508 Bernadette Lane Batavia, Illinois 60510
The Challenge Windmill and Feed-mill Company of Batavia,
Illinois was founded in 1867 by Nelson Burr and Hugh M. Armstrong.
They chose a site along the east bank of the Fox River. Today the
chimney of the foundry still stands with the black fire stones
spelling, CHALLENGE, in the white stone stack. However, the sight
of smoke being expelled from the chimney, a familiar sight to
Batavians for over seventy-five years, has not been seen since the
The first couple of years the company employed only two hands,
but the third year thirty or forty men were employed. This
increase, which continued, was due to many factors, one being that
Nelson Burr had invented a successful grinding surface out of
metal. Many inventors had attempted this, but in failing to do so
had come to the conclusion that the stone grinding wheel could not
On March 10, 1872, the Challenge Company suffered a setback as a
fire spread through the factory causing an estimated $45,000.00
damage. The company was properly insured; however, due to the great
losses suffered by insurance companies that year in the great
Chicago fire, the Challenge Company only received $150.00 on their
claim. (The Chicago fire of 1871 caused 250 deaths and $196 million
in damages.) However, this was not to stop the Challenge Company.
They started the job of rebuilding on an even larger scale while
the ashes of the ruins were still smoldering. On April 24, one
month and 14 days later, the wheels of the factory were again set
to motion. In the early days of the Challenge, on of their strong
points was the ample supply of power received from the Fox River
located at the factory’s west edge. This same company continued
the business until 1882, when a new group of men took over. Among
them was Thomas Snow, who had started with the Challenge in 1870 in
a subordinate capacity. In 1887, Thomas Snow became president of
the Challenge Company and from this time on the Snow family held
control until the sale of the company in the 1940’s.
Thomas Snow was born in Devonshire, England, January 19, 1851.
At two years of age he left his native land in the care of his
parents, Frank and Eliza (Davy) Snow. It was during the voyage that
his mother died at sea. A few months later Thomas was sent back to
England and placed under the care of his grandmother and aunt by
whom he was raised, until age thirteen. He then again crossed the
Atlantic, joined his father and came to Illinois. Stopping in
Aurora, Frank Snow placed his son in public school while he worked
at contracting and building, frequently for the C. B. & Q.
Railroad. In 1867, Thomas and his father moved to Batavia, which
became their permanent home. Thomas, however, did return to Aurora
to complete his education at the Jenning Seminary. He then began
his career with Challenge Company, where he remained until his
sudden and untimely death on April 25, 1903 which occurred on a
business trip to Aurora. At that time not only was Thomas Snow the
president of the Challenge Company, he was mayor of Batavia,
president of the East Batavia school board and president of the
First National Bank of Batavia. He was proprietor of the W. H.
Howell Company of Geneva, Illinois and the Snow Manufacturing
Company of Chicago.
On January 8, 1878, he was married to Mary Thomle of Batavia.
From this marriage Thomas was blessed with five children. Two died
in early childhood. At the time of his death Thomas was survived by
his father, his wife, and three sons, Thomas A., Frank C. and
At the time of his father’s death, Thomas A. stepped in as
president of the Challenge Company with his brother Frank holding
the position of secretary, and Albert as treasurer. Thomas also
served, as his father had, as mayor of Batavia from 1907 to 1909.
In 1917 Frank became president of Challenge and remained in office
until he sold the business to Batavia Metal Products Company on
April 6, 1945 for $325,000.00.
I do not know when the company officially changed from Challenge
Windmill & Feedmill Company to Challenge Company, but from the
newspaper ads it appears to have been in the spring of 1905. This
might be a good time to explain that the Batavia Metal Products
Company, which bought Challenge in 1945, only lasted a few years
and was declared insolvent by its creditors and a referee in
bankruptcy was appointed. Sometime between this and the sale by the
courts, all machinery and inventory was auctioned off, and all the
records and wood patterns are said to have been burned before the
sale. This makes research on the company extremely difficult.
In January of 1901, L. P. Barker & Son completed two new
buildings for the Challenge Company. One of these was to house the
gas engine department. My friend, Tom Campbell, of Zion, Illinois
who collects data on collectors with Challenge engines, informs me
of a 5 HP Challenge serial #39 which was patented November 6, 1900
and installed December 1902. This is the oldest one I know of and
it causes me to feel that Challenge did not manufacture engines
under their name much earlier. I believe these first engines were
tanked cooled, followed by hopper cooled engines the hoppers having
three different shapes over the years and a separate design on the
1 HP and the 1 HP solid flywheel type. Most engines were green with
some of the earlier ones being maroon or red and one style 1 HP
being black. I’m told by Clarence Carlson, who was a gas engine
inspector at Challenge during World War I, that at that time all
engines were green with white or gold stripes and had square
hoppers. He also told me that they then made 1-2-3-5-8 HP engines
at a rate of six engines of each horsepower per day. These engines
were tested by a brake test on the flywheel and a flat scale. I do
not know whether the engines were all numbered in sequence as they
were manufactured, or whether numbering was done by horsepower and
model. I have noted that Challenge catalogs throughout the years
show both hourglass and square hoppers and a square hopper with a
rim on top around the opening. The latter I have never seenit may
have been a fabrication on the printer’s part, but I don’t
believe so. I’m told that Challenge cast hourglass hoppers in
the forties, but these may have been for parts orders (my source
I have been told by collectors that someone in Engineland once
had a list of serial numbers and years of Challenge engines. If
this list does exist, please make it known to the
rest of us! The only way I know of dating Challenges other than
this is by comparing serial numbers to those of engines whose years
when purchased new are known. I have also noticed type and HP
changes in Challenge catalogs, and although most catalogs are not
dated, one can still get a rough idea of dates.
Data From the Catalogs
Challenge Windmill & Feedmill Company General Catalog claims
over 27 years in business (indicating a publishing date of about
1894) and offers 2, 4, 7 and 10 HP horizontal tank cooled
A later C. W. M. & F. M. Co. General Catalog, probably from
about 1903, offers a 1 vertical and 2, 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12 HP
horizontal, all tank cooled engines offered with torch (hot tube)
or battery ignitor.
The cover of Catalog #45 calls the Challenge Company successors
to C. W. M. & F. M. Co., claiming over 36 years in business.
This catalog offers 2, 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12 HP horizontal tank cooled
and 1, 2 , and 4 HP vertical tank cooled.
Catalog #54 offers 2, 3,4,6,9, 12 and 15 HP horizontal, all
ignitor fired by friction mag being either Henricks or Motsinger
Autosparker. 2 to 6 HP offered in hopper or tank cooled. The hopper
is the type with the rim. The 9 to 15 HP is offered only as tank
Catalog #72 offers 1, 1,2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 16 HP horizontal.
The 1 HP has a shape all of its own. The 1 to 6 HP is offered with
hourglass hopper and the 1 to 12 HP can also be had with a square
hopper with the rim, or the 8 to 16 HP is offered in tank
Catalog #82 dated October 1919 offers 1, 3, 5, 8 HP square or
hourglass hopper cooled and states that all engines are equipped
with Wizard Oscillating Magnetos.
Catalog #90 dated June 1, 1925, offers 1, 3, 5, and 8 HP in
square hopper and 3, 5, and 8 HP in hourglass hopper on their
hoisting outfit. It also offers a 1 horsepower solid flywheel
engine. Engine information States that all engines are furnished
with Wico magetos.
Catalog #92 dated April 1, 1929 offers the same product line as
I hope this will help to give a rough idea of age of various