A Brief History of The Chamberlain Machine Works

By Staff
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Modern day Chamberlain logo.
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Andrew Mark Chamberlain
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Dan Powers' 1 HP 'Miss Simplicity'
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Floyd L. Chamberlain.
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Dan Powers' 1 HP 'Miss Simplicity'
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Rope belt used on large cream separator.
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1920 Franklin Street, Waterloo, Iowa 50703. 

Chamberlain Machine Works was founded by Andrew Mark
Chamberlain, who was born February 24, 1855, in Dover, Illinois.
Mr. Chamberlain’s father was Mark Andrew Chamberlain, who
married Mary Bartholomew. Dr. M. A. Chamberlain, a physician, came
to Iowa in 1859, and settled in Winthrop, where he died in 1905.
Andrew Mark Chamberlain grew up in Winthrop and ran a general store
with his brother and father. About 1889, A. M. Chamberlain built
the second creamery in Iowa, in Winthrop. He later owned and
operated a number of creameries at various points in this state,
and became known as the best butter maker in Iowa. The first
creamery in Iowa was started by John Froe-lich in Froelich, Iowa,
about 1885 (Froelich is located at the junction of 18 & 52,
between McGregor and Monona.) The third Iowa creamery business
operator was Leonard Johial Powers in Powersville, about 1892,
later in Nashua. All three of these men relocated to Waterloo, and
went into business. Froelich brought the gas traction engine to
Waterloo in 1892, and after an unsuccessful attempt at
manufacturing relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota where he
manufactured washing machines and other items.

Powers located in Waterloo in 1902, to manufacture horse
collars, and the business he started is still in operation
today.

Chamberlain is credited as one of the prominent figures in the
development of the cream separator industry in Iowa, and located in
Waterloo in 1898. He married Ida Almina Pulis, of Winthrop, a woman
with whom he had two children; Floyd L., and Marjorie. Chamberlain
and son Floyd established themselves in Waterloo in 1898, as
traveling salesmen of creamery supplies.

A little history of cream separators here is important. The
discovery that centrifugal force would separate cream from milk
belongs to an obscure German chemist in the late 1850’s. He
died without knowing that his discovery would revolutionize
dairying methods. Also a Danish horse doctor named Jensen
experimented along these same avenues. It was a German engineer,
Lefeldt, working on this idea starting about 1874, who was able to
put together a machine in 1877. Lefeldt’s machine was a large
separator that would spin only 800 rpm, and was to be used by
creameries.

The continuous cream separator was invented several years
later-the first one was a Danish-Weston, made by Neilson &.
Petersen. Others followed like the DeLeval, Lefeldt, Fesca, and
others; all were European inventions, and imported into this
country. By 1885, these companies were getting their products made
in America because of import duties.

In 1896, Mr. Irv Moody of Nashua, Iowa, began to investigate the
possibilities of introducing hand crank separators for sale to his
creamery customers. Instead of the farmer hauling his milk to the
creamery, he would separate the cream from the milk himself. The
dairy press investigated this new idea and glowingly reported that
several hundred had already been sold around Nashua- and Mr.
Moody’s idea was a success. The Creamery Journal (a monthly)
was the largest magazine printed for the dairy industry, and it was
located in Waterloo at 181-183 Bridge Street, and published by Fred
L. Kimbal. He started publishing the journal about 1894, and was
instrumental in getting the National Dairy Cattle Congress to
locate in Waterloo in 1910 (N.D.C.C’s last year in Waterloo was
1970; when they relocated to Wisconsin). The ‘Iowa’
separator was established in Waterloo in 1898, and became part of
the Associated Line with W. W. Marsh, president-treasurer, C. E.
Dailey, vice-president, and H. B. Plumb, manager. For years I have
heard that Associated sold cream separators to Sears, so I printed
a 1928 Sears ad. The Economy Gas Engine was supposed to have been
made by Associated in Waterloo also. I have also seen it written
that the Chamberlains were involved with the Peerless Cream
Separator Co. of Waterloo, but this may not be entirely true. More
about that later.

