In 1839, Daniel Best’s father, John, moved the family to Missouri. There he built a saw mill and proceeded to cut lumber for the local pioneers to use in building their homes. The first nine years of Daniel’s life were spent here and is probably where he received his interest in logging and machines. In 1847, the family moved again to Lee County, Iowa, here they took up farming and raised stock. In 1859 Daniel, desiring adventure, and wanting to follow his brother, joined a wagon train heading west to Fort Walla Walla, Washington, employed as an ox tender and a sharpshooter.
Over a period of forty-three years, Daniel Best received 41 patents, ranging from an improved washing machine to combine harvesters. His first invention, patented April 25, 1871, was a portable grain cleaner and separator, prior to this, farmers had to haul their grain to town to have it cleaned and separated; now the cleaner and separator could be brought to the grain. This invention won first prize at the California State Fair in 1871. While continuing to produce grain cleaners Daniel began experimenting with the idea of combining grain harvesting, threshing and cleaning in one machine. He was successful in 1885 when he sold his first horse-powered combined harvester. This new addition to his product line gave him the capital and the means to move onto the next major invention. It was actually an improvement on an existing design, but is still one of his better known inventions.
Daniel Best, as with most industrialists, was always looking to improve, simplify, or create pieces of equipment that would ease operations. It began when he saw the need for an improved traction engine, what some now call a steam tractor, to pull his combine harvesters. He first purchased the rights to build a successful steam traction engine from Remington of Woodburn, Oregon in 1888. He immediately began to make improvements until his engines were known as the strongest, most dependable, and longest-lasting engines in North America.
Around 1891, Daniel began to experiment with gas engines to replace the steam engines on his tractors. He developed his first gas-powered tractor in 1896. To prove its superiority, he staged a tug of war between his steam tractor and his new gas-powered engine. Not only did the gas-powered engine win, but it pulled the steam tractor around the block. As word spread of his dependable traction engines, he received more and more orders from clients all around the world. At this time, Daniel was selling $400,000 worth of machinery per year.
In 1908, at the age of 70, Daniel retired. His son, Clarence Leo Best (“Leo”), continued in his father’s footsteps, and with his father still giving advice, continued to experiment and improve on their tractors. One improvement made was the track laying design. This type of tractor moved on rolling tracks instead of wheels. He made several different models, but two really stood out as notable. The two models — the 30 hp field tractor, and the 60 hp field tractor — were well received and highly praised by the farming community. These tractors would eventually launch a new line of tractors that are still used today.
- March, 20, 1838
- Tuscarawas County, Ohio
- August, 22, 1923
- Alameda County, California
- Evergreen Cemetery
- Oakland, California