Photographs, publications and correspondence related to D. Ward King's invention the King Road Drag, or the Split-Oak drag, which improved rural travel in the early 20th century by introducing a simple design and low-effort system for grading poor-quality roads. The King Road Drag was promoted heavily across the United States and Canada via the "Good Roads Campaign" originally sponsored by the railroad companies in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Scope and Contents:
This collection contains photographs, correspondence and articles documenting the road drag that D. Ward King invented to grade, drain water from, and improve the condition of rural roads in the early 20th century. Included are photographs of King, his family, the road drag, and the conditions of roads before and after treatment; a scrapbook containing letters and photographs; a blueprint of the road drag; as well as articles and reprints from various publications praising King's invention.
This collection would be of interest to researchers of the Good Roads movement, rural life and development in the early 20th century, and agricultural invention.
This collection is arranged into three (3) series.
Series 1: Correspondence, 1907; 1909
Series 2: Publications, 1903; 1907-1917; 1999
Series 3: Photographs, circa 1905-1915; 1908-1910; 1919-1920
Biographical / Historical:
Born and educated in Springfield Ohio, David Ward King (1857-1920), who was known as D. Ward King, moved to rural Maitland, Missouri after his marriage in 1881 and began life as a farmer. In 1896, he demonstrated the use of his simple invention, dubbed the "King Road Drag" or the split-oak drag, which consisted of two split logs attached by crossbeams and hitched with a loop of chain to horses, to be dragged along a stretch of rutted muddy road until it was smooth. His rudimentary road grader had the effect not only of flattening and compacting muddy soil, but creating a crest in the center of the road, sloping down at each side, so that the next rain would run off the packed surface into the ditch. This basic scheme had a revolutionary effect on rural life--farmers were often mired in mud on the roads to their fields or into town, their most powerful draft horses unable to contend with wagon wheels sunken into deep ruts after heavy rains. Use of King's drag soon made their roads not only passable, but faster and safer to travel, which saved time and money for all in the community.
In 1903, King was employed by the Chicago and North Western Transportation Co. to promote his product across the country as part of their "Good Roads Campaign," giving lectures and demonstrations. King patented the King Road Drag (US Patent 884,497 and US Patent 1,102,671) in 1908 and later improved it in 1914. The United States Patent Office called his invention a "Road Grader," but King referred to it as a "split log drag," the "King Road Drag,"
Although King patented his invention, the simple design made it difficult to enforce patent rights, so farmers were encouraged to build and make use of their own versions of the road drag. Even after the railroads withdrew their support (the road drag's success had the effect of sending more potential passengers on the roads with their bicycles and cars, rather than riding the train), King made a decent living for years on the lecture circuit, presenting in 46 of the 48 then- existing states and Canada. His midwestern education made him an eloquent, dynamic speaker, and his talks were often sold out. The invention of the road drag and its almost evangelical use across the country has been credited for increased automobile use in the early part of the century, as well as the advent of parcel post delivery and mail-order catalogue supply to rural areas.
Collection donated by Helene W. King and Amy Burbank King in 2014.
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at email@example.com or 202-633-3270.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.