Hercules engine News

The Hercules Legacy


| August/September 2003



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Most of us are accustomed to a seemingly endless cycle of businesses that spring up only to die out, merge with another company or change product entirely. It was no different 100 years ago when the Hercules Buggy Co. began production at Evansville, Ind. As opportunities came along, new Hercules enterprises came into being, making the Hercules industrial complex one of the largest in Evansville by the 1920s.

Besides the buggy company, there was a wagon and surry works, a body works, a paint company, a wheel company, a gas engine company, a tractor company, a refrigeration company - and maybe more.

Henry Ford surely impacted the Hercules empire - his cheap Model T Fords helped lead to the demise of Hercules' buggy, surry and wagon works. Ford's success also gave Hercules the opportunity to establish a body works making various body designs that could be mounted on a bare Model T Ford chassis. Sears, Roebuck and Co. gave Hercules the opportunity to enter the gas engine business, and Hercules Gas Engine Co. was formally incorporated in 1912.

As Hercules evolved into newer enterprises, older ones fell to the wayside. For instance, as the horse equipment business faded, so did the need for a wheel company, resulting in that part of the company shutting down. When you look at it, almost all of the Hercules interests were in products that would, over time, become obsolete and no longer wanted by the buying public, and some products never made it to market. The tractor company never produced anything more than a couple of three-wheeled prototypes, and the proposed McCurdy car never made it past an engine on a chassis and a man sitting on a box to drive it.

The Hercules Body Works was spun off, and continued to function until the mid-1950s. From what I've been able to observe, it ended up producing dump truck bodies, and also provided parts and service for Hercules gas engines. The Hercules Body Works was eventually sold to George Caddick, who moved it to Henderson, Ky., renamed it Hercules Manufacturing Co. and began producing refrigerated trucks and trailers. It thrives yet today.

The refrigeration business eventually evolved into Servel Inc., a manufacturer of gas refrigerators. These found their way into homes in areas where electrification had not yet reached, and production of gas refrigerators continued into the mid-1950s, when electrical service was finally available almost everywhere. Bankruptcy put them out of business. It's interesting to note that the same patent used by Servel for the gas refrigerator lives on, found in refrigerators used in motor homes and camping trailers today.