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.

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.