The Forgotten King Engine of Southeast Kansas
Although no known engines or photographs of his engines have been found, Ulysses S. King held several patents, printed catalogues, had sketches of his engines in a few newspaper advertisements, and, according to the local papers, made a good quality engine.
During the turn of the 20th century – as well-established Kansas City engine manufacturers such as Weber, Bauer, and Witte were producing their engines – several now forgotten southeast Kansas engines were being produced a hundred miles to the south. The most prolific of the manufacturers was Ulysses S. King (often referred to as U.S.), who was likely drawn to the area by the zinc and lead mining industry.
King was born in Iowa in 1866, and appears to have moved to the Parsons, Kansas, area by 1884. A 1900 news article noted his 20 years of experience “working at the bench,” which would put the beginning of his career as a machinist somewhere around 1880. King spent the early years of his career as a machinist in the zinc and lead mines of the tristate mining district of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. He received at least some of his education as a machinist in Manhattan, Kansas, where he began classes in 1890. The early to mid-1890s were spent in Joplin, Missouri, where he began experimenting with gas engines around 1894 and was a “well-known machinist” of the Joplin Foundry & Machine Works by February 1896.
Mention of King is next found during mid-April 1898 in a story noting plans by King and his partner, J.H. Jackson, to erect a foundry and machine shop at Midland, Kansas – an apparently short lived company town about three miles west of Cherokee, Kansas – to manufacture dynamos, gas engines, and diamond drills. They were also expected to put in the machinery at the zinc works at that location and build the tipple to the coal shaft.
Those plans seem to have failed, as four months later plans were announced that King was the patentee of an engine, one of which was already at the Pittsburg, Kansas, foundry, that he would have manufactured in that town. Although several of King’s patents have been found, one has not been found this early. It may be that a patent was applied for and not received. Shortly after that announcement, King sold what may have been his first engine, rated at 2hp, to the Pittsburg Daily Tribune. That engine ran successfully for the three following years, until the Tribune closed its doors.
The King-Goodman Company
The specifics of the arrangement with the Pittsburg Machine and Foundry aren’t known, but several articles would appear during 1899 that note King as a machinist setting mining equipment as a representative of the company. By the end of the year, King was noted as making plans for the new King Gas Engine Company in Pittsburg whose castings would be made at the Pittsburg Foundry.
When the new company opened its doors in January 1900 as the King-Goodman Company, it had a planned product – gas engines ranging in size from 1-1/2hp to 10hp. The King engine was unique in that “the old center crank has given place to the side crank, thus reducing the liability to spring.” By mid-February, the company reportedly already had several orders and was working on a 7hp engine that was to run a one-ton refrigeration unit at Stanton’s Meat Market in Pittsburg. During April 1900, the company received an order for an engine to be installed at the Pittsburg City Hall (the engine apparently wasn’t the council’s choice as they had it replaced with a 3hp motor in October 1901).
Business was good enough that by May 1900, King needed a larger facility, and he began talking with the citizens of nearby Cherokee, Kansas, about relocating the factory to that location, with a $1,000 bonus being offered by the town if the factory were to locate there. In mid-June, as King was considering the move to Cherokee, the company shipped 4hp engines to the cities of Cherokee and Burlington to power the heating and ventilating equipment in the schools of those cities. At that time an additional engine of unknown size was also shipped to a George T. Kniveton. The company began to move into its new 40-by-69-foot building in Cherokee during the second week of July, reportedly two months behind on engine orders. By the end of August they “employed about fifteen or twenty men.” Additional employees were needed but difficult to find due to a housing shortage.
King-Goodman Foundry & Machine Company
About mid-December 1900, Goodman left the company to move to Oklahoma Territory. King kept the old partnership name as he reorganized as the King-Goodman Foundry & Machine Company with himself as secretary and superintendent, G.W. Pye as vice president and treasurer, and W.E. Turkington as president and general manager. The new company was to manufacture “mining and smelting machinery, King gas and gasoline engines, King locomotives for underground haulage, and general founders and machinists.” A conflicting story in The Iron Age listed King as consulting engineer.
