A Brief History of The Chamberlain Machine Works

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1920 Franklin Street, Waterloo, Iowa 50703. 

Chamberlain Machine Works was founded by Andrew Mark Chamberlain, who was born February 24, 1855, in Dover, Illinois. Mr. Chamberlain's father was Mark Andrew Chamberlain, who married Mary Bartholomew. Dr. M. A. Chamberlain, a physician, came to Iowa in 1859, and settled in Winthrop, where he died in 1905. Andrew Mark Chamberlain grew up in Winthrop and ran a general store with his brother and father. About 1889, A. M. Chamberlain built the second creamery in Iowa, in Winthrop. He later owned and operated a number of creameries at various points in this state, and became known as the best butter maker in Iowa. The first creamery in Iowa was started by John Froe-lich in Froelich, Iowa, about 1885 (Froelich is located at the junction of 18 & 52, between McGregor and Monona.) The third Iowa creamery business operator was Leonard Johial Powers in Powersville, about 1892, later in Nashua. All three of these men relocated to Waterloo, and went into business. Froelich brought the gas traction engine to Waterloo in 1892, and after an unsuccessful attempt at manufacturing relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota where he manufactured washing machines and other items.

Powers located in Waterloo in 1902, to manufacture horse collars, and the business he started is still in operation today.

Chamberlain is credited as one of the prominent figures in the development of the cream separator industry in Iowa, and located in Waterloo in 1898. He married Ida Almina Pulis, of Winthrop, a woman with whom he had two children; Floyd L., and Marjorie. Chamberlain and son Floyd established themselves in Waterloo in 1898, as traveling salesmen of creamery supplies.

A little history of cream separators here is important. The discovery that centrifugal force would separate cream from milk belongs to an obscure German chemist in the late 1850's. He died without knowing that his discovery would revolutionize dairying methods. Also a Danish horse doctor named Jensen experimented along these same avenues. It was a German engineer, Lefeldt, working on this idea starting about 1874, who was able to put together a machine in 1877. Lefeldt's machine was a large separator that would spin only 800 rpm, and was to be used by creameries.

The continuous cream separator was invented several years later-the first one was a Danish-Weston, made by Neilson &. Petersen. Others followed like the DeLeval, Lefeldt, Fesca, and others; all were European inventions, and imported into this country. By 1885, these companies were getting their products made in America because of import duties.

In 1896, Mr. Irv Moody of Nashua, Iowa, began to investigate the possibilities of introducing hand crank separators for sale to his creamery customers. Instead of the farmer hauling his milk to the creamery, he would separate the cream from the milk himself. The dairy press investigated this new idea and glowingly reported that several hundred had already been sold around Nashua- and Mr. Moody's idea was a success. The Creamery Journal (a monthly) was the largest magazine printed for the dairy industry, and it was located in Waterloo at 181-183 Bridge Street, and published by Fred L. Kimbal. He started publishing the journal about 1894, and was instrumental in getting the National Dairy Cattle Congress to locate in Waterloo in 1910 (N.D.C.C's last year in Waterloo was 1970; when they relocated to Wisconsin). The 'Iowa' separator was established in Waterloo in 1898, and became part of the Associated Line with W. W. Marsh, president-treasurer, C. E. Dailey, vice-president, and H. B. Plumb, manager. For years I have heard that Associated sold cream separators to Sears, so I printed a 1928 Sears ad. The Economy Gas Engine was supposed to have been made by Associated in Waterloo also. I have also seen it written that the Chamberlains were involved with the Peerless Cream Separator Co. of Waterloo, but this may not be entirely true. More about that later.

