200 S. Spruce Street, Centerville, Indiana 47330
Collectors and restorers of ‘old iron’ often run into
unusual pieces of ancient machinery. Such was our case recently
when we found an old Kewanee model 8 water pump, long abandoned as
the principal water supply on an area farm. We researched this pump
a bit since our only knowledge of the Kewanee Company was from a
listing of farm light plants which mentioned their name. We learned
that the Kewanee Water Supply Company got its start in 1909 in
Kewanee, Illinois and through the inventive genius of Mr. James
Jelinek developed the first farm water pump which pumped both air
and water under pressure to a storage tank, thus making high
pressure water supplies a practical thing.
Kewanee became a highly accepted brand of pump, due to the fact
it was built considerably heavier than the usual run of pumps.
Bearings, shafts, gears and frames were at least 50% heavier than
required. This helped prevent break downs and reduced service.
Bronze, high tensile steel and special alloys were used in place of
brass, cold rolled steel and cast iron.
In 1914 the company changed its name to Kewanee Private
Utilities Company. New products added, in addition to light plants,
were air compressors, hand cranked gasoline pumps and private
sewage disposal systems. Kewanee pumps went all over the world.
Installations appeared in Russia, China, Cuba, Australia, England
In the early 1930s, the pump was redesigned to an enclosed
model, self-lubricating and entirely automatic in operation.
Constant attention became nearly a thing of the past.
The company completed 38 prime and subcontracts for national
defense during World War II. Parts were made for gun turrets,
generators, mines, and similar precision assemblies. The largest
single prime contract was for the M-8 rocket shell which cleared
the beaches for landing of troops in France. So accurate was the
company’s manufacturing processes that a reject level of less
than 1/2 of 1% was realized. The company was purchased by an
elevator company in 1949 but with no knowledge of the pump business
the firm closed in two years.
Our pump was built sometime between 1914 and the redesign of the
early 30s. The photos show the drip oiler with sight feed to keep
the crosshead lubricated, grease cups on main bearings and numerous
brass fittings for draining cylinder and inside chambers. Note the
large flywheel on the end of the worn gear shaft. This gear runs in
oil and drives the large spur gear inside the circular housing.
This gear is on the crank shaft. Just above the gearbox is the
pressure switch. A bronze cylinder is piped with copper tubing to
the pressure tank where pressure causes the piston to rise, taking
with it the large square counterweight. When the weight is fully
raised, a toggle assembly snaps open a set of electrical contacts.
After the pressure drops, the weight causes the arm to drop and the
toggle snaps the contacts closed, thus starting the motor.
Excess oil from the crosshead is collected in a pan which is
drained by a brass cock under the square opening between the
crosshead and pump cylinder. This is a double acting pump, with two
sets of valves. Thus water is pumped by both movements of the
piston resulting in a steady flow of water.
The pressure tank is not shown. It is a huge rivited boiler-like
tank some 3 feet in diameter and 10 feet long. It has a water glass
to show the amount of water in the tank.
We have cleaned the old Kewanee pump, repainted it and polished
the brass fittings. It looks like new. We don’t know if it will
pump water but it operates with its built-in precision and it is
indeed impressive in appearance. The weight is somewhere near 200
pounds, thus backing up the builder’s claim of heavy massive
construction. We hope to take it to a show or two this year.
We would like to acknowledge grateful appreciation for the
assistance of Mr. Robert C. Richards, Sr., president of the
Kewanee, Illinois Historical Association and Mrs. Mary Webb of the
Kewanee Public Library, for their assistance in researching the
Kewanee Private Utilities Company.