Remember the Alamo

By Staff
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'Note the similarities between these three engines: From left sits an Alamo, a Rock Island and an Empire gas engine, all built by the Alamo Mfg. Co., Hillsdale, Mich. According to CH. Wendel’s American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, “(Alamo) Blue Line engines of 2 HP were of somewhat different design than the little 1 HP size. The cylinder and water hopper were cast in a single piece with the cylinder bolting to the frame.” Looking closely, you can see the Alamo and Empire engines share the same base, but the Rock Island features the one-piece casting Wendel wrote about. '
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'A photo of Alamo’s main building as it sits today, on the corner of St. Joseph and East South streets. On the arch above the main entrance, the name “Alamo” is still scribed into the concrete. Special thanks to David Holcomb at the County of Hillsdale for supplying us with this photo. '

At the turn of the 20th century a new gas
engine company emerged in Hillsdale, Mich.: the Alamo Mfg. Co.
Alamo began selling their engines around 1900-1901, but made very
few with their own name on them.

Alamo was more interested in manufacturing engines than
marketing them, so they had agents (other gas engine companies)
licensed to put the Alamo name on their engines. This marketing
strategy resulted in making Alamo-built engines very popular. Some
of these “other” gas engine companies included such names as
Empire, Rock Island, Monarch, Lansing and dozens more. In 1917,
Alamo Mfg. Co. adopted the name Alamo Engine Co., and continued to
use that name for the duration of their business days.

The plant included several buildings used for painting, testing,
storage and of course, an office. The Alamo facilities, situated at
the corner of St. Joseph and East South streets, are still standing
today, and still has the company name etched into the concrete
above the main building’s entrance. Since Alamo Engine Co. vacated,
a handful of other companies have occupied the premises – most
recently, American Copper & Brass. Many additions to the
building have been made over the years, making the main building
considerably larger than it was 90 years ago.

Alamo produced a total of 116,000 engines in sizes ranging from
1-1/2 to 120 HP, according to a Hillsdale County historical web
page. Some Hillsdale locals old enough to remember claim that in
their heyday, Alamo employed about 1,500 people.

In the very early 1930s Alamo ceased production and closed their
doors forever. Given this time frame, it’s safe to assume their
demise was due to a struggling economy and newfound technology,
namely the electric motor.

The history of the County of Hillsdale, Mich., can be
accessed via Internet at:
www.hillsdalecounty.info/history0002.asp

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