In 1900, A. M. Chamberlain was involved with the American
Creamery Supply, at 21 E. 5th St., with Warren Cranston, president,
Andrew M. Chamberlain, vice-president, and N. W. Gales,
secretary-treasurer. Floyd was a traveling agent for the Iowa Skirt
Co. and ‘ lived at home with his parents at 216 Maple. This old
brown Victorian house is still standing and well worth a drive by
if you are ever in the neighborhood. In 1904-1905, the Waterloo
Cream Separator Company was located at 817-819 Sycamore with J. R.
McCoy, president, J. D. Lamb, vice-president, and A. M.
Chamberlain, secretary-treasurer. In 1906, the Waterloo Cream
Separator Co. was at 2nd and Water with no Chamberlains on the
board or at least listed. This was the Peerless Cream Separator Co.
location. In 1905, Andrew & Floyd Chamberlain started up the
Creamery Supply Co. at 407 Sycamore, their primary product being
rope belts used in powering cream separators. They were also known
locally as the Waterloo Rope Belt Company. In 1906 the name was
changed to Chamberlain Machine Works, and they remained at 407
Sycamore.

The building was described as ‘L’ shaped, three stories
tall, with about 20,000 sq. ft. of floor space. There were thirty
employees at first and this number grew to seventy in about a year.
Everyone was busy making rope belts, repair parts for foreign and
domestic cream separators, and warehousing catalog items for
shipment. They were also overhauling used separators for resale.
Pump jacks and feed grinders may have been manufactured here also.
The owners were listed as A. M. Chamberlain, president, F. L.
Chamberlain, vice-president, &. L. M. Taylor,
secretary-treasurer.

The Chamberlains did a jobbing business all over the country and
had a seventy page catalog of various items relating to the farm
and creamery business. This catalog numbered 80,000 mailed
annually. About 1908 or 1909, C. B. (Sandy) McManus located in
Waterloo and was listed as president of the Peerless Cream
Separator Company located at 117 E. 2nd Street. McManus was a very
big businessman, based in several states. By 1911′, he owned
Peerless and was also secretary-treasurer of Associated Mfg. By
1912, Sandy McManus was manufacturing at different locations in
Waterloo and other states: cream separators, gas engines under the
name ‘Sandow’, and feed mills, while Chamberlain Machine
Works marketed the same items, under a different name.

In 1912-1913, Chamberlain Machine Works also operated another
business called the Twentieth Century Gas Machine Company at 146
Rath Street. I believe this company produced a small home acetylene
plant for lights and cooking in both city and farm homes. Andrew
Chamberlain was also vice-president of the Automatic Air Pump Co.
with offices located in 321 Lafayette Bldg. in Waterloo. No other
officers listed or information available.  

Andrew M. Chamberlain died March 31, 1913. Ownership of the
company in 1914 became: Floyd Chamberlain, president, Ida
(Andrew’s widow), vice-president, C. M. Sherill, secretary, and
Marjorie (Floyd’s sister), treasurer. The Chamberlain Machine
Works remained at 407 Sycamore; this was, however, the last year of
the Twentieth Century Gas Machine Co. and/or Automatic Pump Co.

It was in 1913, maybe 1912, that the National Gas Engine Company
was formed in Waterloo, with G. W. Dickinson, president, C. C.
Butler, vice-president, treasurer and manager, and W. H. Scheel,
secretary, located in the 2600 blk. of E. 4th Street. Across the
tracks from the National Gas Engine Co. was the John T. Handt
Tractor Company which was formed about 1912 with C. C. Butler
vice-president. About 1914-1915, the company became the Interstate
Tractor Company. One of Sandy McManus’ men by the name of J. M.
Brearton ran this factory.

By 1915, the National Gas Engine Co. was not listed so Floyd
Chamberlain could have taken it over to manufacture gas engines for
sale in his national catalog.

William Galloway would go bankrupt about 1916-1917, and a C. E.
Butler would run this company until about 1952. It is unknown if C.
C. Butler was any relation to C. E. Butler; probably was. Mr.
William Galloway had several businesses in Blackhawk County and
remained in business in these his entire life.

Because there was a satellite address for the Chamberlain
Machine Works at 506 Center Street, there is a possibility the
engines were machined at the Iowa Gas Engine Co. at 207-209 Center
and warehoused three blocks away. In any event Frank Bouck told me
that during World War I the gas engine production was sold to Ideal
Gas Engine Company in Independence, Iowa, when munitions production
was started. It is unknown how long engines were produced by
Chamberlain in Waterloo, but some of the Miss Simplicity engines
still sat on the factory floor in 1920. Frank Bouck remembers a few
of the Interstate Tractors still sitting around in 1920, though
somewhat stripped.

