The Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village houses a plethora of one-of-a-kind artifacts. From trivets to telephones, pie birds to potato planters, the individuality and ingenuity of our forefathers is on display. No relic is more indicative of the shrewdness and artistry of the agricultural past than the hog oiler.
Throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900s hog farmers were devastated by the influx of hog cholera and hog lice. Hog cholera caused skin lesions, fever, and convulsions, often leading to death within fifteen days. For a farmer, the spread of disease through legions of swine could be financially devastating. From 1846 to 1855 93 outbreaks of hog cholera were reported, as opposed to ten cases in the previous 13 years from 1834 to 1846. With this devastating disease on the rise, hog farmers desperately sought a remedy.
By the early 20th century, the hog oiler had become a primary implement in combating the variety of diseases that plagued swine. The hog oiler is a simple tool, but was highly effective in neutralizing the source of insect borne illness. The design of a hog oiler was basic; no more than a tank to house oil, and a mechanism to distribute the oil, such as a cylinder or wheels. It is a behavioral propensity of pigs to rub themselves against objects in their environment. Spikes and ridges were often included as a part of a hog oiler to entice the hog’s natural inclination to scratch themselves. Therefore, when placed in their pens, pigs would rub up against the hog oilers which contained oil. The common belief was that by coating the hogs in oil, insects would be stifled.
The type of oil used varied from farmer to farmer. Crude oil, kerosene and motor oil were often used as a low budget option, while farm supply stores sold medicated oils. Variations existed in oiler design as well as oil. Collectors have claimed that over 600 different designs of oilers existed. Some common variations included walk through, fence mounted roller-type and weight-activated. Each of these designs had its own strengths and weaknesses, but the purpose was uniform: protect pigs from insect borne disease.
During World War II the majority of hog oilers were melted down for scrap iron. Due to their resulting rarity, hog oilers have become a desirable collector’s item. The value of these tools varies based on size, rarity, and artistic quality. Some hog oilers are handmade, making them one of a kind and extremely valuable.
Hog oilers are just one of the many tools that exhibit the innovative spirit of American industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. The ability of hog farmers to identify the problem of insect borne diseases and solve it with such a simple, yet effective tool is astounding. At The Gateway Museum, a visitor can experience such advances in a variety of industries. Come visit us at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville!