Tracing the Career of Frank M. Underwood, Part 2

History of a gas engine pioneer, part two of a series.

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Figure 1: An illustration of a Buckeye Mfg. Co. engine circa 1895.

Read the first installment at “Tracing the Career of Frank M. Underwood.”

According to the October 1894 issue of American Machinist magazine, the Quast Gas and Gasoline Engine Co. (Bucyrus, Ohio) was in the process of setting up their machine shop at that time. F.M. Underwood was superintendent of the Quast Gas Engine Co., and he likely began with Quast in late 1894 or early 1895. Due to the relatively short time that Underwood was with the Quast firm, it’s tempting to suggest that Underwood didn’t produce any engines of his own design (following the Lambert designs). However, a circa 1901 customer reference says that Underwood sold a 10hp engine in 1895. Building and selling an Underwood engine in 1895 means it likely came from the Quast shops. I have reviewed patents 588877 (filed February 24, 1894), 588876 (filed September 5, 1894), 584960 and 584961 (filed November 6, 1894), all of which were filed by Charles Quast of Marion, Ohio. None of these patent designs display close resemblance to the Lambert/Underwood engine designs. Sometime around or before 1898, the Quast firm was incorporated and moved to Strasburg, Illinois.

Assuming that the 1902 Toledo Critic timeline is chronological, F.M. Underwood’s next employment was at the Austin Automatic Boiler Feeder Co., Marion, Ohio. I have not been able to find any indication that the Austin firm had any involvement with the design or manufacture of internal combustion engines. An internet search will turn up references to the Austin firm in the 1891 to 1896 timeframe. The fact that Charles Quast lived in Marion, Ohio, could lead to speculation that Underwood’s move to the Austin firm had something to do with Charles Quast. F.M. Underwood’s employment with Austin likely began and ended in 1895.

Note Figure 1, an 1895 Buckeye Mfg. Co. engine (of Union City or Anderson, Indiana), which includes the design of the new ignitor. The belt pulley is a curious construction, perhaps having five spokes instead of six.

Black and white gas engine

On March 14, 1895, Underwood filed four patent applications, the only F.M. Underwood patents known to your author. All four list F.M. Underwood as residing in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, although that was not necessarily his residence when the patents were granted. They were for a cylinder head design (Figure 2), a muffler design (Figure 3), a geared “sparker” igniter (Figures 4 and 5), and a fuel mixer (Figures 6 through 10).

A patent drawing of a circular object A drawing of a patent of a machine

On July 16, 1895 he was granted patent No. 542743 for the cylinder head design (Figure 2). On January 14, 1896 F.M. Underwood was granted patent No. 553181 for his geared “sparker” igniter (Figures 4 and 5). On December 29, 1896, F.M. Underwood was granted patent 574183 (filed March 14, 1895) for his mixer (Figures 6 through 10).
Fortunately for us, it also shows excellent detail about other Underwood engine features. Although Underwood’s mixer patent has definite differences from the earlier Lambert carburetor patent, it seems obvious that some of the Lambert features made their way into the Underwood design. Curiously, it depicts a six-spoke flywheel, although later Underwood engines continued to use five-spoke flywheels.

Bucyrus, Ohio, Ventures

On August 14, 1895, John Lambert applied for patent No. 550832 for yet another igniter design (Figure 11). A patent was granted December 3, 1895.

On December 24, 1895, Underwood was granted patent No. 552085 for his muffler design (Figure 3). Federal employees must not have taken a break for Christmas Eve that year!

A black and white drawing of a patent

By January 1896, Underwood was the manager of the gas engine department of the Frey-Scheckler Co. of Bucyrus, Ohio, as reported in The Horseless Age in January 1896. Included was a beautiful image of the Underwood engine (Figure 12).

