Phil pitt 20 Buckner Avenue Hicksville, New York 11801
The Wonder Manufacturing Company of Syracuse, New York was formally incorporated April 6, 1909 at 10:18 a.m.
The stated business of this firm was to manufacture 'gasoline, kerosene and steam engines of all kinds, motors and dynamos, motor boats, making and repairing of automobiles and dealers in all kinds of electrical and motor boat supplies; also manufacturers of a coal mining machine' 1.
Incorporation documents list the directors as William D. Boyle, George T. Hurd and Bertha C. Cornwell.
Bertha C. Cornwell (nee Bertha Coon), was married to Ray Merton Cornwell February 27, 1897 in Marcellus, a suburb of Syracuse. It is with this union that the story of this firm unfolds.
Ray Merton Cornwell, better known as R.M. Cornwell, was born in 1875 in Cayuga County, New York. Mr. Cornwell appears to have been a man of multiple talents. He was a farmer in his early life and later operated a barber shop.2
His first venture into the retail/manufacturing world appears to have occurred between 1899 and 1900 with the founding of the R.M. Cornwell Company. This firm was listed in the Syracuse directories, from 1901 through 1906, as 'Jobbers in all kinds of electrical supplies including fans, motors, arc lamps and incandescent lamps.'
At this time Cornwell also began his career in the automobile business by selling Loco mobile steam cars. He immediately expanded into the gasoline powered era by becoming an agent for Oldsmobile, Winton, Pope Toledo and Franklin automobiles.3 He holds the distinction of being the first automobile dealer in Syracuse to sell gasoline motor cars.4 His shop also sold the Baker Electric vehicle.
In 1903, possibly as a publicity stunt, R. M. Cornwell is said to have established a speed record for the four cylinder air cooled Franklin.3
The Wonder engine's origin preceded the incorporation of the firm which bore its name, by approximately four years. The first appearance of 'Wonder' gasoline engines was an R.M. Cornwell Company advertisement in the August 1905 issue of Gas Power.5 It claimed their engines could 'furnish more power for less money than any other engine on the market.' It further stated that they manufactured engines for marine and stationary use up to five horse power. In the editor's section of this issue it was pointed out that the R.M. Cornwell Company also made the Wonder alternator and Wonder dynamo.
The ads for August 1905 through November 1905 pictured a vertical one cylinder engine connected to a cooling tank. This rig was described as a two cycle jump spark design.
The September 1905 issue of Gas Power also provided an illustration of a Wonder two cylinder marine engine. This engine was headless with detachable cylinders. A water pump appeared to be externally driven from a crank shaft gear. Both cylinders had drip oilers.
A December 1905 ad stated the engine line was expanded to offer a 6 HP model in both single and double cylinder configurations. The engine shown in this ad was a single cylinder with reversing gear. It also appeared to be headless.
In the March 1906 issue a 1.5 HP Wonder engine is shown operating a cream separator and churn. The engine is pictured with an external cooling tank. A satisfied customer is quoted as saying 'It is so simple that my wife can operate it.'
A July 1906 ad in Gas Power illustrated the Wonder Lighting outfit which was manufactured in sizes from 6 to 100 lamps (a lamp being equivalent to 16 c.p.). This rig was a one cylinder configuration belted to a generator.
On August 31, 1906 a Syracuse newspaper article noted that the Cornwell Manufacturing Company (this was the first and last mention of 'Cornwell Manufacturing' versus the R.M. Cornwell Company), was receiving orders for more gasoline engines than they could produce.6
In spite of this glowing report, the last advertisement for the R.M. Cornwell Company appeared in the October 1906 issue of Gas Power. This was followed by a petition for voluntary bankruptcy in December of that year.7
In 1907 the Syracuse directory listed the Wonder Manufacturing Company (manufacturers of gasoline engines), with Ray M. Cornwell as proprietor. The address given was 249 Tallman Street and not the South Salina Street location of the R.M. Cornwell Company.
