The Kewanee Private Utilities Company

Kewanee model 8 farm water pump

The cylinder side of the Kewanee model 8 farm water pump. The pumping piston is in the chamber below the air dome. The round cylinder with the drip oiler is a crosshead. Notice the brass cocks on the pump cylinder for draining purposes.

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200 S. Spruce Street, Centerville, Indiana 47330

Collectors and restorers of 'old iron' often run into unusual pieces of ancient machinery. Such was our case recently when we found an old Kewanee model 8 water pump, long abandoned as the principal water supply on an area farm. We researched this pump a bit since our only knowledge of the Kewanee Company was from a listing of farm light plants which mentioned their name. We learned that the Kewanee Water Supply Company got its start in 1909 in Kewanee, Illinois and through the inventive genius of Mr. James Jelinek developed the first farm water pump which pumped both air and water under pressure to a storage tank, thus making high pressure water supplies a practical thing.

Kewanee became a highly accepted brand of pump, due to the fact it was built considerably heavier than the usual run of pumps. Bearings, shafts, gears and frames were at least 50% heavier than required. This helped prevent break downs and reduced service. Bronze, high tensile steel and special alloys were used in place of brass, cold rolled steel and cast iron.

In 1914 the company changed its name to Kewanee Private Utilities Company. New products added, in addition to light plants, were air compressors, hand cranked gasoline pumps and private sewage disposal systems. Kewanee pumps went all over the world. Installations appeared in Russia, China, Cuba, Australia, England and Italy.

In the early 1930s, the pump was redesigned to an enclosed model, self-lubricating and entirely automatic in operation. Constant attention became nearly a thing of the past.

The company completed 38 prime and subcontracts for national defense during World War II. Parts were made for gun turrets, generators, mines, and similar precision assemblies. The largest single prime contract was for the M-8 rocket shell which cleared the beaches for landing of troops in France. So accurate was the company's manufacturing processes that a reject level of less than 1/2 of 1% was realized. The company was purchased by an elevator company in 1949 but with no knowledge of the pump business the firm closed in two years.

Our pump was built sometime between 1914 and the redesign of the early 30s. The photos show the drip oiler with sight feed to keep the crosshead lubricated, grease cups on main bearings and numerous brass fittings for draining cylinder and inside chambers. Note the large flywheel on the end of the worn gear shaft. This gear runs in oil and drives the large spur gear inside the circular housing. This gear is on the crank shaft. Just above the gearbox is the pressure switch. A bronze cylinder is piped with copper tubing to the pressure tank where pressure causes the piston to rise, taking with it the large square counterweight. When the weight is fully raised, a toggle assembly snaps open a set of electrical contacts. After the pressure drops, the weight causes the arm to drop and the toggle snaps the contacts closed, thus starting the motor.

Excess oil from the crosshead is collected in a pan which is drained by a brass cock under the square opening between the crosshead and pump cylinder. This is a double acting pump, with two sets of valves. Thus water is pumped by both movements of the piston resulting in a steady flow of water.

The pressure tank is not shown. It is a huge rivited boiler-like tank some 3 feet in diameter and 10 feet long. It has a water glass to show the amount of water in the tank.

We have cleaned the old Kewanee pump, repainted it and polished the brass fittings. It looks like new. We don't know if it will pump water but it operates with its built-in precision and it is indeed impressive in appearance. The weight is somewhere near 200 pounds, thus backing up the builder's claim of heavy massive construction. We hope to take it to a show or two this year.

We would like to acknowledge grateful appreciation for the assistance of Mr. Robert C. Richards, Sr., president of the Kewanee, Illinois Historical Association and Mrs. Mary Webb of the Kewanee Public Library, for their assistance in researching the Kewanee Private Utilities Company.