A History of Atlas Engines

A history of Atlas engines written by the late Glenn Karch.


| August/September 2015



Atlas King Bee engine

Keith Kinney’s 1907 4 hp Atlas King Bee.

Photo courtesy Keith Kinney

Regular readers well remember engine enthusiast and Hercules Gas Engine Co. historian Glenn Karch, whose regular installments of Hercules Engine News appeared in Gas Engine Magazine for 14 years. Glenn had a particular interest in Indiana-made engines, including the Atlas Engine Works of Indianapolis, Indiana. Presented here is a history of Atlas written by Glenn before he passed away in 2009. Never published in Gas Engine Magazine, it was recently brought to my attention by Glenn’s good friend Keith Kinney, who maintains Hercules Engines, a website devoted to Glenn’s interest in Hercules products. – Editor

Atlas introduction

The Atlas engine story began for me on Feb. 9, 1974. That is when I spied flywheels through a small woods some two or three miles west of where I live. Naturally, I drove back to the farm to see what was there. Knowing that the farm owner was deceased, I went to see a son of his who lived nearby. He farmed the place now. I traded him two sacks of Pioneer seed corn for the engine, a 2 hp vertical Atlas King Bee engine made by the Atlas Engine Works of Indianapolis, Indiana.

The engine was rusted, but appeared to be complete, with an extra pulley hanging on the top. Being rather new in the gas engine hobby, I had never heard of an Atlas engine before. I sent in a couple of pictures to Gas Engine Magazine along with a short story, and it appeared in the July/August 1975 issue. From that article I received two responses. One was from Ross Steiner near St Louis, Missouri. He had a 4 hp horizontal Atlas King Bee engine. Mine also had the King Bee tag. We corresponded several times, and eventually I visited them. On January 11, 1990, I was able to purchase his Atlas engine. The other response I received told of an 8 hp Atlas King Bee belonging to Gilbert Merry in the state of Washington.

Atlas Engine Works

The three engines mentioned above were the only ones I knew about. Information on them was scarce to nonexistent. Ross Steiner had some information, but it was primarily about the similar but later Krueger-Atlas engines made in San Antonio, Texas. Eventually, I made a trip to Indianapolis to visit museums and libraries to find Atlas information. There was little to find other than the factory location and some brief history notes. There were some steam engine catalogs, but not a word about the gasoline engines.

The company began in 1872 as the Indianapolis Car and Machine Works. Two years later, it was reorganized as the Atlas Works. In 1878 it was again reorganized into the Atlas Engine Works. It was located on 65 acres of land near 19th Street and Columbia Street. 19th Street and Martindale Street is also mentioned. A trip to the area revealed a deteriorating industrial site with some old brick buildings, vacant areas and some metal buildings with not much sign of activity anywhere. I found a note somewhere relating to a rail car lost in the engine works facilities for a week until it was located.

The company built industrial steam engines and prided themselves with being able to provide rather compact, complete units, ready to install. Nowhere is there any reference to the gas engines produced there. The only clue is the tag on the existing gas engines that states, “Atlas Engine Works, Indianapolis, USA.”

davidstigall
7/19/2016 9:08:00 AM

I know where there is an Atlas gas engine sitting in a woods in Richland County, Ohio. You contact me at davidstigall@yahoo.com for info.