In the mid-1860s, J. R. Osgood and S. F. Smith established a business producing wagon and carriage materials on South Illinois Street. In 1870, with Jacob Woodburn of St. Louis, they incorporated the Woodburn Sarven Wheel Company. Woodburn held the patent, which was a great improvement in design over the traditional wheel.

Illustration of an elevated street view of a factory complex.
Elevated street view of the Woodburn “Sarven Wheel” Company factory complex, n.d. Credit: The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, Huntington Digital Library View Source

The spokes and hub were still mortised and tenoned, but the joint was reinforced with two iron flanges riveted through the wood. This technique offered extra strength to the junction of hub and spokes without sacrificing the wood’s inherent flexibility.

Osgood and Smith ran the business in Indianapolis, while Woodburn continued manufacturing the wheel in St. Louis. By the 1880s, the Indianapolis factory had expanded to cover approximately seven acres on South Illinois Street, between South Street and Pogue’s Run, and it had over 500 workers. Both Osgood and Smith died in the 1870s, at which time the firm was taken over by Addison Bybee and J. F. Pratt. Sales of $150,000 in 1870 jumped to $600,000 by 1882. The company was in business until 1890.

Of particular note to Indianapolis history, famed naturalist John Muir spent time working for the company back when it was known as Osgood, Smith and Co. during the mid-to-late-1800s. In fact, Muir suffered his infamous eye injury while working for the factory. The moment was enough to change his outlook on life and led him towards embracing his passion for being a naturalist.

After 1890, the plant was taken over by the Parry Manufacturing Company, run by Bybee and Pratt in partnership with Thomas H. and David M. Parry of Rushville. Parry Manufacturing was in business until 1919.

Revised March 2021

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