Montgomery Ward & Co. Battled Sears, Roebuck & Co. for Engine Eminence in the Mail Order Catalog Industry
During the Great Depression large corporations began to dominate the landscape of America's commerce as smaller companies increasingly folded under disastrous economic forces. Times were hard for the average American, and companies that could produce durable goods at low prices successfully jockeyed themselves ahead of the competition. Against this competitive backdrop both Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward & Co. became almost synonymous with home appliances as they respectively grew to gargantuan proportions selling a wide array of goods through catalog mail order.
Sears would eventually win the mail order wars, but in the 1930s the two retail giants were still nearly equal in size, and their buying and selling power was enormous. Intense competition kept prices low, which was exactly what the average American needed in those Depression days when each and every penny counted. Most American families received both catalogs, and centrally positioned in those catalogs were a wide array of gasoline engines.
Montgomery Ward sold water-hopper engines under its own Sattley brand name, in part manufactured by Nelson Bros. Co., Saginaw, Mich. From 1932 to 1936 Nelson Co. also produced all of Montgomery Ward's air-cooled engines.
Montgomery Ward was proud of these engines and called them its Aero-Type Sattley gasoline engines. With horsepower ratings of 3/4, 1-1/2 and 3, they all used a cast iron base to hold the gasoline and oil. They were equipped with a fuel pump, and also an oil pump to lubricate the connecting rod.
These upright Aero-Type Sattleys all used flyball-type governors and incorporated the magneto into the flywheel.
The smaller 3/4 HP Sattley, rated at 1,750 rpm, used a kick-start and overhead valves. From 1932 through 1934, this engine used a Maytag-type flywheel and magneto, but didn't use an air shroud. A flat belt pulley was attached to the flywheel and a V-belt pulley was set on the kick-start side. In 1935 and 1936, this engine changed to incorporate a normal flywheel and a sheet metal shroud. The horsepower rating remained the same. The small 3/4 HP Sattley had a bore and stroke of 2-1/4 inches (9 cubic inches).
Both the 1-1/2 and 3 HP engines used a 2-3/4- inch bore and a 3-1/4-inch stroke (19 cubic inches). During the five years it was offered on the market, the 1-1/2 HP crank-start engine was rated 1 HP at 1,200 rpm and 1-3/4 HP at 1,750 rpm. Sold by Montgomery Ward in 1935 and 1936, the 3 HP engine also was crank-started. It used a higher compression ratio and a larger venturi carburetor, and was rated at 1,800 to 2,600 rpm. The 3 HP Sattley's cast aluminum air shroud completely covered the head and cylinder, and the shroud had slots for ventilation that gave it a streamlined appearance.
The Sattley engines' shipping weights were 70, 115 and 150 pounds respectively. Apparently, the 1-1/2 and 3 HP engines eventually changed to heavier flywheels, but prices remained respectively stable from 1932 to 1935 at approximately $37.50, $44 and $54.25. All prices increased 10 percent in 1936. The 3 HP engine's price tag, for example, jumped from $54.25 to $59.95.
In the spring of 1937, the Montgomery Ward catalog listed all of the air-cooled engines that Wisconsin then produced. The 1937 and 1938 Montgomery Ward catalogs show six single-cylinder, air-cooled Wisconsin engines, each looking slightly taller than the preceding one. The picture is deceptive, however.
By Montgomery Ward's own measurements, the two smallest engines (1 and 2 HP) were 18-3/4 inches in height, the middle two engines (3 and 4 HP) were 20-5/16 inches in height, and the two largest engines (5 and 7 HP) were 24-3/8 inches in height. Their physical size did not increase proportionately with horsepower change. Rather, physical engine size changed depending on which class of horsepower an engine occupied - two sizes in each class.
In 1939, Ward began using the familiar two-letter designation for each model that Wisconsin had produced since 1931 (see chart below). Prices remained relatively stable through 1941, with the AA selling for $45.85 in 1937 and the AH selling for $124.50 the same year. The AA's shipping weight was 90 pounds, and the AH's was 215 pounds.
