 PM
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The Classic Kelsey Steam Boiler

This is a portrait of the classic Kelsey steam boiler. This design was manufactured by Bill’s company from around 1952 until 1960 or so. Several thousand where built and sold from Bill’s little manufacturing shop on Waverly St. in Delhi Ontario.

Click on the picture to download a high resolution TIF (18 Meg)
Family Portrait

The boiler was used to sterilize the soil in tobacco greenhouses and to humidify and ‘condition’ cured tobacco so that it could be handled without shattering.

The boiler featured a number of innovative features for the time, including low pressure operation (70 PSI as opposed to 150 PSI that was more commonly used by the old converted steam engines that some farmers used.) Numerous safety features including a firebox fire suppression system (a lead plug at the top of the firebox that would melt and use the boiler water to put out out the coal fire if it got to hot), an overpressure relief valve, and insulated jacketed exterior. None of these features were particularly innovative, but they were unique for an industry that used old converted steam engines that tended to blow up from time-to-time.

The design also featured a “superheater” to make the steam super hot (800F) as it was believed that hotter steam made sterilization go faster. (Something that Bill would disprove in later years.)

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that this boiler was the leading edge of a massive modernization movement of the tobacco industry that Bill launched with Kelsey Manufacturing. Up until this time the farming of tobacco was highly labor intensive using antiquated equipment and techniques.

50 years later I believe that there are still some of these boilers in operation in Southwestern Ontario, although they are probably exceedingly rare now that the tobacco industry is in its waining years.

Scott (my brother) would love to get his hands on one of these intact boilers. If anyone knows where there may be one, let Scott know by email at

Posted by: Ron Warris | 11-27-2005 | 07:11 PM
Posted in: Kelsey Manufacturing | Comments (3)

Willard C. Kelsey At The Drawing Board

What is most unusual about this image is that Bill was virtually illiterate when it came to reading blueprints, let alone creating them! So this photograph was certainly staged. Still, his inability to create or read technical drawings never stopped him from designing and building some of the most elaborate pieces of equipment!

Click on the picture to download a high resolution TIF (21 Meg)
Willard C. Kelsey At The Drawing Board

Posted by: Ron Warris | 11-26-2005 | 06:11 PM
Posted in: Kelsey Manufacturing | Comments (1)