234 E. Greene Street Waynesburg, PA 15370
While looking over the truckloads of stuff for sale in the flea market at the recent Portland, Indiana engine show, I found and bought a book for the sum of one dollar. The thing that is surprising is finding something in that flea market for a buck! And what a find! The book is over two inches thick, 1469 pages, and the title is Biennial Census of Manufacturers, 1925.
You and I are interested in old engines. We know where to hunt them, how to fix them, and enjoy showing them, and probably to some extent telling tales about the ones that got away. In my dollar book I have found an interesting view of the industry that made them.
There were in 1925 thirty two establishments making internal combustion engines (for farm use), stationary and portable, of less than five HP. They made 155,469 engines and placed an average value of $50.68 on each of them! Thirty-four companies made five to ten HP engines, 20,925 of them at $ 119.40. Only 24 companies built 10 to 20 HP engines, 6,021 of them at $333.11. Would I love to find a warehouse full of those at those prices!
There were 33 companies building wheeled gas tractors and they built just over 158,000 that year at $524.51 each. Seven companies built tracked tractors, 6,060 of them at $2,878.05. There were still seven companies building steam traction engines. They report building 97 that year and they cost $5,312.39 each!
Here there is an oddity in the reported figures, for though the traction engine manufacturers report building the above number of engines at the above prices they also report that they sold 200 engines during the same period at an average sale price of just $2,595.30 per unit!
To enable us to bring these prices into reality we must dig a bit deeper into the book. There were 51,099 wage earners engaged in the manufacture of the engines; average weekly wage was $27.69. This means that to be able to buy one of those five HP or less engines that cost $50.68 a man would have to work 1.83 weeks. Now today it is not uncommon to make $400 per week and for such an earner that engine would cost $732.10. But that $2,600 traction engine would cost $4,749.39 or almost three years and four months work!
In '25 there were a total of 220 companies engaged in the manufacture of engines (both steam and internal combustion) and water wheels for all purposes. These companies had 59,394 wage earners employed. This number had fallen steadily from 1914, the earliest figure given in the book, when there were 446 companies. While the number of companies had fallen by just over 50%, the value of their output had risen from just over 72 million to 313.5 million, an increase of just over 335%.
A list by state of the number of companies that manufactured engines (steam and/or internal combustion) for farm and industrial use follows:
Michigan, largest producer of engines, was also the largest producer of tractors and traction engines, but my home state of Pennsylvania was the largest producer of steam engines (not including traction engines).
All in all, I would say that I found quite an interesting snapshot of what the industry that interests us all so much looked like at that time. A buck well spent.