The Man Behind the 'Ashtabula' Engine

Bieder engine

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Box 151 Andover, OH 44003

Herman Bieder lived and developed his Bieder Engine and Home Power washing machine in Ashtabula, Ohio. This information can be obtained by studying the nameplate on the little one horsepower, aircooled upright engine that has become a much sought after collector's specialty. Beyond this meager start, background information becomes hard to find and details are obscure and sketchy. Engine magazines and books, library date and records, and court house records provide a few glimpses into his activities and life-style. Relatives still living in the area have little to offer, perhaps due to circumstances which occurred in the short span of time that his activities were centered in the Ashtabula area.

Apparently Herman was a somewhat unusual, though quite gifted and ingenious individual. Of a Swiss-German origin, he, along with a limited number of Bieders, some brothers and sisters, appeared in the early records of the city of Ashtabula. He is first pinpointed on existing records when in February, 1897, he purchased a lot at 70 Bridge Street in the Ashtabula Harbor area. Next, in the 1902-03 Ashtabula City Directory, the H. Bieder Confectionery and News Room had been established at 70 Bridge Street with H. Bieder rooming at 107 Bridge Street nearby.

Court records for 1904 provide a new aspect to the future activities which will be unfolding. A George D. Zeile, associated with a leather and tannery business, has died leaving his widow, Lizzie J. Zeile, an estate consisting of their home at 11 Elm Street, close to uptown Ashtabula, other properties, and monies in the amount of $8,000.00. The 1904 Directory lists Lizzie J. as the only resident at 11 Elm Street.

By 1908, Herman has married Lizzie J. and their residence shows as 11 Elm Street. Meanwhile, the H. Bieder Company has been formed with William Christensen as manager of the Confectionery at 70 Bridge Street. In May, 1908, Herman sells the 70 Bridge Street property to his wife, Lizzie J. for $8,000.00. Perhaps only coincidental, but it is also in 1908 that advertisements for the Bieder engine and the Bieder Manufacturing Company of Ashtabula, Ohio, start appearing in various trade magazines. Between 1903 and 1908 Herman bought and sold properties, one of which was located on Main Avenue, Ashtabula.

It is not unreasonable to assume at this point, that during this same period of time, the plans and procedures for developing the Bieder 'housewife's' engine and washing machine were finalized. Two possible locations existed where patterns could be taken and castings produced; the main requirements to realize the new engine Herman had designed. First, the McKinnon Iron Works in the Harbor or, more likely the Phoenix Iron Works along the Ashtabula, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh Railroad tracks on Fisk Avenue. This was close to the Center Street location where assembly and sales would take place. The Phoenix Iron Works was a large casting and machine shop, established in 1876, with facilities more than adequate for meeting the Bieder Company need. A relative of a young man who was serving his machinist apprecticeship at Phoenix has verified production of Bieder engine parts in the early 1900s. In fact, the writer obtained an incomplete engine for which the apprentice machinist had 'brought home' parts to assemble.

By 1912 the Ashtabula Directory shows considerable change in the H. Bieder Manufacturing Co. Herman Bieder (wife Lizzie J.) is now President, and F. A. Mason is Secretary-Treasurer. The company is located at 180 Center Street. Washing machines and equipment are the sales commodities listed. This directory shows other Bieders in occupations such as a machinist and a salesman; however, there is no direct association shown with the Bieder Company to indicate that they were working with or for Herman. Regardless, production is well under way.

1912 was the critical year for the marriage of Lizzie and Herman. In May, court records show Herman, single, and former husband, deeding all properties, including that on Bridge Street to Lizzie J. Zeile. This divorce apparently 'blacklisted'

Herman and any future social or business designs and possibilities in Ashtabula. The Bieder family ties were badly strained, if not broken. Advertising changed from the Bieder Manufacturing Co. to the Home Power Co., which became the successor to H. Bieder Co. and operated for a short time after 1912. No mention of Herman or his H. Bieder Co. is listed in the 1915 Ashtabula Directory.

Apparently, Herman was not about to give up. He located in Erie, Pennsylvania where an engine for which a patent was applied is placed in production. How many of the engines and how long they were built has not been determined.  

The Erie Bieder Engine has only minor modifications from the 'Ashtabula' Engine. The three things to look for are: (1) name and place of manufacture which appears on one of the two crankcase cover plates, (2) slightly wider and heavier flywheels, and (3) the engine base casting has different measurements and configuration.

The lifestyle and record of what happened in Erie will require additional research. Meanwhile, the information trail grows dimmer on one Herman Bieder, who we must admit, was an interesting and somewhat unusual individual, who played a part in the mechanization and industrial development of our own local area as well as our great nation.