In 1900, A. M. Chamberlain was involved with the American Creamery Supply, at 21 E. 5th St., with Warren Cranston, president, Andrew M. Chamberlain, vice-president, and N. W. Gales, secretary-treasurer. Floyd was a traveling agent for the Iowa Skirt Co. and ' lived at home with his parents at 216 Maple. This old brown Victorian house is still standing and well worth a drive by if you are ever in the neighborhood. In 1904-1905, the Waterloo Cream Separator Company was located at 817-819 Sycamore with J. R. McCoy, president, J. D. Lamb, vice-president, and A. M. Chamberlain, secretary-treasurer. In 1906, the Waterloo Cream Separator Co. was at 2nd and Water with no Chamberlains on the board or at least listed. This was the Peerless Cream Separator Co. location. In 1905, Andrew & Floyd Chamberlain started up the Creamery Supply Co. at 407 Sycamore, their primary product being rope belts used in powering cream separators. They were also known locally as the Waterloo Rope Belt Company. In 1906 the name was changed to Chamberlain Machine Works, and they remained at 407 Sycamore.

The building was described as 'L' shaped, three stories tall, with about 20,000 sq. ft. of floor space. There were thirty employees at first and this number grew to seventy in about a year. Everyone was busy making rope belts, repair parts for foreign and domestic cream separators, and warehousing catalog items for shipment. They were also overhauling used separators for resale. Pump jacks and feed grinders may have been manufactured here also. The owners were listed as A. M. Chamberlain, president, F. L. Chamberlain, vice-president, &. L. M. Taylor, secretary-treasurer.

The Chamberlains did a jobbing business all over the country and had a seventy page catalog of various items relating to the farm and creamery business. This catalog numbered 80,000 mailed annually. About 1908 or 1909, C. B. (Sandy) McManus located in Waterloo and was listed as president of the Peerless Cream Separator Company located at 117 E. 2nd Street. McManus was a very big businessman, based in several states. By 1911', he owned Peerless and was also secretary-treasurer of Associated Mfg. By 1912, Sandy McManus was manufacturing at different locations in Waterloo and other states: cream separators, gas engines under the name 'Sandow', and feed mills, while Chamberlain Machine Works marketed the same items, under a different name.

In 1912-1913, Chamberlain Machine Works also operated another business called the Twentieth Century Gas Machine Company at 146 Rath Street. I believe this company produced a small home acetylene plant for lights and cooking in both city and farm homes. Andrew Chamberlain was also vice-president of the Automatic Air Pump Co. with offices located in 321 Lafayette Bldg. in Waterloo. No other officers listed or information available.  

Andrew M. Chamberlain died March 31, 1913. Ownership of the company in 1914 became: Floyd Chamberlain, president, Ida (Andrew's widow), vice-president, C. M. Sherill, secretary, and Marjorie (Floyd's sister), treasurer. The Chamberlain Machine Works remained at 407 Sycamore; this was, however, the last year of the Twentieth Century Gas Machine Co. and/or Automatic Pump Co.

It was in 1913, maybe 1912, that the National Gas Engine Company was formed in Waterloo, with G. W. Dickinson, president, C. C. Butler, vice-president, treasurer and manager, and W. H. Scheel, secretary, located in the 2600 blk. of E. 4th Street. Across the tracks from the National Gas Engine Co. was the John T. Handt Tractor Company which was formed about 1912 with C. C. Butler vice-president. About 1914-1915, the company became the Interstate Tractor Company. One of Sandy McManus' men by the name of J. M. Brearton ran this factory.

By 1915, the National Gas Engine Co. was not listed so Floyd Chamberlain could have taken it over to manufacture gas engines for sale in his national catalog.

William Galloway would go bankrupt about 1916-1917, and a C. E. Butler would run this company until about 1952. It is unknown if C. C. Butler was any relation to C. E. Butler; probably was. Mr. William Galloway had several businesses in Blackhawk County and remained in business in these his entire life.

Because there was a satellite address for the Chamberlain Machine Works at 506 Center Street, there is a possibility the engines were machined at the Iowa Gas Engine Co. at 207-209 Center and warehoused three blocks away. In any event Frank Bouck told me that during World War I the gas engine production was sold to Ideal Gas Engine Company in Independence, Iowa, when munitions production was started. It is unknown how long engines were produced by Chamberlain in Waterloo, but some of the Miss Simplicity engines still sat on the factory floor in 1920. Frank Bouck remembers a few of the Interstate Tractors still sitting around in 1920, though somewhat stripped.

