Kuhner factory

Fig. 1: The Kuhner factory in Oxford.

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7964 Oakwood Park Ct, St. Michaels, Md 21663

The formal opening of the Kuhner Engine Company in Oxford, Maryland was held on December 1, 1911. The celebration was described in the Easton Star-Democrat the following day. Over a hundred guests attended. They were treated to an oyster roast, then shown around the new factory. The factory was a new concrete building, 50 by 160 feet, designed by architect Wilbur H. Johnson. The factory contained twenty machine tools, including lathes, planers, milling machines, and drill presses. Figure 1 shows the building and Figure 2 the interior. These pictures appeared in the January, 1912 issue of the Oysterman and Fisherman.

According to the Star-Democrat article, the new company was capitalized at $50,000. The officers were H. E. Kuhner, president; George M. Wingard, secretary; William B. Shannahan, treasurer; Francis W. Wrightson, William Mason Shehan, M. Tilghman Johnston, F. L. Cochran, and W. M. Bergman, directors. Kuhner was the president and Wingard was sales manager. These two men were given credit for organizing the new company. The directors (investors) were all well-known Talbot County businessmen.

The Certificate of Incorporation had been signed on May 14, 1911. The names of directors agreed with the new article. However, the Certificate stated that the company was capitalized at $40,000 rather than $50,000. That capital was obtained by selling 800 shares at $50 per share. The Certificate shows that George Wingard lived in Oxford.

Who was H. E. Kuhner, Figure 3, and where did he come from? We do not know his birthplace, but we do know from the Star Democrat article that he was a mechanical engineer and that his first employer was the Robert Faries Manufacturing Company in Decatur, Illinois, where he went to work in 1886. Kuhner received his engineering training through an apprentice program, not by university study. Such an education was common at that time. A few years later he went to work at the Rock Island Arsenal, building guns for the US Government. In 1899, he started his own company on the other side of the Mississippi in East Davenport, Iowa, and he named it the East Davenport Machine and Novelty Company.

The company manufactured engines designed by Kuhner. For marine use, they built one and two cylinder four-cycle engines and a single cylinder two-cycle engine. Other Kuhner engines were four-cycle vertical stationary engines in five sizes, 1? to 12 HP. Figures 4 and 5 are examples of the engines. Note that the stationary and marine engines are quite different in design. The stationary engine has an open crankcase and exposed timing gears and cam. In the marine engine the crankcase, gears, and cams were enclosed. They also built portable tank-cooled engines and a portable saw rig for cutting fire wood. The customer had a choice of piston-break or hot-tube ignition.

About 1906, the company moved across the river to Rock Island, Illinois and Kuhner renamed the business the Kuhner Engine and Machine Company. One wonders what prompted the move. Perhaps it was to be close to a foundry or some other service. Figure 6 is an advertisement of the Rock Island company, offering stationary, portable, and marine engines, 1? to 25 HP. The engine shown is identical to the East Davenport product in figure 5.

In 1908, H. E. Kuhner went to work for Geiser Manufacturing Company in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, where he was put in charge of their engine division. That company built steam tractors and stationary internal combustion engines. While there, Kuhner designed two low-cost small stationary engines for Geiser. Geiser sales were poor and, after an attempt to build tractors with internal combustion engines in 1910, they got out of the engine business in 1911. Geiser continued to build steam tractors.

According to the Star Democrat article, George Wingard had been a salesman for Geiser. His territory was the state of Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and his headquarters were in Easton, Maryland, the county seat of Talbot County.

An old photograph exists showing the interior of the Walter M. Lane & Son machine shop in Easton. One can see parts of stationary engines being machined and assembled, and these look very much like Geiser products. I believe that Geiser was contracting all or some of their engine manufacture to the Lane machine shop. H. E. Kuhner would have spent time in Easton and he would have known George Wingard.

I assume that both Kuhner and Wingard lost their jobs in 1911 when Geiser got out of the engine business. Kuhner's Rock Island factory must still have existed, though perhaps closed down. These two men decided to revive the Kuhner engines and build them in nearby Oxford. The village of Oxford was a reasonable location, as there were many workboats in the area, harvesting crabs and oysters.

Figure 7 is an aerial view of Oxford with the Kuhner factory at the right; it was taken years after the factory closed and the building is surrounded by weeds. (Oxford today is a very attractive village, a good place to live and popular with tourists and with yachtsmen cruising the Bay. At the time of the aerial photo, there were fine old houses beyond the field of the photo. Development within the area of the picture is in good taste.)

The factory building had a flat roof with eight skylights. Figure 8 is a photograph of the employees about 1912, loaned by William Bringman, Jr. Mr. Bringman's father, unmarried at that time, is standing at the right. Two men are wearing ties and suit coats. I believe that one in the center is H. E. Kuhner and the man to the left is George Wingard. Others in the photo are Henry Lewis, Eugene Lewis, Owen Tull, and Walter Crockett; Mr. Bringman could not connect the names with the figures with certainty. The men are standing in the dirt road with the factory just out of the picture to the right. The railroad tracks were just behind the photographer.

Figure 9 is an advertisement that appeared in the December 10, 1912 issue of Motor Boat Magazine. The two-cycle engine shown in the ad may be a new design required by Bay watermen. An article in the same issue states that Kuhner is building single cylinder two-cycle engines as shown in the ad plus 15 HP four-cycle marine engines, both for the fishing and oystering industry. According to the article, four and six cylinder engines up to 75 HP are shown in the company catalog. The company is also building an oyster dredge winder (hoist) using their horizontal stationary engine. It seems likely that the latter engine was an engine Kuhner designed for Geiser.

