Lee County Biography


R.K. Ortt, inventor and manufacturer, stands today in the front rank among Dixon's business men, especially in the field of industrial activity. He organized the Clipper Lawn Mower Company for the purpose of manufacturing and selling the Clipper lawn mower which he invented and the Clipper marine and stationary gasoline engines. The business has rapidly developed since its inception and Mr. Ortt has in this connection become widely known. He was born in Niagara, New York, in 1855 and is a son of Elias and Arethusa (Peterson) Ortt. The father was an invalid following his service in the Civil war and the mother died when her son, R.K. Ortt, was but nine years old. He then started out in the world on his own account. His advantages and opportunities were limited, but when he found it possible he attended school, early recognizing the value of an education. All through his youth his time was largely occupied with farm work and indeed he was busy in the fields until he attained his majority.

R.K. Ortt early displayed mechanical ingenuity and as he worked he gave much thought to the farm machinery then in use, believing that it might be greatly improved. He took up active tasks along that line in the improvement of binders and for four years he was superintendent of the assembling and testing department of the Hibbard Gleaner & Binder Company. He was likewise their general agent at Norristown, Pennsylvania. On leaving that firm he became connected with Hebner & Sons of Landsdale, Pennsylvania, developing a cutter and crusher for corn ensilage. His inventive ingenuity at length developed this machine, after which he established a shop in Norristown, for carrying on his experiments. He has taken out fourteen different patents, many of which are of a most valuable character and are now in general use. He had only forty-five dollars when he obtained his patent on his lawn mower which he called the Clipper mower. He began manufacturing, but developed the business slowly, his sale for the first year amounting to but twelve; the second year he put upon the market sixty-two mowers; the third year two hundred and seventy-one; the fourth year six hundred and eighty-two and the fifth year one thousand. Thus gradually the business grew and developed along healthful, substantial lines until there is no longer a struggle to maintain a place in the business world. On the contrary his industry is an extensive and a profitable one.

Mr. Ortt came to Dixon in 1904 and the following year organized the Clipper Lawn Mower Company, which was formed in July, 1905. For a year he leased the factory and in 1906 erected his present plant. The factory today has eighteen thousand square feet of floor space, in addition to which there is a warehouse of four thousand square feet. He employs from ten to twenty-five people, according to the season and in connection with the manufacture of the lawn mower he is engaged in building the Clipper marine and stationary gasoline engines. The mowers are today sold all over the world, the various points of the machine being improvements on anything hitherto known. The Clipper mower does not roll down the grass preparatory to cutting it; on the contrary the finger bars and fingers of the mower, as it progresses, gather in the grass with a degree of uniformity in nearly an upright position, and the knives cut it most evenly. High testimonials of the superior efficiency of this mower to others upon the market have been received by Mr. Ortt from all parts of the country, east and west, north and south. The factory is today, equipped with the latest improved machinery for the manufacture of both the mower and engine. Mr. Ortt claims, and his claim is substantiated in results, that the Clipper engine has more power than any engine made and sold for the same horse power. The best material and the most efficient workmanship is used in the construction of engines and mowers and the durability of both is one of the recommendations for its ready sale. Mr. Ortt now owns a strip of ground two blocks long, one hundred feet deep at one end and sixty-eight feet wide at the other end, together with four other building lots, providing space for factory enlargement. Already his output is four thousand machines a year and the demand is constantly growing.

In 1882 Mr. Ortt was united in marriage to Miss Jennie McGrevey, who died in 1888 and four years later he was married again, Miss Rachel P. Flint of Norristown, Pennsylvania, becoming his wife in 1892. There were two sons of the first marriage and one of the second marriage. Mr. Ortt votes with the republican party and finds pleasurable recreation through his membership in the Elks lodge. He has wisely used the talents with which nature has endowed him and through the exercise of effort his ability has increased and he is today one of the leading representatives of industrial activity in Dixon, widely and favorably known as inventor and manufacturer.

Transcribed by Karen Holt - 1914 History of Lee County Illinois Vol 2 by Frank E. Stevens.


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