Toward the end of March 1902, King signed a contract with the city of El Reno, Oklahoma, to supply several engines, including two 70hp engines, and other machinery for that city’s water system. A court case over ownership of the water works seems to have prevented the improvements, as no additional information about those engines has been found.
Gas City, Kansas
About the fall of 1903, King once again began looking for a new factory site. By June of 1904, the company was referred to as being from Gas City, Kansas, located just a couple miles east of Iola, Kansas. Stories of the new factory began showing up in the newspapers in July 1904 while the new King Gas Engine Company was being organized, but construction of the 50-by-80-foot factory would not be complete until November, and operations did not begin until January 9, 1905. The new plant was located just south of the Gas City city limits, on a 300-foot wide strip of land between the parallel Missouri, Kansas and Texas, and Missouri Pacific railways (nothing is left of the factory building, although the parallel railroad rights-of-way and what may have been an old gas well can still be seen).
Planned products of the factory included gas engines from 5hp to 250hp (initially the plant was only capable of building engines up to 25hp), 5hp and 10hp examples of which would power the factory, and the gas locomotive that King had invented. The first month of operations was spent making necessary tools, with engine building finally beginning in February. The castings for the engines were made by the United Iron Works of Iola, which had been formed in June 1903 from several area foundries, including Pittsburg Foundry and Machine.
From the time the Gas City plant opened in 1904 until October 1906, there were several stories about the large backorder and of engines being shipped and delivered. By May 2, 1905, two carloads of engines had been completed and were ready for shipment. By the fall of 1906, there were reportedly 15 to 20 engines operating in the Iola area, including the following:
- Watkins Creamery 12hp, 2-cylinder
- E.K. Taylor Manufacturing 25hp, 2-cylinder
- E.K. Taylor Manufacturing 5hp, single cylinder
- L. Krupp 5hp, single cylinder
- Horton Concrete Co. 5hp, single cylinder
- Allen County Democrat 5hp, single cylinder
- Hunt Engineering Co. 5hp, single cylinder
- Yates Center 5hp, single cylinder
- Claiborne Milling 40hp, 3-cylinder
- L. A. Mosher of Burlington 5hp, single cylinder
At the time, the company was also opening a sales office in Kansas City and preparing advertising. During August 1905, the Allen County Democrat printed 5,000 copies of a catalogue of the engines, using pictures that had been taken that June by the Miller Photo Company of Iola.
Trouble in Gas City
As production was getting into full swing during June 1905, King resigned as secretary of the company while still maintaining his position as superintendent, claiming that both positions were too much for one man. However, by mid-December, he had left the company entirely and was working as a machinist and pattern maker at United Iron Works, although he did remain a stockholder of the engine company.
In late August 1906, King filed suit against the management of the firm, charging insolvency and mismanagement, and requested a receiver be appointed. On October 18, an agreement was reached between King and the company directors that would suspend litigation by appointing G. Edward Davis as general manager, increasing the capital of the company from $60,000 to $100,000, and reorganizing the company. Mr. Davis had made many fine claims about his capabilities but turned out to be a liar, leaving the area on company business and never returning. After Davis’ exit, a receiver for the company was appointed on December 22, 1906.
With the death of King Gas Engine Company at Gas City, King was once again looking for a location to manufacture his engine. With statehood on the horizon, Oklahoma looked pretty good. The October 4, 1907, edition of the Muskogee Times-Democrat announced that King and a partner had purchased the Reeves Machine Company of Muskogee and planned to incorporate the Union Machine and Foundry. The foundry did start up, but King must have decided conditions were unfavorable as by mid-January 1908 the foundry had been leased to other men.
Ardmore Foundry Bridge and Machine Company
In early March 1908, after the Muskogee plans fell through, King was relocating to Ardmore, Oklahoma, where his engines were to be manufactured at the soon-to-open Ardmore Foundry Bridge and Machine Company. King was to be employed at the foundry, which began operations on May 5, as the head of the pattern making department. King would always have a reminder of his time at Ardmore after he cut one of the fingers of his left hand off while working at a band saw in early June.