The first advertisement for Wonder Manufacturing appeared in the June 1907 issue of Gas Power. This ad only mentioned marine engines which were available in 1.5 to 30 HP models. The ad pictured a two cylinder model with separate heads, a piston water pump and drip oilers on the cylinders. This ad ran through August and then mysteriously stopped.
An advertisement in the March 1910 issue of Motorboat magazine pictured a 10 HP two-cylinder marine gasoline engine with a slightly different design than that shown in the August 1907 Gas Power ad.8 In addition to a subtle change in the crankcase configuration, this illustration also shows piping exiting from the cylinder heads. Apparently Wonder had employed two different water jacket designs on their marine engines. One design incorporated a split water jacket (for port and starboard sides of the cylinder). Water would enter the port jacket from the pump flange and the starboard jacket from a connection external to the pump. The cooling water exited from the head. My single cylinder 3 HP (s/n 3366), has a one jacket configuration with water entering on the starboard and exiting the port side. I have spoken to a collector in Massachusetts who has a single with the split jacket design (s/n 2592). It could not be determined which is the earlier construction.
This ad claimed there were over 3000 Wonder marine engines throughout the United States and were available in 2 to 75 HP and two to four cylinders.
The five HP single cylinder sold for $75, the two cylinder 10 HP for $200 and the 3-cylinder 15 HP for $300. All engines came with a five year guarantee and an optional time payment plan.
It is further noted that the 1910-1916 ads, unlike earlier ones, do not show a drip oiler on the cylinders.
The horizontal stationary engine in the photo, owned by Wisconsin collector Gary Pegelow, has Wonder Manufacturing marked on the hopper. This example adds credence to the fact that Wonder made both stationary and marine engines.
Ray Cornwell continued to list himself as proprietor until the firm incorporated in 1909, at which time he took the title of manager. He maintained that title until 1916, when he returned to automobile sales by becoming an agent for Crow-Elkhart.3
Aside from the following there is little known regarding the corporate officers of Wonder. Bertha Cornwell was the majority stock holder and president1. William D. Boyle was treasurer as well as director from 1909 until 1910. Previous to this position he was a self-employed machinist. The Syracuse directories listed Charles D. Borst as corporate secretary from 1909 to 1918. His previous experience appeared to be bookkeeping. When Wonder closed he took a position at Ray Cornwell's automobile dealership as a service manager. Biographical information regarding George T. Hurd could not be located.
The actual manufacturing period for the Wonder engine can only be deduced from the information presented. The R.M. Cornwell Company's first advertisement in August 1905 and the directory listing of Wonder Manufacturing through 1918 would place production between the years 1905 and 1918.
An unverified note in the Onondaga Historical Association files reports that Ray Cornwell's widow (his second wife; Bertha had predeceased him), stated that the company was sold to the King Brothers of Syracuse, New York, in 1918.
The King Brothers were also successors to Barber Brothers, another engine manufacturer.
It could not be verified if Wonder Manufacturing ever manufactured motor boats, automobiles, steam engines and a coal mining machine, as stated in the incorporation papers. One can only assume that these were the never attained aspirations of a pioneer in the fledgling world of 20th century manufacturing.
The following people and institutions gave me generous assistance in the preparation of this article: Gary Pegelow, Jack Crawford and Tracy Brewer (fellow collectors); The Onondaga Historical Association, The Antique Boat Museum of Clayton, New York, and the Mariners Museum of Newport News, Virginia.
1. Incorporation instrument on file in the Onondaga County Clerk's Office.
2. Post Standard obituary 9/22/49.
3. Post Standard interview with R.M. Cornwell dated 2/17/17.
4. News article in the Syracuse Journal dated 12/14/22.
5.Gas Power magazine, St. Joseph, Michigan.
6. News article in the Elbridge Citizen.
7. News article in the Marcellus Observer dated 12/14/06.
8. Motor Boat Publishing, New York City.