Associated Manufacturers Co.

A brief history of the Associated Manufacturers Co., of which surprisingly little is known.

Associated Manufacturers Co.

Illustration of the Associated Manufacturers Co. grounds.

Image courtesy Associated Manufacturers Co.

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Despite a 1913 ad showing that Associated Manufacturers Co. of Waterloo, Iowa, had 11 branches across the United States, along with about a dozen distributors, surprisingly little is known about the history of the company. Established as the Iowa Dairy Separator Co. in 1898, the company added engines to its line in 1909 before reincorporating under the Associated name. For the next 20 years, Associated produced a wide variety of highly regarded gasoline engines including the Chore Boy, Mule Team, Iowa Oversize, (including the Twin Cylinder) as well as a few clunkers like the 3/4 hp Colt engines of the 1920s.

As C.H. Wendel writes in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, “The former Factory Superintendent of Associated’s Independence, Iowa, plant once told the author that ‘for every 100 we shipped it seemed like we got 200 back.’ These were subsequently junked and the whole venture was chalked up to experience.”

Nevertheless, Associated engines of all types were popular. As Wendel notes, “A number of companies, particularly mail order houses, sold engines quite similar to the Associated. Apparently it was a matter of buying large quantities and affixing their own name tag,” common practice back in the day.

Associated tractors and trucks

“Associated experimented with a great many machines including the tractor and the motor truck. None of these ventures were successful and wasted large sums of money in the process,” Wendel writes. Thus came the Iowa Twin Cylinder engines, which were the largest of the Iowa Oversize line. It was essentially a tractor engine adapted to stationary use by the addition of a big cast iron pedestal. “A study of (a) photograph reveals some striking similarities to the tractor engines being built in Waterloo by the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company,” Wendel notes. “While there may be some doubt whether this engine was actually built by Associated, there is no question that the remainder of the Associated line was built in Associated’s own factories. No financial or corporate arrangement existed between Associated and Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company.”

The first branch

The only semi-history of Associated seemingly available was printed in the company newsletter, Chore Boy, and reprinted in the Jan. 31, 1916, issue of Farm Implements. More promotional tract than anything else, it was written by F.C. Ohly, manager of the Minneapolis branch of Associated Manufacturers Co. As Ohly wrote, “In making our official bow in the pages of the Chore Boy, the Minneapolis branch of the Associated Manufacturers Company feel no trepidation or stage fright, for we are fortified with age and encompassed with experience. We claim the distinction of being the first branch in the vast field now covered by ‘Associated’ interests, and in these days of history making, we would beg leave to recount some of the history we have made in our line of endeavor.”

He added that the Minneapolis branch was opened in 1904, and had done so well that “Mention an ‘Iowa’ today to dealer or customer in this section and you have at once attentive ears.”

According to Ohly, this was due to a pair of causes. First was the machine itself: “The sturdy instrument has stood the test of everything that has been claimed for it. It has been weighed in the balance and not found wanting.” The second was Associated’s sales people, “Who were as enthusiastic for the staying qualities of the Associated engines as they were for the (cream) separator.” Ohly names the engines – Chore Boys, Johnny Boys and Hired Man – “which became as familiar to the office force as bowls, discs, and skimming percentages.”

Besides the salespeople, Ohly said, the reputation of the engines, as well as their “attractive appearance, durable qualities, and general record of satisfaction” made the difference. According to Ohly, the continuing increase in sales meant their warehouse had to be enlarged four times in nine years.

Associated advertising method makes difference

Another article in Implement and Tractor Trade Journal on Jan. 6, 1917, said, “The Associated Company early recognized the value of direct advertising, now is using an unusually effective system of advertising direct to the consumer. The plan has proven to be of much benefit to dealers who handle Iowa curved disc separators, and Associated engines. Dealers forward the names of their customers who are expecting to buy one of these particular items. The advertising department immediately writes the prospect a series of personal letters and sends a selected list of folders and booklets bearing upon the particular product in which the customers interested. This sort of cooperation is of direct benefit to the dealer, and very often results in an immediate sale. Owing to the fact that the Associated Company has a large foreign trade, the service department is often called upon to prepare advertising for use in foreign countries.”

Overseas work

A fact not always appreciated is that Associated had great success selling gasoline engines in England. In Stationary Gasoline Engines, author David W. Edgington writes that the third-most collected make of old engines in England is the Amanco, manufactured by Associated Manufacturers Co., of Waterloo, Iowa, following the Lister and Petter.

Edgington adds, “Amanco is one of the great success stories in the world of stationary engine marketing as thousands were imported into the U.K. In general these engines were crude, obsolete in design, with no concessions to anything but utility. The finish was, in general, abysmal in comparison to that of British-built engines. So why did Amanco sell so well? There are several reasons for this: It worked and kept on working; the important parts lasted; the material, although slung together, was well-machined, jigged and filled; and, most important of all, it was cheap. The Amanco was far more affordable than the Blackstone, Crossley or Ruston, with their coats of gleaming enamel so carefully applied on castings with blowholes painstakingly stopped and filled in with a lot of costly and unnecessary machining on nonfunctioning surfaces. The Amanco was cheap because its mechanism was the simplest possible, with no complex valve gear, rotating sideshafts, complicated lubrication system, expensive brass lubricators – in fact nothing but the basic requirements. How could these engines fail when they arrived in Britain adorned with catchy names promising such a labor-intensive service – Chore Boy, Hired Man, Hired Hand, Farmhand, Six Mule Team and Foreman? The descriptions were admirable; the engines performed as promised and, furthermore, the price was right.”

Price cuts

Every business has its ups and downs, and as the Agricultural Depression of the early 1920s continued, on Jan. 1, 1921, Associated announced in Farm Machinery-Farm Power magazine that they were cutting prices: “Effective August 1, the Associated Manufacturers Company announces a reduction of 25 percent on their line of Iowa Oversize engines, with a similar reduction on Iowa Cream Separators.” Commenting on this reduction, Will Forbes, general sales manager, said, “We have cut our small engine 25 percent to the dealer, which, I believe, is the biggest single cut that has yet been made on a farm machinery line. Separators were cut equally strong. This reduction includes all sizes of the Iowa Oversize engine. New prices go into effect August 1. We feel that this big price reduction will stimulate trade.”

Associated eventually abandoned engine production, refocusing on its line of cream separators. It was sold to Hamilton Engineering Co. of Chicago, Illinois, in 1946, ending a long history we still seem to know very little about.

Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369 • bvossler@juno.com