History of Snow Steam Pump Works

A history of the Snow Steam Pump Works of Buffalo, New York.


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Drawing of a Worthington pump. It is said that it was in operation for 30 years.

Drawing of Henry Worthington's first direct-acting steam pump. It is said that it was in operation for 30 years.

Photo courtesy John Harvey

In the August/September 2014 issue of Gas Engine Magazine, we brought you the story of the Coolspring Power Museum’s efforts to acquire, move and restore a 1917 600 HP Snow gas compressing engine. The 20-year project ended with the dedication and successful operation of the Snow gas engine. Below, Coolspring Power Museum founder Paul Harvey gives a thorough background on the Snow Steam Pump Works.

Wanna see the Snow at work? Go to our Old Iron Videos blog to see the 600 HP Snow start up, run and shutdown.

Our story unfolds in 1840, when a 23-year-old Henry Worthington became interested in steam boats on the Erie Canal in New York. Already a hydraulic engineer, he noticed that while boats waited to get through the locks and the main engines were not operating, the boiler feed water pumps had to be operated by hand to keep the boilers filled. Believing that he could solve this problem, he invented a simple reciprocating steam pump that operated automatically to keep the boilers filled to the desired pressure.

In 1845, he joined William Barker and formed Worthington and Barker, located in Brooklyn, New York, to manufacture these pumps. It is of note that Worthington pumps were used on the Union's ironclad steamship Monitor in the Civil War. Henry died in 1881 and his son, Charles C. Worthington, then 27, took over the company. He was very aggressive, expanded the business and soon became very wealthy.

The duplex steam pump is such a wonderfully simple yet magnificently practical invention. Having no rotating parts, it consists of two steam cylinders providing the power to two pumping cylinders with each power and pump piston mounted on a common piston rod. When one cylinder acts, it triggers a steam valve that then operates the other cylinder, which then acts on a valve to again operate the first cylinder. As the fluid discharge pressure equals the steam pressure, the pump simply stops; it begins again when discharge pressure lowers. There is a restored Worthington steam pump operating in the Coolspring Power Museum's Pump House. Many of these steam pumps are still manufactured and in use today. The Disney steamboat Liberty Belle in Orlando, Florida, uses two of them to keep its boilers full!

Over the ensuing years, the steam pump business flourished as they were adapted to many uses. Municipal water works found these pumps very dependable and they were made in huge sizes to meet the demand. Many persons entered the steam pump business. In 1889, James H. Snow and Daniel O'Day, former employees of National Transit Co. of Oil City, Pennsylvania, formed the Snow Steam Pump Works in Buffalo, New York. This seemed a perfect location, with Lake Erie and the Erie Canal nearby demanding pumps for their vessels. For their plant superintendent, they hired a gentleman from Worthington who brought many of those designs with him. The firm prospered. In 1896, Snow built a huge high duty vertical triple expanding steam pump for the Indianapolis, Indiana, water company. This huge pump had a 5-foot stroke and operated at 21 RPM producing 775 HP and delivering 20 million gallons of water per day.