The four largest Wisconsin-built one-cylinder, air-cooled engines sported air-vane governors, but when Wisconsin changed to flyweight governors in 1942, an 'H' was added to the model name. These newly revamped engines became models ADH, AEH, AFH and AHH. In that same year, Montgomery Ward - along with the rest of the engine industry -emphasized peak horsepower ratings. With Wisconsin's change in compression and carburetors, the AEH was rated as 6 HP at 2,600 rpm (the AE was 4 HP at 1,750 rpm), and the AHH was rated at 9-1/4 HP at 2,200 to 2,400 rpm (the AH was 7 HP at 1,750 rpm). Prices increased by 15 percent in 1942 because of the impending war. That year, for instance, the AA sold for $56.95 and the AHH sold for $139.95.
Wisconsin engines used two letters to designate bore size and horsepower:
AA: 2-1/4 inches
AB: 2-1/2 inches
AC: 2-5/8 inches
AD: 2-3/4 inches
AE: 3 inches
AF: 3-1/4 inches
AG: 3-1/2 inches
AH: 3-5/8 inches
*The only Wisconsin with a 2-5/8-inch bore was the 70-cubic-inch Model AC4 inline four-cylinder, air-cooled engine. It was rated 12 HP at 1,750 rpm and 16 HP at 2,600 rpm. The Model AG, with a 3-1/2-inch bore and 6 HP, wasn't listed in the general catalog, but it was available on special order.
These were all industrial-strength engines, made with tapered roller bearings on each end of the crankshaft and equipped with separate magnetos. For that reason, it's surprising these engines were priced cheaper than Briggs & Stratton engines built for Sears. In 1938, for example, Montgomery Ward's 4 HP (23 cubic inches) AE sold for $80.95, while a Sears Model X with the same cubic inch and horsepower rating sold for $82.95. The situation remained pretty much the same in 1941: Montgomery Ward's 6 HP AEH sold for $91.95, and the Sears' similarly rated Model Z sold for $96.50.
In 1937 Montgomery Ward chose an engine made by the Hummer Manufacturing Co. of Springfield, Ill., for its smallest engine offering. The Hummer-made engine had a bore of 2-1/8 inches and a stroke of 1-3/4 inches (6.2 cubic inches). Power output was 5/8 HP at 1,750 rpm, but the little engine produced 4/5 HP at 2,300 rpm. The little Hummer engine was unusual in a couple of respects. First, the magneto wasn't located under the flywheel as with most small engines, but drove off the crankshaft's power take-off end. Second, it was one of the few engines that turned counterclockwise when viewed at the flywheel.
Montgomery Ward only used the Hummer engine in 1937. At $27.95, the manufacturer possibly couldn't continue production at such a low price. Montgomery Ward's rival, Sears, had been selling similarly small engines made by Briggs & Stratton starting in 1933, and by 1936 Sears was selling its 1/2 HP Briggs' Model L washing machine engine with base for $35.95. Sears reduced that price to $33.95 by 1937, possibly due to fierce competition between Sears and Montgomery Ward since the latter preferred to under-price its competitor. Although Montgomery Ward appeared to have a comfortable margin despite the discontinuation of the Hummer engine, competition would soon become very tight.
Montgomery Ward's smallest engine offering in 1938 was built by John Lauson Manufacturing Co., New Holstein, Wis. With a 2-inch bore and a 1-7/8-inch stroke (5.9 cubic inches), it was rated 5/8 HP at 1,750 rpm and 9/10 HP at 2,300 rpm. This engine had many good features: ball bearings on both ends of the crankshaft, an oil pump, a magneto under the flywheel and a flyweight mechanical governor. Best of all, the Lauson-made engine only weighed 31 pounds (total shipping weight of 33 pounds) and sold for $27.95.
Sears made moves to stay competitive with Montgomery Ward, selling the new and smaller 1/2 HP (at 2,300 rpm) Briggs & Stratton Model WM engine. This new engine (with a separate gas tank) was designed for washing machine service and sold for $27.95. The Briggs-made engine's shipping weight was 40 pounds.
