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Unanswered Bessemer Gas Engine Questions

Unique Bessemer Gas Engine Co. oil field engine provides many questions without any answers.

| December/January 2014

  • The Bessemer OD oil engine.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • The immense factory of the Bessemer Gas Engine Co. in 1920, with the small inset showing it in 1900.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • The Bessemer Type IV oil engine.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • The Bessemer OD gas engine with a high bar KW magneto and hot tube.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • Harold F. Shepherd’s patent for the OD’s vaporizer, patent number 1,466,346.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • Reid Wellman’s 20 HP OD Bessemer with the starting plug removed and the flame against the bottom of the mercury pot.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • The Bessemer OD’s bizarre floating crosshead.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • Simple Type IV Bessemer oil engine.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • The lighter and more complicated Bessemer Model OD oil engine.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey
  • Reid Wellman’s beautifully restored OD.
    Photo Courtesy Paul Harvey

The Mysterious OD was a most unique oil engine built by the Bessemer Gas Engine Company of Grove City, Pa., named the Model OD. Nothing else was quite like it. But before discussing the engine, I would like to look at the history of Bessemer. We know the Bessemers as sturdy 2-cycle oil field engines that are still relatively common. But where did that name come from and what did it mean?

In 1896, Dr. Edwin J. Fithian, of Portersville, Pa., applied for a patent of a 2-cycle gas cylinder that could convert a steam engine into a gas engine. This was very successful and the “half-breed” engine was born. He soon teamed with John Carruthers, an excellent machinist and manager, to keep up with the demand. Not long after, a complete 2-cycle gas engine was also being manufactured. The new firm chose the name Bessemer Gas Engine Co. for their growing factory.

At this time, the steel industry was expanding in Pittsburgh, with the addition of the new Bessemer converter to make consistently high-quality steel. This was designed by Sir Henry Bessemer, 1813-1898, an English inventor who designed his process in 1856. To feed Pittsburgh’s appetite for iron ore, the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad was formed. The northern terminal was Conneaut, Ohio, where the lake boats could discharge their cargos of iron ore with the huge Hulett unloaders directly into the railroad cars. This railroad still exists today.

So with the name of Bessemer being synonymous with success and progress, why not use it for the new firm? It seems that the growing engine maker did just that. Note that this connection is the author’s supposition and not documented fact. With the oil boom in that era and the demand for quality engines, the business grew. They were always securing new markets and making improved design changes. After many mergers, Bessemer still exists today, although no longer in Grove City, Pa. Bessemer merged with G. & C. Cooper of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, in 1929 to form Cooper-Bessemer. The name was changed to Cooper Industries in 1965. Today, they are the Compression Systems part of Cameron International Corp., based in Houston, Texas.

In about 1915 Bessemer Gas Engine Co. entered the oil engine market with the Type IV oil engine. These were very durable and simple, 2-cycle, intermediate compression pressure oil engines using a very sensitive inertia governor. They are considered “semi-diesels,” as the compression pressure is about 250 psi so they need an external heat source to start. When under load, the external torch can be extinguished. This is very similar to the glow plugs used today in some automotive diesels. The Type IV was built in larger sizes and included the 180 HP twin-cylinder model weighing 12 tons.

So now we get back to the Mysterious OD. About the same time the company introduced the Type IV oil engine, the firm apparently saw the need to build a smaller but high-quality oil engine. The OD appeared in about 1916 and was not well received, so production ended in about 1925. In retrospect, this was a very high quality engine with features to be described, but probably was too expensive to build when the Type IV could do the same task. It appears to have been only in the 15 HP to 35 HP sizes.


Gas Engine Magazine A_M 16Gas Engine Magazine is your best source for tractor and stationary gas engine information.  Subscribe and connect with more than 23,000 other gas engine collectors and build your knowledge, share your passion and search for parts, in the publication written by and for gas engine enthusiasts! Gas Engine Magazine brings you: restoration stories, company histories, and technical advice. Plus our Flywheel Forum column helps answer your engine inquiries!

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