Place

Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company

Aerial view of Dempster buildings
Aerial view of Dempster buildings, ca. 1960

NPS Photo

Quick Facts

The Homestead Act had broad effects across the country. As homesteaders settled the land, towns appeared across the American frontier. These communities and provided goods and services to the farmers. Homesteaders needed to tools to be able to live on their land, cultivate crops, and raise animals.

Demand for improved agricultural technology lead to a growing agricultural market. Agricultural stores and factories popped up across the American West to provide these goods. One of these agricultural manufacturers was Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company provided water for farmers around the world for over one hundred years. Dempster is one of the longest running wind-powered water pump manufacturer in the United States. The company began producing windmills in 1885 and continued until 2009. That marks 124 years of producing windmills and repair parts. Only the Aermotor Windmill Company, the sole U.S. windmill manufacturer today, has produced windmills over a longer period in the United States.

Dempster Mill Mfg. Co. employed hundreds of people allowing the surrounding communities to thrive. During Dempster’s peak, they employed more than 500 people throughout the country.

The Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company traces its roots to Charles B. Dempster buying one-third interest of a retail shop in 1878. This shop sold, installed, and repaired windmills and water pumps in the local area.

There were three partners in the business. Charles Hart was the salesman; canvassing the farms in the local area. J. H. Dempster ordered parts and handled the financial side of the business. C. B. Dempster took care of the manual labor, installing and repairing the windmills and pumps.

C. B. Dempster saw the potential in the business and a little over a year later became of the sole owner of the store. He knew more people were heading west and settling on the land thanks to land laws like the Homestead Act. The growing number of farmers would lead to a growing agricultural market. Access to water was essential for farmers and their livestock. If farmers did not have easy access to fresh water, they needed windmills to bring groundwater to the surface.

After years of shipping in parts and hauling them to his store, Dempster decided to start manufacturing his own products in 1885. Manufacturing is costly and C. B. Dempster knew that he needed to bring in the resources of other investors to succeed. In 1886 he and local investors incorporated the Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company. With the infusion of outside money, the firm built itself a respectable factory. 

By 1898, Mr. Dempster planned to move the manufacturing plant to Omaha for more space. When the local citizens heard about his plan, they were not happy. They convinced Mr. Dempster to stay if the community could raise enough money to buy the land to build the new plant. Within three days, the citizens of Beatrice raised the $12,000 needed to buy the land allowing the company to stay in Beatrice.

The new factory opened on January 1, 1899. There have been many additions and changes to the factory buildings over the years. The most noticeable was a major facade renovation in 1949. The land purchased by the citizens of Beatrice is where Dempsters LLC continues to operate today.

The company began to shift toward farm implements as electric motors began to replace windmills for pumping water. The Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company has manufactured a wide variety of items. Notable examples include windmills, water pumps, gasoline engines, cultivators, fertilizer spreaders, and recycling trailers. In the early 1900's, they distributed household items associated with water systems. This allowed them to sell complete water systems from windmills to bathtubs and the kitchen sink.

During World War II, Dempster Mill Mfg. Co. formed a war production pool titled Homestead Industries Inc. in 1942 along with five local manufactures. These companies worked together to secure contracts with the government to produce goods and weaponry for WWII. The group took on the name Homestead to honor the pioneer spirit of homesteaders and Homestead National Monument of America located just outside of Beatrice.

During the war, Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company produced over 1.5 million 90-millimeter shells for the war. Yet, they continued to manufacture farm equipment, as food supplied people at home and at war.

The Dempster family owned Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company until August 1961. When Clyde Dempster the founder's son retired, Warren Buffet acquired the company. Buffett had bought shares of the company beginning in 1956 until he had the majority control in 1960.

In 1963, a group of investors bought the company from Buffett and changed the name to Dempster Industries Incorporated. Don Clark purchased the company in 1985. He later sold it to Wallace and Felicia Davis in 2008. The company closed in late 2011. Ryan Mitchell purchased the company assets in 2013 and began manufacturing again in 2014. The company is now operating under the name Dempsters LLC.

Homestead National Historical Park

Last updated: June 30, 2019