John A. Johnson

John A. Johnson 1832 - 1901, Courtesy of Verne W. Kindschi, Route 1, Prairie Du Sac, Wis. 53578

Verne W. Kindschi

Content Tools

Route 1, Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin 53578

A year ago I acquired the existing engine records of the old Fuller & Johnson Company, Madison, Wisconsin. (In this article I shall refer to this company as F & J.) After studying these records and looking up a number of engines I became quite interested in the history of F & J; so I started asking questions and finding out all I could about the company. As others have asked questions about F & J, I thought perhaps the readers of GEM would be interested to know what I have been able to find out so far.

For the information I have been able to collect so far, I would like to thank Mr. Sever Thingstead, who was final inspector for F & J; Mr. Fred Stelter, who was production foreman; and the Gisholt Machine Company, Division of Gidding and Louis, Madison, Wisconsin.

Gisholt was once affiliated with F & J. Today they are known for their machine tools, such as automatic lathes, threading machines, balancing machines, etc. Most of the pictures are from their files.

F & J was founded in 1840, but was then known as Fuller & Williams. This firm engaged in selling farm machinery and was carried on until 1870, when Mr. John A. Johnson came into the company.

John A. Johnson was born April 15, 1832, on a farm in the Southern part of Norway. In 1844 John and his family immigrated to the U.S.A. They settled in Walworth County, which is in the Southern part of Wisconsin. In 1852 the Johnson family moved to Dane County, Wisconsin, to continue their farming. In the meantime, John had worked very hard to put himself through school, as the Johnson family was very poor. During the summers he worked for $3 a month, plus his room and board; during the winter he went to school and worked for his room and board. When the Johnson moved to Dane County, (the county Madison is in), it was to be John's last move.

One of the F & J buildings on the corner of Dickinson & Dayton Streets in Madison. This was probably the Shipping Department. Date of photo unknown, but around 1900.

The F & J factory from the files of Gisholt-date of picture unknown.

At age 22 John started to farm for himself; also, during the winter he taught school and sold farm machinery to supplement his income. During these early days he was also, in turn, assessor, justice-of-the-peace, township supervisor, township chairman and member of the Dane County Board. In 1856 he was elected to the assembly of the State legislature; then in 1860 he was elected Dane County Clerk on the Republican ticket, holding this office until 1870.

It was then that he became an agent for Fuller & Williams, selling farm implements. When John became a partner in the company, it was his personal qualifications, and not his money, which enabled him to do so. The company then became known as Johnson Fuller Company.

In 1872 he was elected State Senator on the Republican ticket and held this office until 1874. During these two years he was still associated with the Johnson Fuller Company, selling machinery.

Then in 1880 was the big step - John A. Johnson, Morris Fuller and several others bought out the Madison Plow Works and started the manufacture of farm machinery. In 1882 at a stock holder's meeting John A. Johnson and Morris Fuller were elected directors and the company was then called the Fuller & Johnson Company. From this time on it was a steady growth for F & J. They built plows, corn planters, wagons, mowers, cultivators, harrows, sulky rakes, feed mills and tobacco machinery, to name a few. The F & J company held many patents on these machines.

In 1887, of the 2013 shares of stock, John A. Johnson held 709 shares and Morris E. Fuller held 669. In 1882 there were 50 men employed, but by 1900 there were 400 employed at F & J.

In 1887, in one corner of the F&J shops, the Gisholt Company was started by Mr. Johnson in the production of tools for producing machinery. This corner also grew very fast until 1889 when it was separated from F&J, with John A. Johnson as president. In 1890 Gisholt moved to a new plant across the street from F&J. The new company was named Gisholt after Mr. Johnson's aunt and uncle, whose name was Gisholt. The Gisholts had never left Norway; but as John loved them so much, he named the company after them.

1887 was the year that the F&J gas engine really got it's start; this being the year that Mr. Johnson hired a student named Frank D. Winklcy. He was really the one who developed the gas engine for them. In 1900 the Gisholt Company started producing oil-cooled engines and called them The Madison Gas Engine.

An old Fuller & Johnson Gas Engine fob.

F&J Cast Iron seat for horse drawn implement.

F&J horse-drawn corn planter.

They produced them as such until 1903, when the engine division was sold to F & J. Mr. Winkley went to work for F&J, also. He went on to invent and patent the air-cooled farm pump engine, for which he received $1 per engine from F&J.

John A. Johnson died November 10, 1901; it was then that his son, Frederick A. Johnson, took over his position.

In about 1906 F&J came out with a vertical and horizontal hopper-cooled engine to sell along with their oil-cooled engine. The air-cooled farm pump engine came out in 1910- many thousands of these were built and sold. In 1912 the models N and K came out-of these, too, many thousands were to be built. The model N means gasoline and K means kerosene. These were followed in later years by the models NA, NB NC and ND consecutively for the gasoline engines and the KA and the NK for the kerosene.

