Brilliant Tradition

By Staff
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Chris Johnson (1909-2000) was one of the founders and first president of the Stephenson County Antique Engine Club. Chris, who had worked in several departments at Stover and loved Stover engines, brought many new faces into the engine hobby. Chris is see
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This illustration shows the various Stover factory buildings and sites. Many of these buildings are still standing and will be included in the Stover
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Built in 1901, this is the last major factory complex built by Stover. Windmills and farm machinery were the principal products made in this building. Some engine foundry work may have been done at this location. Stover closed this plant in 1942 and the b
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Stover’s first major factory complex built in 1872 and closed in 1926. Many windmills were built at this location and a bicycle factory was added in 1890. Later, Stover engines would be manufactured at this location. The Pecatonica River can be seen
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The test room at Stover Engine Works. Stover tested all their engines and kept files by serial number on each engine’s performance. Note the adapters on the crankshafts of the engines and the load device on the far right engine.
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The Stover Motor Car Co. was one of Stover’s independent companies that didn't last long. Local historians used to think that Stover built this factory to build automobile engines, but recent literature doesn't totally support that theory. This is a
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Daniel C. Stover (1838-1908) was a brilliant
man in at least two fields of endeavor: inventing and
manufacturing. As a mechanical inventor, he had over 100 patents
when he died. At the end of his life, he was the richest person in
Freeport, Ill. Stover built an industrial empire that encompassed
11 different manufacturing companies. Starting with Stover
Experimental Works and ending with Stover Steel Tank Co., his
empire spanned over 100 years. During that time, Stover brought
jobs and prosperity to Freeport and shipped products all over the
world. Daniel Stover was also involved in local politics and served
as a bank president.

At 22 years of age he started a manufacturing company in Lanark,
Ill., making agricultural products for the local trade industry. He
moved his business to Freeport in 1866 and established the Stover
Experimental Works. Stover initially rented small factory buildings
around town but his business was so good that by 1872 he built a
large factory complex on the banks of the Pecatonica River.

We get glimpses of Stover’s personality by looking at how he
handled his estate. For instance, he cut his son and daughter out
of his will. He was “not satisfied with his son’s business ability
or application.” Stover’s daughter eloped with her local sweetheart
at age 17 without her parent’s permission. His grandchildren had to
wait until 1967, when they were in their 60s and 70s, to collect
the huge estate. Stover’s son and daughter, however, did get an
annual allowance of $2,500 a year with extra monies available from
the estate for emergencies. So they were far from destitute.

The Town

Freeport is an old town in northwest Illinois. Located on the
banks of the Pecatonica River, it was incorporated in 1837. It is
on the busy route between Chicago and the Galena lead mines, which
allowed the village to thrive. Initially Freeport was an
agricultural center but it soon developed an industrial
manufacturing base. After the Civil War, several railroads
converged at Freeport and the town grew fast. Freeport was also
heavy in banking and insurance. The extra capital must have been
good for early industrial development. Many mansions still line the
older residential areas of Freeport.

Stover was proud enough to put his town’s name on almost every
article he manufactured.

The Products

Compared to other engine manufacturers, Stover almost surely had
the most diversified product lines of all. Daniel Stover created a
fortune by inventing and manufacturing everything from agricultural
machinery to everyday household items. In some cases Stover would
sell the product lines or just license the rights to manufacture
those lines. Whatever the case, he was a prolific inventor.

Stover started manufacturing farm equipment for the local trade
but soon expanded into a global market. His biggest early success
was in windmills. He developed the ideal, all-steel windmill, and
by the 1890s was one of the largest windmill manufacturers in the
world. Stover made many of the machines found on the typical farm
of the period. He also built bicycles and invented the coaster
brake. His bicycle business was so successful that he built a large
factory building to fabricate the Phoenix bicycle. This building
would become part of the later engine works. Stover invented barbed
wire, and built and sold machines to make the wire. He built
spring-winding and fence-making machines.

Stover made drill presses and woodworking machines. He even
built a railroad-type motorbus. Stover built a small number of farm
tractors using the large Morton running gear. A few were shipped to
Canada and South America and some were shipped out West.

Stover experimented with a small, lightweight tractor but it
never went into production. Opposite the large tractors, Stover
manufactured small household items: candelabras, waffle irons, ice
crackers, kerosene lamps, stove dampers, registers and a myriad of
other domestic products. The company also made manhole covers.

Stover’s engines were probably his largest success. After his
new engine line was introduced in 1902, his sales climbed quickly.
Stover engines were simple, well-made and reliable. Anyone who has
really worked an early, large Stover engine can tell you how
powerful and easy they are to operate. The early Stover engine was
much simpler than many of its contemporaries.

Stover’s concern for quality was reflected in the way he kept
records. Every engine was tested and the results recorded by serial
number. Test data could be provided to the customer if a question
arose. Stover’s manufacturing and shipping records still exist
today. Stover built over 277,000 engines. He built engines until
the factory doors closed in 1941. The last factory complex was sold
and the machinery dispersed. The only remaining remnant was an
offshoot company that built steel tanks and pressure vessels.

Contact Joe Maurer at: 797 S. Silberman Road, Pearl City, IL
61062; (815) 443-2223; toadhill@aeroinc.net

The Stover Reunion July 28-30, 2006

The Stephenson County Antique Engine Club was
established and held its first threshing show in 1970. Because the
club is based in Freeport, Ill., its motto from the beginning has
been “Home of the Stover Line.” There has always been interest in
Stover engines and with the introduction of the Web, this interest
is shared globally.

A group of Stover enthusiasts and club members had a desire to
give all Stover collectors the opportunity to visit Freeport and
display their Stover treasures. This group, with the support of the
Stephenson County Antique Engine Club, will host a Stover reunion
in 2006. The reunion will be based at the annual Freeport engine
show in July. A true Stover homecoming is planned with attendees
coming from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and
other countries. Attendees will be bringing any and all items
manufactured by Stover. GEM staff will also be present for the
weekend.

Participants will have the opportunity to display their Stover
items in a central location. Security will be provided. There will
be a Friday evening banquet and a Saturday evening factory tour.
Special plaques, buttons, ribbons and a great copy of a metal
Stover hanging sign will be available. Pre-registration is
encouraged. Contact Rich Brubaker at (815) 362-2015 for
registration. Additional information can be obtained from the
club’s website at: www.the freeportshow.com or by calling Curt
Andree at (815) 868-2457.

The Freeport show runs July 28-30.

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines