A Buck’s Worth of Information

By Staff

234 E. Greene Street Waynesburg, PA 15370

While looking over the truckloads of stuff for sale in the flea
market at the recent Portland, Indiana engine show, I found and
bought a book for the sum of one dollar. The thing that is
surprising is finding something in that flea market for a buck! And
what a find! The book is over two inches thick, 1469 pages, and the
title is Biennial Census of Manufacturers, 1925.

You and I are interested in old engines. We know where to hunt
them, how to fix them, and enjoy showing them, and probably to some
extent telling tales about the ones that got away. In my dollar
book I have found an interesting view of the industry that made
them.

There were in 1925 thirty two establishments making internal
combustion engines (for farm use), stationary and portable, of less
than five HP. They made 155,469 engines and placed an average value
of $50.68 on each of them! Thirty-four companies made five to ten
HP engines, 20,925 of them at $ 119.40. Only 24 companies built 10
to 20 HP engines, 6,021 of them at $333.11. Would I love to find a
warehouse full of those at those prices!

There were 33 companies building wheeled gas tractors and they
built just over 158,000 that year at $524.51 each. Seven companies
built tracked tractors, 6,060 of them at $2,878.05. There were
still seven companies building steam traction engines. They report
building 97 that year and they cost $5,312.39 each!

Here there is an oddity in the reported figures, for though the
traction engine manufacturers report building the above number of
engines at the above prices they also report that they sold 200
engines during the same period at an average sale price of just
$2,595.30 per unit!

To enable us to bring these prices into reality we must dig a
bit deeper into the book. There were 51,099 wage earners engaged in
the manufacture of the engines; average weekly wage was $27.69.
This means that to be able to buy one of those five HP or less
engines that cost $50.68 a man would have to work 1.83 weeks. Now
today it is not uncommon to make $400 per week and for such an
earner that engine would cost $732.10. But that $2,600 traction
engine would cost $4,749.39 or almost three years and four months
work!

In ’25 there were a total of 220 companies engaged in the
manufacture of engines (both steam and internal combustion) and
water wheels for all purposes. These companies had 59,394 wage
earners employed. This number had fallen steadily from 1914, the
earliest figure given in the book, when there were 446 companies.
While the number of companies had fallen by just over 50%, the
value of their output had risen from just over 72 million to 313.5
million, an increase of just over 335%.

A list by state of the number of companies that manufactured
engines (steam and/or internal combustion) for farm and industrial
use follows:

CALIF

11

CONN

13

ILL

17

IOWA

5

MASS

6

MICH

22

MINN

8

KAN

3

LOUISIANA

1

MARYLAND

1

NEBRASKA

2

TEXAS

1

NEW JERSEY

8

NEW YORK

19

OHIO

28

PENN

23

WASH

4

WISCONSIN

4

DELAWARE

1

KENTUCKY

3

MAINE

2

MISSOURI

6

TENN

1

WEST VA

1

Michigan, largest producer of engines, was also the largest
producer of tractors and traction engines, but my home state of
Pennsylvania was the largest producer of steam engines (not
including traction engines).

All in all, I would say that I found quite an interesting
snapshot of what the industry that interests us all so much looked
like at that time. A buck well spent.

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