History of Brown-Cochran Co.

A unique proposition in gas engine design

| January/February 2003

  • Brown-Cochran Co
    The Brown-Cochran factory around 1905. The Johnson Co. foundry is the building in the background. Photo courtesy Mark Meincke.
  • Brown-Cochran Factory
    The Brown-Cochran factory as it looked in 1995 just before it was torn down. Photo courtesy Mark Meincke.
  • Carl engine
    The finished engine in all its glory.
  • Carl engine
    Front of the engine as it was going back together. The brass fork at right lifts and holds the ignitor arm during over-run.
  • Water Pump
    The water pump Carl built is clearly visible here, as is its eccentric drive off the side shaft. Latching arm off governor visible just to left of brass governor drive gear.
  • Flywheel
    Holes in flywheel are where core sand was removed after casting. This area was cast hollow and used to balance the flywheel. Note the nice Lunkenheimer Paragon #3 oilers.
  • 4 HP Brown-Cochran
    Carl Mehr's 4 HP Brown-Cochran as found.
  • Carl's engine
    Cochran's exhaust port shows up as a small slit at about the 5 o'clock position in this photo of the cylinder of Carl's engine.
  • Carl Engine
    Three years after acquiring the engine Carl starts to put it all back together.
  • Camactuated Fuel Pump
    Carl built the camactuated fuel pump from scratch.
  • Mixer On Carl's Engine
    Mixer on Carl's engine was actually cut down and welded to fit.
  • Mixer
    Cutting the mixer down to size. Carl thinks it fit an 8 HP engine originally.
  • Brown-Cochran's Fuel And Air Intake Valve
    The Brown-Cochran's fuel and air intake valve assembly. The fuel valve is the smaller valve on the stem of the air intake valve. Rebuilding this assembly was the hardest part of the restoration.

  • Brown-Cochran Co
  • Brown-Cochran Factory
  • Carl engine
  • Carl engine
  • Water Pump
  • Flywheel
  • 4 HP Brown-Cochran
  • Carl's engine
  • Carl Engine
  • Camactuated Fuel Pump
  • Mixer On Carl's Engine
  • Mixer
  • Brown-Cochran's Fuel And Air Intake Valve

One hundred years ago, the future looked bright for Brown-Cochran Co. Newly formed through the merger of Brown Gas Engine Co., Columbus, Ohio, and Cochran Co., Lorain, Ohio, Brown-Cochran was rapidly expanding into new facilities in Lorain. The gas engine industry was booming, and Brown, with patents dating back to 1895, was already active as a manufacturer of gas engines, while Cochran had entered into the nascent field of refrigeration equipment. Beyond the advantages of shared technologies, the merger created the opportunity to draw fresh capital and similarly improve manufacturing facilites.

Brown-Cochran appears to have prospered for a time, evident by the impressive manufacturing facility the company erected after the merger of the two firms. Fortune was fleeting, however, and by 1908 Brown-Cochran's fortunes were waning. Surviving articles from Lorain-area newspapers document Brown-Cochran's slide into receivership, which appears to have occurred in October or November of 1908.

Contemporary newspaper accounts focused on the possibility of the company being revived by former company president J.O. Brown, who designed the Brown line of engines. Brown's bid to purchase the remains of the company ultimately failed, and Brown-Cochran became a part of Johnson Co., a steel mill that occupied a site next to the Brown-Cochran factory in Lorain and supplied Brown-Cochran with the cast iron for its engines. Johnson, Brown-Cochran's heaviest creditor, had a compelling interest in the company's potential survival.

An article covering negotiations for purchase of Brown-Cochran in the Dec. 12, 1908, edition of The Lorain Times-Herald noted Johnson as 'the father of the Brown-Cochran Company.' It's assumed Johnson gave Brown-Cochran heavy impetus to form, likely extending the company a generous line of credit for raw material and foundry work during Brown-Cochran's early years. Had Brown-Cochran been successful, Johnson clearly would have stood to profit from the company's growth.



By the spring of 1909, Johnson Co. secured its bid to absorb the Brown-Cochran facilities. A June 7, 1909, article in the Lorain Daily News cited Johnson's control of Brown-Cochran and also noted recent production of 100 engines by the company. Johnson had hopes to merge Brown-Cochran with another, unnamed manufacturer of farm implements, but those plans never materialized. Just when the last Brown-Cochran engine left the factory is a matter of some conjecture, but most likely it was late summer 1909. Brown-Cochran, manufacturer of high-quality gas and gasoline engines, became yet another casualty of increasing competition in the gas engine market.

A surviving 4 HP
Carl Mehr, Penn Valley, Calif., came across this 4 HP Brown-Cochran sideshaft gas engine, serial number 718, in 1997. In a disassembled state, it was missing its water and fuel pumps, igniter, mixer and linkage. It was, in fact, little more than a promise of an engine. A pessimist would have said it was beyond rescue, but an optimist would have seen it as a good beginning. It still had its critical components; the cylinder and head were intact, the connecting rod and piston were there, and the crankshaft and flywheels were in one piece. Carl, fortunately for the old iron community, is clearly an optimist.



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