Kewanee Engines

An excerpt from Glenn Karch’s new book: The Kewanee Engine Story

| August / September 2007


Front and back cover of a Kewanee catalog.

Kewanee, Ill., was settled in 1854 according to a painted wall located in the center of town. The city is situated in the southeast corner of agricultural Henry County. The city’s population is now around 13,000, down from around 20,000 during the city’s industrial heyday. During that time, Kewanee Boiler Co. was toward the west side of town and once employed hundreds of workers making various kinds of boilers and tanks.

The company eventually known as Kewanee Water Supply Co. (later Kewanee Private Utilities Co.) began in 1897. A man by the name of Xenophon Caverno started a pump and water supply business selling and installing various units and equipment he obtained from other suppliers. He promoted water supply systems for farms and homes beyond the reach of city utilities.

The 1900 Kewanee City Directory lists a Kewanee Pneumatic Water Supply Co. located in downtown Kewanee at 118 N. Tremont St., with Caverno listed as president. Kewanee Light & Power Co. is also listed at the same address and, again, Caverno is president. He was also an inventor and was awarded several patents, mostly pertaining to pumps or water system regulators. He was awarded a design patent for the stand Kewanee Type 24 and 25 units rest on.

The 1905 directory lists the Pneumatic Water Supply Co. as manufacturers of pneumatic tanks, automatic regulators, pumps, engines and water works supplies. The business had a new location at the west edge of town facing Franklin Street just south of the CB&Q Railroad. Around 1900, a new two-story brick building about 30-by-70 feet had been erected to house a machine shop and testing room. A large line shaft about 50 feet long with a multitude of pulleys still hangs from the second floor ceiling. On one end of the shaft is a large pulley with a long clutch operating lever, but there is no evidence as to what powered the shaft. Interestingly, this building is just south and across the railroad tracks from Kewanee Boiler Co.

The company’s 1907 catalog used the name Kewanee Water Supply. The catalog has many photos of places using the Kewanee water systems and has mnumerous testimonials from satisfied users. It also shows various pumps, engines and pneumatic tank combinations. All engines and pumps shown are from other manufacturers. The various engines used include Rider-Ericsson, Monitor, National Pump, Cleveland Standard, Olds, Temple and two from an unidentified supplier.

The head of a Kewanee Indian warrior appears frequently in company literature as its trademark. In this catalog there are photos showing water tanks of all sizes scattered around in two large lots. There is no space in the Kewanee buildings where such equipment necessary to cut, roll, stamp or rivet the steel sheet to make these large tanks could have been located. There was also no apparent location suitable for a foundry within the buildings.