Mail Order Mayhem
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
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
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
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
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 Engine Sizes and Their Model Numbers
Wisconsin engines used two letters to designate bore size and
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
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.
Success Meant Diversity
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
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:
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