Competition was getting too close, so for 1939 Montgomery Ward introduced the Lauson-built RLC. Priced at $24.49, it was rated 1/2 HP at 1,750 rpm or 5/8 HP at 2,400 rpm, and it had a 1-3/4-inch bore and a 1-7/8-inch stroke (4.5 cubic inches). The addition of a kick-starter bolstered the many good features already noted, but the RLC also used a suction carburetor and had a rectangular gas tank mounted on the front of the air shroud. All RLC engines have four bolts in the head.
The back cover of the March 1996 Gas Engine Magazine shows four views of a restored Lauson RLC in color. Read with a magnifying glass, the engine's tag appears to indicate it's a Montgomery Ward engine. I own one of these, and all the ones I've seen carry the Montgomery Ward label. The color is given as bright orange, but all of the Lauson-built engines I've seen look orange with some red mixed in.
In 1939 Montgomery Ward also released the Model RSC. Rated at 5/8 HP at 1,750 rpm and 1 HP at 2,400 rpm, it had a 2-inch bore and 1-7/8-inch stroke (5.9 cubic inches). This model also sported the kick-starter and it sold for $31.89. Shipping weight for both the RLC and RSC was 40 pounds and 42 pounds, respectively.
Montgomery Ward also sold a special RSC without a governor and fitted it with a larger oil pump and a high-speed Tillotson carburetor. This special RSC had a six-bolt head, and by 1940 peak horsepower reached 1-4/5 at 4,800 rpm. The actual weight was 27 pounds, and it sold for $34.95.
By 1940, Montgomery Ward was also selling a larger Lauson-built engine with a bore and stroke of 2-1/4 inches (9 cubic inches), and an increased horsepower of 2-1/4 at 3,400 rpm. This engine had all the good features of previous models, but at 60 pounds its shipping weight was a little heavier, and the price was a little higher at $51.89. These four Lauson-built engines continued in Montgomery Ward's line-up, but the average price increased by about 22 percent by 1942.
Sears was still selling the little Briggs-made engine (4.5 cubic inches) in 1939, but now with a cast iron base with a base-bolted gas tank. No frills were found on this basic engine: no kick start, no oil pump and an airvane governor. The price was $22.95, but was increased to $23.40 in 1940 and $23.90 in 1941. Montgomery Ward, in turn, reduced the price of its little RLC to $23.89 to compete with Sears, undercutting Sears by 1 cent! The following year, Sears replaced this Briggs engine with a Briggs & Stratton Model U that sold for $31.90.
Looking to broaden its market, in 1938 Montgomery Ward began selling Continental water-cooled engines in models ranging from 15 to 165 HP. A 15 HP water-cooled Continental, complete with clutch and power take-off, was $249.50. In 1941 Montgomery Ward began selling the first of Wisconsin's V4 engines. The 92-cubic-inch VE4 produced 20 HP at 2,200 rpm and was available with an electric starter. Montgomery Ward listed it for $214.50 in its Spring/Summer 1941 catalog.
By 1941 the retail giant also sold Hercules gasoline and diesel engines, as well as Atlas diesel engines. The catalog aptly summed up Montgomery Ward's reasoning: 'Wards can furnish any type of industrial engine made - from 6 to 169 HP.'
Water hopper-equipped, slow-speed engines were also still being sold in this time period, and Montgomery Ward also did well with its sales of electric-generating power plants. A small 1937 catalog advertised them, highlighting an Onan-made air-cooled engine on the front cover. Onan air-cooled engines powered many of their electric plants, and Onan's larger two-and four-cylinder water-cooled engines were used, as well.
After World War II, some adjustments to Montgomery Ward's engine catalog inevitably had to be made. The first adjustment was to sign a contract with the Clinton Engine Co. to supply the catalog company's small, air-cooled engines. Many more decisions had to be made in the search for success in post-World War II America, but the continual struggle between the two largest mail order firms ultimately took a toll on Montgomery Ward. That, however, is part of the rest of the story about Montgomery Ward, which will be told at another time.
Contact engine enthusiast Kenneth Scales at 2601 Shadybrook Way, Oklahoma City, OK 73141; (405) 769-4171; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org