A Brief History of Gray Marine Engines

Max F. Homfeld shares a Gray family manuscript about the history of this Detroit company.

| February/March 1993

  • GEM_V20_I1_Jan_1985_03a-1.jpg
    A Gray Motor Co. engine, as identified by C.H. Wendel in the January/February 1985 issue of Gas Engine Magazine. 
    Courtesy of G.F. Harvey

  • GEM_V20_I1_Jan_1985_03a-1.jpg

Having lived in the Detroit area for many years where Gray marine engines were built, I had respect for the Gray Marine Motor Company. However, I knew little of its history. That changed when I acquired a copy of a history of that company written by the son of the founder. The document is an unpublished manuscript written by John W. Mulford in 1961. It runs to 41 pages, single-spaced. Actually, it is a family history as well as a company history. Like other such documents, it may contain some family traditions and some recollections that are not entirely correct. Until 1941 when he took his father's place at Gray, John W. Mulford operated a printing business.

O. J. Mulford was born in Monroe, Michigan in 1868. A few years later the family moved, first to Indiana, then to Stanton, Michigan. The father was a lumberman, and lumber was still being cut in the great pine forests of northern Michigan. As a boy, O. J. Mulford began to learn the printing trade, working in a print shop in Stanton. He continued in school after the family moved to Detroit and worked in a commercial printing shop part time. He then acquired a print shop of his own.

After a bout with meningitis, he went to live with an uncle in California. There he worked as a printer and developed a business of street car advertising. Back in Detroit, he started his own street car advertising business as well as an advertising agency. He also acquired a lifelong love of boats.

About 1890,O. J. Mulford with a W. A. Punge and a Mr. Seymour, a yacht designer, formed the Michigan Yacht and Power Company, bought a building in Detroit where the Naval Armory now stands, and began building small power boats. That same year they became distributors or perhaps exclusive agents for the Sintz gasoline marine engine built in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Undoubtedly it was one of the best marine engines available during those pioneer times. In 1901 or 1902, according to the manuscript, they purchased the Sintz company and moved it to Detroit.

Larry Mahan of Marstons Mills, Massachusetts has a collection of Sintz information, including stock ownership records. In 1900, O. J. Mulford owned just one share of stock in the Sintz Gas Engine Company. In 1901, when the Sintz company was moved to Detroit, Mulford owned 1300 shares and W. A. Punge (see above) was the largest shareholder with 3481 shares. Several prominent Grand Rapids people still owned considerable stock, including many of the early Sintz owners. He mentioned that by 1894 the Sintz family no longer had a financial interest in the company. Clark Sintz had sold his interest; he and his son Claude founded Wolverine Motor Works. Larry Mahan states that the Sintz Gas Engine Company was absorbed into Michigan Yacht and Power Company late in 1903. The Sintz Gas Engine Company ceased to exist. In 1903, W. A. Punge was building automobiles at the boat factory.

Returning to the manuscript story, Mulford sold his interest in the Michigan Yacht and Power Company late in 1905. That was the year that the Gray Marine Motor Company was formed with O. J. Mulford, president, Paul Gray, vice-president, and David Gray, secretary-treasurer. Paul and David Gray were sons of a banker, John Gray. They began with a line of single-cylinder two-cycle designs and then expanded into other engines. They developed a four cylinder four-cycle engine with the automotive market in mind.


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