By 1915, Chamberlain no longer needed the 321 Lafayette Bldg.
address, so the Sheldon Gas Engine Co. was using it with Mr.
Sheldon, president, W. L. Richardson, vice-president, and Lillian
M. Hileman, secretary. They did not need a factory since what they
sold was a contract engine, and was probably from the same place
that Chamberlain was getting their engines, at the National Gas
Engine Company at first, and later from the Ideal Gas Engine
Company in Independence, Iowa.

By 1918, William M. Sheldon joined the company and the offices
were moved to a warehouse at 170-172 W. 2nd St. In 1922, Mr.
Sheldon had the Sheldon Engine and Sales Co., and the Central
Warehouse and Transfer Co. In 1925, the Sheldons were sharing their
building with a new business: Waterloo Mills, an off shoot of the
Waterloo Cedar Falls Union Mills which ceased operations in 1920.
The Sheldon Gas Engine Company ceased all operations by 1928.
 

The photographs of the Chamberlain Gas Engine are of a 1? HP
‘Miss Simplicity’ owned by Dan Powers in Boone, Iowa. He
purchased it from Glen Lauver of Lake View, Iowa, in 1972. Mr.
Powers told me that the ignitor on this engine came from Associated
Mfg., so it is possible that all Chamberlain Gas Engines had
Associated ignitors. The Interstate Tractor information came from
Keith Oltrogge of Denver, Iowa. What you have been reading may be
confusing, but I was trying to document the similarities and
possible connections between these different companies and show how
business was done in the early years in Waterloo.

After World War I, Chamberlain Machine Works moved out on E. 4th
Street into the National Gas Engine Company building, and
maintained the 407 Sycamore location as a warehouse until it was
razed in the late 1930’s. In 1920, there was a fire that
completely destroyed the factory on E. 4th Street.

While a new building was being built, Chamberlain customers were
going elsewhere, and the company had to start from scratch when the
factory was rebuilt. This led to washing machine wringers as a new
product line. After the factory was opened the manufacture of
Pressed Metal Clothes Wringers went into production with the
‘Klean Quick’ washing machine company in Cedar Falls,
buying twelve at a time. By 1923, Automatic in Newton, Iowa, was
buying 3000 wringers a year. I believe there was another washing
machine manufacturer in Dubuque named Minute-Man also getting their
wringers from Chamberlain.

In these years everyone called Ida Chamberlain ‘Granny’
as she still was working around the office. Rope belts were still
being made by hand with Louie Blazdel doing the work. Jimmy
Thompson was still balancing’ cream separator bowls (cones),
also manually. This was done by spinning the cone to about 6000
rpm’ and marking the heavy (high) side with a pencil. The cone
was stopped and 180 degrees from the mark on the inside of the cone
a small piece of solder was placed. When the correct amount of
solder was used it was then melted in place with a torch. Being on
the inside of the cone, centrifugal force would not throw it off at
high speed.

Floyd Chamberlain credited Frank Bouck with saving the company
by finding a defective rivet job during a lunch break on a shipment
of wringers. Had they been shipped it could have resulted in a
cancelled contract and disaster for the company. The banner year
for wringers at Chamberlain was in 1929.

Chamberlain made parts and repaired cream separators, both
domestic and foreign, until World War II. The rope belts were
gradually replaced by flat belts of leather and canvas held
together with metal lacing.  

With the introduction of large tanks to haul milk in bulk, the
cream separator went to the wayside. It was about this time that
Sears also cancelled their contracts with Associated, and they
closed down. Only C. E. Butler of Galloway made a cream separator
after World War II, and he also closed for good about 1952.

It was the R.E.A. bringing electricity to the farm that halted
gas engine production in America because electric motors replaced
the gas engines by the later 1930’s. In 1929, the Chamberlain
Machine Works name was changed to the Chamberlain Corporation. In
addition to wringers they were also making home ironers.

Floyd Chamberlain sold his interests in the Chamberlain
Corporation in 1934, to the American Wringer Company located in
Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

Floyd L. Chamberlain died in 1939.

This article covers the first forty-five years of Chamberlain
history. The next forty-five years, or more, of Chamberlain history
has been put together by the company and is better explained by
them than by me.

The Chamberlain name in Waterloo’s industrial history is the
second oldest surviving name in the city.

Chamberlain Logo

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