“Most of the men he knew were ruptured, and he had a hernia himself,” said Swern’s son, Bill Jr., a retired Purdue soil and water conservationist who still lives on the Parke County family farm. “It was hard work.”
For the next seven years, Swern tried to improve on his product, which eventually became known as the Swernbuild System, filing two more patents, traveling the country and selling his machines through the mail.
But success never came and after the crash of 1929, Swern sold one of his patents to the Goodyear company which zealously defended its manufacturing processes against competition through the patent process.
“According to the family history, [Goodyear] said it could reproduce his machine, but that it would be easier for all concerned if he would sell the rights,” Broman said. Knowing he couldn’t fight such a large, established company in court, Swern sold his patent.
“He never told me much about it. I think he was discouraged by what had happened,” Bill Jr. said. “He couldn’t compete with them. He couldn’t get the financing.”
The effort of trying to establish a company, sell his machines and keep the family solvent as the Great Depression deepened almost killed Swern, who by the early 1930s was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
“The fact he survived at all was a miracle. It was rest which cured him. My mother had the work of the farm. As soon as he’d try to be a little more active, he’d have a relapse,” said Swern’s daughter, Marianne Karpovich.
Whether it was faith, as Karpovich said, or the advent of streptomycin after World War II which cured Swern, he eventually recovered and went back to farming. The native of Newark, Ohio, lived to be a day short of 96 years old, passing away in 1983.