A drawing of a machine for a patent

Note the similarities between the Lambert/Buckeye (of Union City) engines and the Underwood with respect to the governor, exhaust valve mechanism, and the double-faced sides of the single five-spoke flywheel. What appear to be wooden mounting pieces to the left are unusually high until you remember that the engine was likely intended for automotive use where the frame of the car also serves as the engine frame. I’m puzzled whether the large vertical piece in front of the cylinder head is a hot-tube chimney or a large inductor coil. Experts on early Ohio Motor Co. and Palmer Bros. engines assure me that hot tubes were sometimes used, and Palmer Bros. even offered engines with both a hot tube and an igniter. The article stresses F.M. Underwood’s increasing interest in “the motor vehicle question”; which we may safely interpret as building lighter engines for automobiles.

A drawing of a machine for a patent

The Standard Catalog of American Automobiles, 1805-1942 (Kimes & Clark) said: “Although the Frey-Scheckler Co. built motors for stationary and marine purposes, this new unit was intended expressly for carriages. A buggy was so motorized by the firm in order to demonstrate the Underwood-designed engine, but automobile manufacture was not launched. The engine was marketed, however, as the American Vehicle Motor.” It would have likely taken several months for Underwood to have motorized a buggy at Frey-Scheckler, implying that he began with Frey-Scheckler in the spring or summer of 1895.

A black and white drawing of a machine for a patent

It is curious that Underwood was interested in marine engines while working in land-locked Bucyrus, Ohio. The Sandusky River flows through Bucyrus, but for commercial purposes, it is too small to navigate.

Frey-Scheckler Co. had its roots in Bucyrus during the 1850s under the name of the Eagle Machine Works. The business was purchased in 1862 by two of its employees, Frey and Scheckler. Over the following decades, they manufactured a wide product line including steam engines, horse-powers, sawmills, brick-making machinery, and the like. Frey-Scheckler Co. combined with J.W. Penfield & Son (of Willoughby, Ohio) around September 1896. The new company was called The American Clay Working Machinery Co.

A black and white drawing of a machine

The February edition of The Horseless Age does not mention an association between F. M. Underwood and the Frey-Scheckler Co., and we soon learn that Underwood moved on from Frey-Sheckler before that edition was published.

The American Vehicle Motor

“This new motor, which was mentioned in the last issue of The Horseless Age, is the invention of F.M. Underwood, of Bucyrus, Ohio.

A black and white drawing of a machine

It has one cylinder, two pistons, and a double crank, with the pistons, crank, and connecting rods acting as a balance. The mixture is fired between the pistons, causing them to move in opposite directions. While one pushes directly on one connecting rod, the other pulls on the other connecting rod. This action eliminated the strain between the cylinder and the main boxing, and only a small balance wheel was required to bring the motor up to normal speed.
As there are no cylinder heads to be acted upon and the pressure is equal on both pistons, vibration is so reduced that at normal speed, this motor is said to show no more vibration than an ordinary sewing machine,” from The Horseless Age, February 1896.

A black and white drawing of a machine A black and white photograph of a machine

Sources: American Machinist, October 11, 1894, and September 26, 1896; Toledo Critic, February 8, 1902;; History of Crawford County (Ohio) 1912, Vol. 1; The Horseless Age, January 1896 and February 1896; Standard Catalog of American Automobiles, 1805-1942 (Kimes & Clark); The Electrical Engineer, Vol. XIX, No. 363, April 1895; The Manufacturer and Builder, October 1893; The Marion Star, June 15, 1895; Telegraph Forum, April 23, 1897; J.W. Penfield obituary; U.S. Patents: 550832, December 3, 1895; 542743, July 16, 1895; 553181, January 14, 1896; 574183, December 29, 1896; 588877 (filed February 24, 1894); 588876 (filed September 5, 1894); 584960; 552085, December 24, 1895.

Will Cummings has enjoyed old equipment shows and museums for many years, and has traveled to most U.S. states and Canadian provinces to see them. He especially enjoys researching old engines built in his home area of Castalia, Ohio. He can be reached at

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