Engine Companies of Lansing

A myriad of early engine companies were born in Lansing, Michigan.

| December/January 2015

  • Olds Motor Vehicle Co. ad
    Ransom E. Olds founded Olds Motor Vehicle Co. in 1897 and REO Motor Car Co. in 1905, setting up Lansing as the auto capital of the world.
    Illustration by Gas Engine Magazine staff
  • 1918 2-1/2 HP A. R. Williams Bulldog engine
    Bates & Edmonds Motor Co. manufactured thousands of engines and sold them through other companies that renamed them, like this 2-1/2 HP 1918 A. R. Williams Bulldog engine.
    Photo courtesy Dennis Rouleau
  • Clarkmobile
    Ads for the Clarkmobile said the 7 HP engine had a 5-inch bore, with spur-style valve gears encased and run in an oil bath. The carburetor was said to be of a special design that allowed the car to go from 5 to 30 miles an hour without changing the gear.
    Illlustration by Gas Engine Magazine staff
  • 1908 2 HP Peerless engine
    Joe Kopp with his rare 1908 2 HP Peerless engine, built by the Peerless Motor Co. of Lansing.
    Photo courtesy Joe Kopp
  • New Way Motor Company ad
    In this 1913 ad, New Way engines are advertised to work with light tractors, cement mixers and other machinery.
    Illustration courtesy Gas Engine Magazine staff
  • New Way Motor Co. plant in Lansing
    Workers doing their business in the New Way Motor Co. plant in Lansing, circa 1915.
    Photo courtesy Gas Engine magazine staff
  • 1-3/4 HP United engine
    This 1-3/4 HP United engine was made by United Engine Company of Lansing, and belongs to Glenn Hoffman.
    Photo courtesy Glenn Hoffman

  • Olds Motor Vehicle Co. ad
  • 1918 2-1/2 HP A. R. Williams Bulldog engine
  • Clarkmobile
  • 1908 2 HP Peerless engine
  • New Way Motor Company ad
  • New Way Motor Co. plant in Lansing
  • 1-3/4 HP United engine

Starting before the advent of the 20th century, Lansing, Michigan, became a center for the manufacture of gasoline engines. Thirty-two companies sprang up over time, for several obvious reasons. It’s 40 miles from Detroit, the center of automobile manufacture. Automobiles needed gasoline engines; so did farmers for their corn shelling or water pumping and other on-farm work. Tractors needed gas engines, too.

Though these companies didn’t, for the most part, provide automobile or tractor engines, the area drew inventors, workers, and other people interested in gasoline engines. And people who were already there, working in other areas, people like E. F. Cooley, of Lansing Wagon Works, who moved on from the manufacture of wagons and buggies, to the bright new future of gas engines.

Lansing, the capital of Michigan, also had stellar railroad service with railroads entering and leaving the city in all four directions, so steel and other products could be brought in overland from Lake Huron or Lake Michigan (Lansing is halfway between those bodies of water) and engines could be taken out.

Additionally, the years of Lansing’s supremacy in gasoline engines were the years of testing. Prior to 1920, the questions for almost all mechanical objects with internal combustion engines were simple: One-cylinder or 2-cylinder? Vertical or horizontal? Water-cooled or air-cooled? With automobiles it was more complicated: Which engines? How many cylinders? How many wheels? With tractors, the same questions were being asked, which was why many different engine companies began their lives.



Lansing companies

Ransom E. Olds most affected the early history of Lansing, Michigan. He founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Co. in 1897, and after he left that company, started REO Motor Car Co. in 1905. These two companies set up Lansing as the auto capital of the world at the time, drawing in construction workers and engine people as well as those who worked in side businesses, like rubber tire manufacture and repair, motoring garb, and so on.

Olds had his finger in a great number of pies in Lansing. He organized or was involved in the Capital National Bank, Michigan National Bank, Michigan Screw Company and Atlas Drop Forge Company in Lansing. He financed Olds Tower, the highest building in Lansing.