The Standard Machine Works and The Union Gas Engine Company

Cover of the 1902 catalog

Photo #1

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I am writing this article in the hopes of adding to the knowledge and history of a couple of early-day San Francisco, California engine companies: The Standard Machine Works and the Union Gas Engine Company.

In C. H. Wendel's American Gasoline Engines page 477, it states that 'By 1903 Standard Gas Engine Company was organized.' Also stated in the text is 'in reality may have been in operation for some time previously.' I believe I can shed some light on this.

I have an original 1902 Standard Machine Works catalog. The catalog lists the company's complete line of stationary and marine engines, written testimonials from users and photos of the launches that they installed their marine engine in.

Photo #1 is the cover of the 1902 catalog with the addition of a glued-on Standard Gas Engine Company salesman's calling-card, a stamped new company name on top and the hand written words 'successors to.' It would appear that with the start-up of the new company in late 1902 or early 1903, Standard Gas Engine Company used the old company catalog.

Photo #2 is the cover sheet. Of interest is the lack of people's names, considering it was a corporation.

The announcement page states that 'Standard Machine Works is composed of thoroughly practical mechanics who have had years of experience in the special branch of machine work of building gas engines of all varieties. The Standard Gas Engine is the result of the combined mechanical skill and inventive talent and experience of the gentle-men who are directors of the company...' The announcement is signed Standard Machine Works. In fact, there is not one employee name in the entire catalog. With the exception of some 20 written and dated (1902) testimonials, there is no other printed date in the entire text.

Photos #3 & #4 illustrate a couple of three cylinder engines; one marine, the second stationary. The hand-written information below each engine stating its size was added by Standard Gas Engine Company. The original sizing of these three cylinder engines noted in printed text, was 50 and 70 HP. The 50 HP marine net weight being 7,200 pounds, the 70 HP being 9,000 pounds. They also list a four-cylinder, 100 HP at 13,500 pounds net. The list includes one cylinder 2 HP through 8 HP and two cylinder 10 through 40.

By reading the testimonials, all dated June 1902, the company had been in business for at least 1 years prior to June 1902.

The igniter, vaporizer, governor, adjustable electrodes, and wet exhaust systems on their engines were all of Standard's own design. All engines were guaranteed to operate with less than 10 revolutions difference between full and no load. All stationary engines were designed to run on gas or crude oil. The company stated that if operated on 'Mobaline' oil, you could get 1 horsepower per hour for one cent.

Photo #5 shows a couple of launches in San Francisco Bay with Standard Gas Engines installed. The lower photos show the opening to the Bay in the background. To those readers not familiar with this area, the Golden Gate Bridge has spanned that opening for the last 58 years.

Regarding the Union Gas Engine Company of San Francisco; page 518 of C. H. Wendel's American Gas Engines, shows an August, 1892 advertisement of a Regan Vapor Engine as built by Union Gas Engine Company of San Francisco. The article notes that the company must have been in business prior to August 1892, because 'over 800 of these popular engines are in use on the Pacific Coast.'

I have an original 1892 catalog of the Union Gas Engine Company that has some interesting information.

Photo #6 shows the cover of the catalog.

Photo #7 is the title page. The introduction states the fact that the company built and sold over 500 Vapor engines in 1891. A title headed 'caution' states, 'Our engines are manufactured under the patents of the Regan Vapor Engine Company and the Pacific Gas Engine Company, and we shall vigorously prosecute any infringement of same.'

Photo #8 is an early Vapor engine. The list of stationary engines ranges in size from 2 HP to 15 HP. The 2 HP weighs in at 750 pounds with a flywheel, selling for $275.00. No weight is given on the 15 HP unit, but it sold for $1,300.00. They built larger engines by quote only (up to 6 HP).

The Union Gas Engine Company was proud to state that their engine ran equally well on gasoline, natural gas, or illuminating gas. Their cost running facts are unique; (1) no expense until started; (2) no necessity of starting until the power is required; (3) expense while running always in exact proportion to the amount of power used; (4) the moment engine stops, all expense stops. I guess anyone who could afford $275.00 in 1892 to buy a 2 horse engine, probably just laughed at this nonsense cost-analysis.

The company sold pump/engine packages using Gould's centrifugal and double acting gear pumps. They also furnished everything necessary for deep well pumping.

In the 'useful information section' regarding weights, measures, flow calculations, etc. one unusual term was 'a miner's inch of water.' For those of us who have never heard the term, it is the amount that will flow through an opening one inch square in a plank two inches thick, under a head of six inches of water, above the upper edge of the opening, and is equal to 11.625 GPM.

The earliest testimonial in the catalog is dated November 12, 1890. A new battery was installed on a Regan Vapor Engine used in a winery at Rutherford, California. Another one dated December 31, 1890 states that his Vapor engine has run satisfactorily for nine months. So it. seems clear that Union Gas Engine Company was in business by early 1890.

The company also built launches. The catalog goes into some detail about the woods used, the positioning of the engine and how their own patented friction clutch operated. A 1 HP engine in a 19 foot launch cost $575.00. A 28 foot launch with a 6 HP engine was $1200.00.

Photo #9 gives prices for engines installed in your own boat.

I hope this information is of use to someone interested in early San Francisco engine companies.