The Kewanee Private Utilities Company


| January/February 1982



Kewanee model 8 farm water pump

The cylinder side of the Kewanee model 8 farm water pump. The pumping piston is in the chamber below the air dome. The round cylinder with the drip oiler is a crosshead. Notice the brass cocks on the pump cylinder for draining purposes.

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 and Italy.

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.