The Wonder Manufacturing Company of Syracuse, New York

By Staff
1 / 2
E. M. CORNWELL
2 / 2
Wonder stationary engine owned by Gary Pegelow.

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.

Endnotes

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.

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines