D.C. Stover: The Man Behind the Stover Engine Works

D.C. Stover, founder of the Stover Engine Works, and his legacy in Freeport, Ill.

D.C. Stover's grave site monument being hauled through downtown Freeport, Ill., circa 1908.

D.C. Stover's grave site monument being hauled through downtown Freeport, Ill., circa 1908.

Courtesy of Joe Maurer

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Daniel Carroll Stover died of heart failure in Freeport, Ill., on Jan. 17, 1908.

At the time of his death, the local papers considered him the wealthiest man in Freeport. We're not here to cover the story of Stover's rise from poverty to a world-class industrialist. That story has been published in Gas Engine Magazine in previous articles by C.H. Wendel (History of the Stover Engine Works, May 1981) and by this author (Brilliant Tradition, February 2006). Using hindsight, we do want to try to figure out the legacy he left behind.

Preparing for the inevitable

D.C. Stover knew he was dying and had time to put things in order. Many of his important accomplishments and final actions were covered in no less than 66 obituaries and newspaper articles printed all over the United States. It's probable that obituaries were also written in foreign countries. He was famous in his time. It's very likely he either wrote his own obituary or was aware of the information that was going to be released when he died. His wife had died a few months before and his health went downhill quickly after her death. So the question is, what did he do to perpetuate his fame and, indirectly, his infamy?

We can break the answer into two categories: the things he did to overtly sustain his fame and the things he did to help us remember him.

The photos found in the photo gallery show his primary effort at immortality. The beautiful monolith in the photographs is the tallest monument in the Freeport City Cemetery. To this day, it still looks brand new.

A year before his death, Stover joined the Baptist Church and gave them money. A little insurance policy, perhaps?

He also pulled other loose ends together and picked trustees to run his companies and handle his estate after his death.

His two children considered his next move an act of infamy. He took them out of the will and dictated that the will could not be probated until both children were dead (see the article "Brilliant Tradition" from the February 2006 issue of GEM). While the children had a maintenance fund to live on, little did they know the grief that Stover caused the legal system. The will was not probated until 1967 when his grandchildren were in their 60s. The probate action of Stover and Marshall Field of Chicago (who pulled the same stunt) caused the legislature of Illinois to change the probate laws.

So, did it work?

Today D.C. Stover is barely remembered by the local populace. And it's ironic that he is now remembered not as a great industrialist, banker or inventor holding over 100 patents, but as a builder of collectible gas engines and farm equipment. We engine nuts remember him! Little did he know where his fame lay.

The Stover registry

I'm continuing to look up Stover numbers and updating the Stover registry here on the GEM website.

Until next time, keep your plugs dry and your igniters oiled.

Contact Joe Maurer at 797 S. Silberman Rd., Pearl City, IL 61062 • (815) 443-2223 • toadhill@aeroinc.net