The following is a history of United Engine Co., Lansing, Michigan. Compiled by United engine enthusiast Dick Webber, it is the most thorough account we’ve found of United and the engines it sold (it doesn’t appear United ever actually made engines). Its publication here was inspired by the color photocopy of a 1916 four-page United engines brochure sent in by reader Jim Albaitis. Always on the hunt for vintage engine parts (Jim makes reproduction igniters and trips), Jim stumbled across the brochure on eBay. The seller had owned the brochure for 47 years before finally deciding to part with it, and Jim was the lucky bidder. All four pages are reproduced here, including the interior two-page spread.
United began as United Manufacturer’s Assn. and tagged the early engines U.M.A. Tags changed later to United Manufacturers, Lansing, MI. United Manufacturers did not manufacture engines, rather they purchased contract engines from others. Associated Mfg. of Waterloo, Iowa, was the most common and probably the last source. Early United engines originated from Thompson, Waterloo Boy, Nelson Brothers and possibly Field-Brundage.
Engine types as shown on the United tag have been reported as A, B, C, F, H and S. The earliest known United is serial no. 4717, no type listed on tag, and believed sourced from J. Thompson & Sons. C.H. Wendel’s American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 speculates that Gilson could have been the supplier as early as 1911. Engine 4717 appears to be the same as pictured by Wendel on Page 520. Owners question the Gilson connection, insisting that the engine is identical to the Thompson Tiger. Pictures I have seen confirm that. There are three hopper-cooled examples and one air-cooled reported, all 2 hp.
Apparently, the next United offering was Type B. There is one reported example, serial no. 3012. According to Wendel, this engine appeared in 1912. It is pictured on Page 520. I do not know who produced this engine for United, perhaps Field-Brundage.
There is also a Type C United. Wendel refers to Type C and suggests they were supplied by Associated. That engine appears on Page 521 in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 and does not look like an Associated to my untrained eye. In 1993 an owner in the United Kingdom wrote to Gas Engine Magazine to ask about his Type C 2-1/2 hp engine, serial no. 937, posting a picture which suggests Nelson Bros. There are only four reports of Type C engines, three of which are in the U.K.
Type F United engines were sourced from Waterloo Gas Engine Co. and J. Thompson & Sons. Waterloo was the second most common United supplier. Waterloo United serial numbers fit in with regular Waterloo production, just like the other Waterloo contract engines. Reported numbers are well grouped from 36213 (early 1911) to 83928 (mid-1913), which fits with the entry of Associated supplied engines. However, there are three more reports that extend as high as 124314, late 1915, well into the dates of Associated-produced United engines.
Type A United engines were supplied by Associated Mfg., and most parts interchange. United serial numbers are generally not the same as Associated serial numbers, and it is likely that the number assignment plan was conceived by Associated. However, numbers are co-mingled on certain models. Serial numbers for 1-1/2 hp United and 1-1/2 hp Associated Johnny Boy overlap. Similarly, 2-1/4 hp Hired Hand numbers intermingle with 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 hp United hopper-cooled, as do 4 and 6 hp United and Associated. No Associated engines with United tags are reported, but there are several United engines bearing Associated tags. I conclude that Associated sold whatever they had on hand, perhaps including leftover United engines as the end of production neared.
Type H appears on throttle-governed gas/kerosene engines. They were made by Associated and appear to have been sequentially numbered with the same horsepower Type A engines. I believe the dual fuel engines appeared in the later teens.
Type S is quite rare, and a later engine. There are seven reported, one of which has a very unusual hopper. It is believed that Type S was an uprated 4.5 hp engine. Type S was probably introduced in 1924 when the lines were uprated. They are generally equipped with the later two-bolt magneto.
As with Associated engines, United engines are usually seen with battery ignition or the tall four-bolt rotary magneto. The two-bolt magneto appeared around 1924. Webster magnetos appear occasionally. A few four-bolt magnetos have dates stamped on the magnets.
There are a number of examples of United engines with other names. A 1-3/4 hp “Wettlauper” cement mixer engine still bearing the United stencil and four engines tagged Gray-Aldrich of Boston have been reported. Another contract name is G.D. Thorndike Machine Co., with reports of 3 and 5 hp engines. There are seven Acadia engines reported that bear serial numbers and tags from both Acadia and United. Speculation is that Acadia, an established manufacturer of marine engines, bought United to test the stationary engine market, then decided to build their own engines using designs very similar to United. United engines bearing tags from Lunenberg Foundry, Wonder Machinery Co. and George D. Lessig & Sons have also been reported.
According to Wendel, United Manufacturer’s Assn. first appeared in trade publications in January 1911, offering the Thompson Tiger-based model. Wendel states that Type A Associated production began October 1912. My research suggests it might be mid-1913, unless United sourced from both Waterloo and Associated in the same time period. Early United production featured gas tanks located in the engine base after August 1915. The improved “gooseneck” trip was introduced in 1915. Two-bolt magnetos, J-type mixers and horsepower uprating appear about 1924. I have no information on company activity after 1924, and I conclude that by 1927 sales activity had fallen sharply. I have no information establishing the end of the company.
I welcome any comments that will add to the United story. I do not claim to be an expert, just an interested United owner. I’m especially interested in any sales receipts with dates, or advertising materials. If you have information of interest, a United engine to add to the registry or want to talk about (or take issue with) this article, please contact me.
To contact Dick Webber or to view the United engine registry, go to www.augermo.com.