A picture taken in 1962 of Gisholt employees who had worked for F & J. The engine is a 1p hp. F & J

The old F & J office building as it stands today, located on the corner of E. Washington & Dickinson Streets, Madison, Wisconsin. This building is now occupied by the Ohio Chemical & Surgical Equipment Company. They also occupy the rest of the old F & J site.

The years 1912 to 1929 seemed to have been their big years, with about one hundred engines per day being built and about five hundred men being employed. F & J did everything on the engines except the castings which were poured by Gisholt. Mr. Stelter told me their specifications were very rigid. If a cylinder wall was .002 of an inch out of round it was junked. He said the specifications were much more rigid than necessary; in fact, he built a 1? H.P. engine for his brother from junk parts and it was used many, many years with no trouble. He also told me that during World War I they had to contract government work, besides building engines, in order to get the iron they needed for their engines.

Mr. Thingstead, who started working for F & J in 1901, did most all of the different jobs concerning the building of the engines. In 1916 he became the final inspector-he told me that each engine was started up and run for at least one day when they came off the assembly line. After they had been run it was his job to check each one for compression, timing, leaks and etc.

In the later years of F & J the Johnson family had sold out most, if not all, shares of their F & J stock. However, they have retained, even to this day, their Gisholt stock.

In 1928 or 29 F & J, after much experimenting and tooling, came out with 2 and 4 cylinder radiator cooled engines. These were called models AB, BC, BD, BE and BBE. This venture was, indirectly, to be the end of F & J. Although they were good engines F & J went deep into debt to get these new models out. Mr. Thing-stead said the first of each of these models cost $90,000 apiece for tooling, developing and so forth. Then, of course, the depression of the 30's came along before F & J had their new engines off the ground yet. Their creditors became panicky-thus in 1932 F & J had to sell their properties to make good on their debts, closing their doors. The last engine was shipped 3-9-32.

After they closed shop they sold all of their tools and manufacturing equipment. Another company, whose name I have not been able to find out, bought out the F & J name and all the parts. They no longer built any engines, but continued handling parts for them. During this time Mr. Thing-stead continued working for this company ; although he said no new engines were built, they did rebuild a few and gave them a new S.N. and sold them. There are some these which were shipped as late as 1951.

In 1947 this company no longer wanted to continue, so Mr. Sever Thingstead and Mr. Albert J. West (who also had been working for F & J) bought out what remained of F & J. They continued the parts business and rebuilt a few engines. Then in 1953 Mr. West died, so Mr. Thingstead ran the business alone. Due to high overhead and the decline of the parts business, in 1954 he closed the doors. Such was the end of a good and large company, which I will think most people will agree, made one of the better engines.

It may be interesting to note that Mr. Thingstead started at F & J when he was eighteen years old and worked there all his life. He is now a very young 83 years old, still living in Madison, and is a very interesting person. It was from him that I got the F & J engine records.

I do not claim to be an expert on the P & J company, as they went out of business in 1932-the year that I was born. So what I have written is what I have been able to find out from the records -and from talking to others-mostly fellows who worked at F & J.

In the future, if enough are interested, I intend to get together the facts about the different models of F & J engines and write some short articles about them.

Also, you may be interested in knowing that F&J built about 180,000 engines and shipped them all over the U.S.A. and to many, many countries of the world.

The engine records, which I have referred to, are in two sets; one set gives the engine serial number and order number, in which it was sold, is listed beside it. The other set gives the order number first, then the date of shipment, serial number of engines shipped, horse-power, model and to whom shipped.

To look up an engine first I have to look in one set to find the order number, then into the other set to get the information about the engine. I will look up engines for anyone and give them the information about their engines; for this I am charging 50? for the first engine and 25? for each additional one. This is to cover costs involved and the time, as it does take a lot of time for each engine.

I have set up a card file in which I keep a record of each engine that I have looked up. On each card I record all the information about the engine and the present owners name and address. So far I have recorded about 125 engines, so apparently there are a few old F & J's left yet.

Also, I have had Trade Mark decals made, which are exact copies of the originals that went on the water hopper. I sell these for $1 per set (2 decals).

This is a picture of a 12-24 Case 2 cyl. opposed owned by Ted Sorenson of Crane, Montana. This was shown at the NE Montana Threshers Show.

This is a picture of my brother, George, and I with the 4 cylinder Moline Universal tractor on Sandwich Hay baler about 1927.

Just finished threshing last month. This is a Model L Case 1934 and a 28-inch McDeering separator that just missed one year of threshing since it was new. Both are in excellent condition.