A contract for the first three engines to be made at the foundry was closed toward the end of May. As the November 28, 1908, Ardmore Statesman would later note, the engines were available in 1- to 3-cylinder, 3hp to 300hp sizes, and it was claimed the engine “has the best regulation of the mixture of gas and air before entering the engine of any machine on the market.”
As with previous companies that King organized or had agreements with, initial reports from the foundry painted a rosy picture. However, as had happened repeatedly in the past, the foundry was soon in trouble. An indication of trouble first appeared when the foundry was among those listed in a suit filed the first day of September 1908, by the First National Bank over promissory notes for the land that the foundry was located on. Several stories from early September noted a change in management of the company, the new manager quoted as saying, “The foundry was now on its feet again after having been buffeted around and being knocked and mismanaged and that clear skies were ahead and plain sailing was in sight.” The local papers again painted a rosy picture of conditions at the foundry, with several department heads, including King, given credit for the improvements.
The company whittled away at its debt through the remainder of the year, then requested a tax exemption from the city in January 1909. Although the company continued to receive reportedly large contracts for work, it wasn’t enough to save it. On June 8th, the company was placed in receivership.
Although it seems he had worked very hard to prevent it, King’s plans had once again fallen through.
As the Ardmore foundry was placed into receivership and the equipment was sold off, King was on the move again, arriving in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, by November 1909 and going to work for the Sapulpa Iron Works. He soon found Sapulpa wasn’t the place for him either, staying only until sometime after January 1911.
King Engineering Company
By the end of May 1912, he is found in Tulsa advertising the King Engineering Company. King finally found a location that suited him, and he remained in Tulsa for the rest of his life, except for an attempt to locate a plant at Cherryvale, Kansas, for a brief period in early 1919. King received a patent for a new engine in late 1916, and he tried to generate interest in a factory to build the engine at Cherryvale during February and March 1919.
The Tulsa newspapers didn’t provide stories of local businesses like the early small-town newspapers did, and after the failed 1919 attempt to open the Cherryvale factory King is not mentioned again until the announcement of another new engine design in October 1923.
Like his other engines, the new three-cylinder engine announced during 1923 was reversible. The announcement described several features of the engine:
“The new engine, which will be known as the Three Cylinder King Hydro-Carbon Motor, instead being of the one cylinder type, which is generally used in power work, has three cylinders. The effect of this change, according to the King engineers is to give much greater flexibility and control, and to permit careful and accurate handling of speed. It will enable the drilling crew to get the necessary high speed which is required for bailing and pulling tools, but can as well be regulated to the exceeding slow and absolutely controlled speed which is necessary for fishing.
The designers say that the engine will operate equally well on either natural gas or gasoline. When using natural gas it will require 7,000 cubic feet for each 24 hours, and when using gasoline it will need but 45 gallons per full day. No change in the engine is necessary in order to change from gas to gasoline or vice versa.
The engine weighs but 12,000 pounds and is supplied with a truck so that it can be readily moved from one job to another.”
After the announcement of the new engine in October 1923, King, like his engines, seems to have fallen off the edge of the earth. More than one U.S. King was kicking around, so it’s not definite that mentions of a U.S. King, which do not note his engines, are of the right person. It is possible he went into the oil business for a time and he could also be the U.S. King who moved from Holdenville, Oklahoma, to Seminole, Oklahoma, during the fall of 1929. He is listed in the 1930 census living in Tulsa with his wife and son Paul with no occupation given, and he is likely the U.S. King who died in Tulsa on May 13, 1933, and was buried in the Tulsa cemetery.
The following sources were used in researching this article: Allen County Democrat, Tulsa Tribune, Ardmore Morning Democrat, The Iron Age, Daily Ardmoreite of Ardmore, Daily Ardmoreite, Allen County Democrat, Muskogee Times-Democrat, Ardmore Statesman, Kansas Derrick, and Daily Ardmoreite.
Greg Kendall is a civil engineer living in Ottawa, Kansas, with his wife. He primarily collects and is interested in the Union Giant, Warner, and Ottawa engines, but also enjoys researching other engines made in his area. He has been collecting for a relatively short time, and is still learning a lot from friends who are long-time gas engine enthusiasts. Contact Greg at 785-242-5730 or 785-304-3326, or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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