Brilliant Tradition

Freeport, Ill., mogul Daniel Stover’s inventions encompassed almost all aspects of everyday life

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Chris Johnson (1909-2000) was one of the founders and first president of the Stephenson County Antique Engine Club. Chris, who had worked in several departments at Stover and loved Stover engines, brought many new faces into the engine hobby. Chris is see

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Daniel C. Stover (1838-1908) was a brilliant man in at least two fields of endeavor: inventing and manufacturing. As a mechanical inventor, he had over 100 patents when he died. At the end of his life, he was the richest person in Freeport, Ill. Stover built an industrial empire that encompassed 11 different manufacturing companies. Starting with Stover Experimental Works and ending with Stover Steel Tank Co., his empire spanned over 100 years. During that time, Stover brought jobs and prosperity to Freeport and shipped products all over the world. Daniel Stover was also involved in local politics and served as a bank president.

At 22 years of age he started a manufacturing company in Lanark, Ill., making agricultural products for the local trade industry. He moved his business to Freeport in 1866 and established the Stover Experimental Works. Stover initially rented small factory buildings around town but his business was so good that by 1872 he built a large factory complex on the banks of the Pecatonica River.

We get glimpses of Stover's personality by looking at how he handled his estate. For instance, he cut his son and daughter out of his will. He was "not satisfied with his son's business ability or application." Stover's daughter eloped with her local sweetheart at age 17 without her parent's permission. His grandchildren had to wait until 1967, when they were in their 60s and 70s, to collect the huge estate. Stover's son and daughter, however, did get an annual allowance of $2,500 a year with extra monies available from the estate for emergencies. So they were far from destitute.

The Town

Freeport is an old town in northwest Illinois. Located on the banks of the Pecatonica River, it was incorporated in 1837. It is on the busy route between Chicago and the Galena lead mines, which allowed the village to thrive. Initially Freeport was an agricultural center but it soon developed an industrial manufacturing base. After the Civil War, several railroads converged at Freeport and the town grew fast. Freeport was also heavy in banking and insurance. The extra capital must have been good for early industrial development. Many mansions still line the older residential areas of Freeport.

Stover was proud enough to put his town's name on almost every article he manufactured.

The Products

Compared to other engine manufacturers, Stover almost surely had the most diversified product lines of all. Daniel Stover created a fortune by inventing and manufacturing everything from agricultural machinery to everyday household items. In some cases Stover would sell the product lines or just license the rights to manufacture those lines. Whatever the case, he was a prolific inventor.

Stover started manufacturing farm equipment for the local trade but soon expanded into a global market. His biggest early success was in windmills. He developed the ideal, all-steel windmill, and by the 1890s was one of the largest windmill manufacturers in the world. Stover made many of the machines found on the typical farm of the period. He also built bicycles and invented the coaster brake. His bicycle business was so successful that he built a large factory building to fabricate the Phoenix bicycle. This building would become part of the later engine works. Stover invented barbed wire, and built and sold machines to make the wire. He built spring-winding and fence-making machines.

Stover made drill presses and woodworking machines. He even built a railroad-type motorbus. Stover built a small number of farm tractors using the large Morton running gear. A few were shipped to Canada and South America and some were shipped out West.

Stover experimented with a small, lightweight tractor but it never went into production. Opposite the large tractors, Stover manufactured small household items: candelabras, waffle irons, ice crackers, kerosene lamps, stove dampers, registers and a myriad of other domestic products. The company also made manhole covers.

Stover's engines were probably his largest success. After his new engine line was introduced in 1902, his sales climbed quickly. Stover engines were simple, well-made and reliable. Anyone who has really worked an early, large Stover engine can tell you how powerful and easy they are to operate. The early Stover engine was much simpler than many of its contemporaries.

Stover's concern for quality was reflected in the way he kept records. Every engine was tested and the results recorded by serial number. Test data could be provided to the customer if a question arose. Stover's manufacturing and shipping records still exist today. Stover built over 277,000 engines. He built engines until the factory doors closed in 1941. The last factory complex was sold and the machinery dispersed. The only remaining remnant was an offshoot company that built steel tanks and pressure vessels.

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

The Stover Reunion July 28-30, 2006

The Stephenson County Antique Engine Club was established and held its first threshing show in 1970. Because the club is based in Freeport, Ill., its motto from the beginning has been "Home of the Stover Line." There has always been interest in Stover engines and with the introduction of the Web, this interest is shared globally.

A group of Stover enthusiasts and club members had a desire to give all Stover collectors the opportunity to visit Freeport and display their Stover treasures. This group, with the support of the Stephenson County Antique Engine Club, will host a Stover reunion in 2006. The reunion will be based at the annual Freeport engine show in July. A true Stover homecoming is planned with attendees coming from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries. Attendees will be bringing any and all items manufactured by Stover. GEM staff will also be present for the weekend.

Participants will have the opportunity to display their Stover items in a central location. Security will be provided. There will be a Friday evening banquet and a Saturday evening factory tour. Special plaques, buttons, ribbons and a great copy of a metal Stover hanging sign will be available. Pre-registration is encouraged. Contact Rich Brubaker at (815) 362-2015 for registration. Additional information can be obtained from the club's website at: www.the freeportshow.com or by calling Curt Andree at (815) 868-2457.

The Freeport show runs July 28-30.