An obituary in the Star-Democrat told that H. E. Kuhner had died on March 20, 1914 after an illness of several months. His body was sent to Ohio. The very brief obituary did not mention a wife or children. It seems tragic that this talented engineer, designer, and inventor received so little local recognition. He would not have been much over age 50 when he died.

Six months after the death of Kuhner, George M. Wingard and his wife Mary H. Wingard obtained a loan of $3500 from the Talbot Bank, Sept. 14, 1914, and signed a mortgage on Oxford real estate. The mortgage states the property is that which was conveyed to the Kuhner Engine Company July 22, 1911. The mortgage was on the land, factory, and contents. The fact that Wingard could mortgage the factory shows that he was the sole owner as of the date of the mortgage. The other owners must have sold their stock to Wingard. The mortgage has a list of the Kuhner machinery:

1 Schumacher & Bonde lathe, 24 x 15' 1 Schumacher & Bonde lathe, 24 x 10' 1 Sebastian lathe, 14 x 8' with taper attachment 1 New Haven lathe, 36 x 16' 1 Prentice lathe, 15 x 6' 1 Barnes lathe, 13 x 6' 1 speed lathe 1 Aurora milling machine 1 Automatic mill & reamer grinder 1 Cincinnati shaper, 16' stroke 1 Mortan key seat machine 1 Bond drill press 1 Greenwood arbor press 1 Pond planer, 36 x 36 x 10' 1 small planer, 23 x 23 x 5' 1 radial drill press, 4' arm 2 Barnes drill presses, 20' swivel table 1 Barnes sliding-head drill press 1 Wilmath & Norman twist drill grinder 1 Rock Falls power hack saw 1 circular saw machine 1 wood turning lathe 1 3-ton trav. crane & truck 1 Weston 3-ton block 1 swing crane 1 1-ton Weston block 1 swing crane with trolley

Also included were designs, patterns, office furniture, tools, and 'equipment of every description now at or in factory.'

Dickson J. Preston's book Oxford, the First Three Centuries states that the company stopped engine manufacture during WWI and concentrated on machining parts for artillery shells. After the war the Kuhner Engine Company closed its doors and never returned to building engines according to that book. This account may not be correct, as will be shown.

After the factory closed, George Wingard continued to live on a farm near Oxford called 'Combsbury.' It has a fine three-story house built in the early 1700s. His only daughter died childless a few years ago at age 90. Wingard seems to have been a good salesman and promoter.

One of the employees of the Kuhner Engine Company was Walter Crockett, who began his own business in 1918. He installed some machine tools from the Kuhner factory in an old oyster house owned by his uncle Scott Crockett and repaired oyster dredge winders and marine engines. In the 1920s Walter's brother Arthur joined him and they expanded the business as Crockett Brothers Boatyard. Walter Crockett used a Kuhner stationary engine to power the machine shop. That engine is now in the Oxford Museum and is shown in Figure 10. On the brass name-plate is Kuhner Engine Company, Oxford, Maryland, 4 HP, serial number 167. The crankcase and flywheels seem identical to those of the stationary engines of the East Davenport and Rock Island factories figures (5 and 6), but the cylinder is like that of the marine engine in figure 4. For many years there was a Kuhner engine and hoist in use in Belleview, across the Tred Avon river from Oxford. Its present location is unknown.

An Oxford resident told me of an employee of Crockett Brothers Boatyard who stated that he had operated the same lathe in three locations-the boatyard, the Kuhner factory in Oxford, and in Rock island. This is evidence that machines and at least one employee were moved from Rock Island to Oxford.

There is a gunmaker in Federalsburg, Maryland who has two lathes and a milling machine that once were at Oxford Boatyard. He was able to identify them in the mortgage list, so they came from the Kuhner factory.

I had heard of a marine engine with the trade name 'Chesapeake', built in Oxford. I once believed that Kuhner must have used that name. Recently, I happened to see a listing of marine engines in the December 10, 1923 issue of Motor Boat Magazine. One maker was listed as follows:


Oxford, Maryland































I have little doubt that these were Kuhner engines. I have not been able to determine whether someone had reopened the Kuhner factory or whether the engines were being offered and built by the Oxford Boatyard. The latter seems more likely. There must have been parts and castings still in Oxford.

In 1980, I went to the place where the factory had stood. The only thing remaining was the concrete floor. Now, the area has been developed and all signs of the factory have disappeared.

I am most grateful to William Bodenstein for the Star Democrat articles and for directing me to the incorporation papers and the mortgage, to jerry Dunn for the 1912 Motor Boat Magazine data, to Richard Dodds for the Oysterman and Fisherman information, to Mr. Bring-man for loaning me the employee photo, and to Oxford residents Jerry Valliant, Clarence Cox, William Benson, and Edwin Sinclair for their recollections. Figure 4, 5, and 6 and some of the Geiser data are from C. H. Wendel's book American Gas Engines. The Lane machine shop picture appears in Norman Herrington's book Easton Album. There is a paragraph about the Kuhner Engine Company in Dickson J. Preston's book Oxford, the First Three Centuries. The certificate of incorporation and the mortgage are in the Talbot County Court House. The aerial photograph is from the Hollyday Collection, Talbot County Historical Society.

If readers have further information, I would like to hear from them. Of particular interest would be existing Kuhner engines, recollections of Kuhner engines, or a Kuhner catalog.