By 1915, Chamberlain no longer needed the 321 Lafayette Bldg. address, so the Sheldon Gas Engine Co. was using it with Mr. Sheldon, president, W. L. Richardson, vice-president, and Lillian M. Hileman, secretary. They did not need a factory since what they sold was a contract engine, and was probably from the same place that Chamberlain was getting their engines, at the National Gas Engine Company at first, and later from the Ideal Gas Engine Company in Independence, Iowa.

By 1918, William M. Sheldon joined the company and the offices were moved to a warehouse at 170-172 W. 2nd St. In 1922, Mr. Sheldon had the Sheldon Engine and Sales Co., and the Central Warehouse and Transfer Co. In 1925, the Sheldons were sharing their building with a new business: Waterloo Mills, an off shoot of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Union Mills which ceased operations in 1920. The Sheldon Gas Engine Company ceased all operations by 1928.  

The photographs of the Chamberlain Gas Engine are of a 1? HP 'Miss Simplicity' owned by Dan Powers in Boone, Iowa. He purchased it from Glen Lauver of Lake View, Iowa, in 1972. Mr. Powers told me that the ignitor on this engine came from Associated Mfg., so it is possible that all Chamberlain Gas Engines had Associated ignitors. The Interstate Tractor information came from Keith Oltrogge of Denver, Iowa. What you have been reading may be confusing, but I was trying to document the similarities and possible connections between these different companies and show how business was done in the early years in Waterloo.

After World War I, Chamberlain Machine Works moved out on E. 4th Street into the National Gas Engine Company building, and maintained the 407 Sycamore location as a warehouse until it was razed in the late 1930's. In 1920, there was a fire that completely destroyed the factory on E. 4th Street.

While a new building was being built, Chamberlain customers were going elsewhere, and the company had to start from scratch when the factory was rebuilt. This led to washing machine wringers as a new product line. After the factory was opened the manufacture of Pressed Metal Clothes Wringers went into production with the 'Klean Quick' washing machine company in Cedar Falls, buying twelve at a time. By 1923, Automatic in Newton, Iowa, was buying 3000 wringers a year. I believe there was another washing machine manufacturer in Dubuque named Minute-Man also getting their wringers from Chamberlain.

In these years everyone called Ida Chamberlain 'Granny' as she still was working around the office. Rope belts were still being made by hand with Louie Blazdel doing the work. Jimmy Thompson was still balancing' cream separator bowls (cones), also manually. This was done by spinning the cone to about 6000 rpm' and marking the heavy (high) side with a pencil. The cone was stopped and 180 degrees from the mark on the inside of the cone a small piece of solder was placed. When the correct amount of solder was used it was then melted in place with a torch. Being on the inside of the cone, centrifugal force would not throw it off at high speed.

Floyd Chamberlain credited Frank Bouck with saving the company by finding a defective rivet job during a lunch break on a shipment of wringers. Had they been shipped it could have resulted in a cancelled contract and disaster for the company. The banner year for wringers at Chamberlain was in 1929.

Chamberlain made parts and repaired cream separators, both domestic and foreign, until World War II. The rope belts were gradually replaced by flat belts of leather and canvas held together with metal lacing.  

With the introduction of large tanks to haul milk in bulk, the cream separator went to the wayside. It was about this time that Sears also cancelled their contracts with Associated, and they closed down. Only C. E. Butler of Galloway made a cream separator after World War II, and he also closed for good about 1952.

It was the R.E.A. bringing electricity to the farm that halted gas engine production in America because electric motors replaced the gas engines by the later 1930's. In 1929, the Chamberlain Machine Works name was changed to the Chamberlain Corporation. In addition to wringers they were also making home ironers.

Floyd Chamberlain sold his interests in the Chamberlain Corporation in 1934, to the American Wringer Company located in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

Floyd L. Chamberlain died in 1939.

This article covers the first forty-five years of Chamberlain history. The next forty-five years, or more, of Chamberlain history has been put together by the company and is better explained by them than by me.

The Chamberlain name in Waterloo's industrial history is the second oldest surviving name in the city.

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Two later products.