Oil Field Engine News

Bessemer Beginnings


| June/July 2002



Oil field engines

When I think of popular oil field engines, two engines come to my mind; Reid and the venerable Bessemer. This month, I'd like to present a short history of the founding of the Bessemer Gas Engine Co.

Edwin J. Fithian, generally regarded as the founder of the company, started his career as a medical doctor. Receiving his medical degree in 1892, he established a practice in Portersville, Pa., moving a year later to the nearby village of Harmony.

Several small oil producers were among Fithian's patients, and they often complained they would be forced out of business because of the aging boilers and high maintenance steam systems they had to contend with. 'Being always of a mechanical term of mind,' as Fithian described himself, he wondered if the escaping natural gas at oil wells couldn't be used to power the pumps.

Fithians interest prompted him to join forces with George Willets and his brother, Reuben, in developing an internal combustion engine. In 1897 he purchased the Willets' interest for $900, hired them to continue working for wages, then sold their share to lumberman H. W. Bentle. After several months of experimentation, a 10 HP engine was completed and tested.

Even though an oil well supply company turned down his engine, Fithian lost no confidence in his product. He was impatient to move toward manufacturing oil well pumping engines before someone else captured his intended market. First, however he was forced to repurchase the interest owned by Bentle, who was too discouraged to further pursue the venture.

Searching for a new partner, Fithian contacted machine shop operator John Carruthers, who was experimenting with a similar engine in nearby Callery Junction, Pa. It was a fortunate choice. Fithian was an idea man and Carruthers could turn ideas into productive creations.