On the Square

Fortnum Engine

Russell Ginnow

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Russell Ginnow, 3125 West Fisk Ave., R. 3, Oshkosh, Wis. 54901

On the square in Berlin, Wisconsin is where Johnson & Fortnum made gasoline engines.

In 1870 Niels Johnson started a machine shop and had been experimenting with steam engines. About 1900 he began to develop a 3 cylinder gasoline engine. Unfortunately he died before it was completely successful. In 1900 a Mr. T. H. (Tim) Fortnum married Niels Johnson's daughter and went into business with his father-in-law, calling it Johnson & Fortnum Machine Works. After Niels Johnson's death Mr. T. H. Fortnum successfully developed a one cylinder gasoline engine. This style engine was made from about 1903 or 1904 until WWI. Since none were made after this, they are rather rare.

All this information was gathered from T. H. Fortnum's son, Mr. Niels Fortnum, who with his son, Dick, are still in business in the same building. They are in the automotive business selling Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth retaining the name Johnson-Fortnum.

I have the 115th gasoline engine that Johnson & Fortnum Machine Works made in about 1904. I bought this engine from Mr. Hellmuth Zabel whose father bought it new in about 1904 or 1905. (Pamphlets were given along with the engines. One of the instructions were that if the engine didn't start not to call for help, but should wait until the next day and try it again.) It was used on his farm near Brushville, Wis. to run a cream separator. For the past 40 years or better, parts of it were used as an air compressor, until I bought it last summer. It took Mr. Zabel and his brother several days to find the other parts.

The engine is an up-right, air-cooled, hit and miss, 4' bore, 4' stroke. Ignition is by dry cell, buzz coil, and spark plug. The connecting rod is solid brass, eliminating use of babbitt in the connecting rod bearing. Main bearings are babbitted and oiled with an oil can. The cylinder and wrist pin are oiled with an oil cup. The excess oil lays in the base to oil the connecting rod bearing. The cooling fan is run by a round leather belt around the flywheel. The battery box and buzz coil are original. The crankshaft for the first engines was fabricated. The engines that were sold had crankshafts forged in Milwaukee. All the castings (cast iron and brass) were made in their own shop. There are not very many cooling fins on the cylinder and they aren't very big. The flywheel spokes are curved.

At present the engine is on display 'on the square' in Berlin, along with the original pattern for casting the cylinder and crank case.

There are no records of these engines left. Mr. T. H. Fortnum didn't do much advertising, only a little at the county fairs. Neither Mr. Niels Fortnum or I have been able to locate any more of these engines.

If anyone has any of these engines or any information, I would like to hear from you.

Top two views are of the Johnson and Fortnum engine before it was restored. Bottom left picture is the restored engine and Mr. Niels Fortnum. At right is Mr. Hellmuth Zabel, the man that sold me the engine.