Best Known Today for its Unique Carburetor, Hagan Gas Engine and Manufacturing Co. Followed its Own Path on the Road to Engine Manufacturing
A definitive history for the Hagan Gas Engine and Manufacturing Co. is very difficult to construct. Unlike larger engine builders such as International Harvester Corporation, Otto and Fairbanks-Morse, whose companies and records survived many years beyond their engine construction efforts, Hagan was a small, mostly regional player in the engine construction and sales field.
Louis T. and Charles Hagan began their machine shop business in Winchester, Ky. sometime in the late 1800s. While it is not believed they were engaged in the actual construction of engines at their outset, they were already in the engine-rebuilding field by 1891 as evidenced by a surviving shop work list dated Nov. 6, 1891.
The brothers apparently had a 'better idea' as to how engines, and in particular engine carburetion, should be constructed. Their engine construction efforts began sometime in the late 1890s, with evidence that 1898 was their first year of actual engine manufacture. The initial Hagan engines, while similar to Hagan engines seen from time to time at engine shows, contained a carburetor that is unlike the chain drive fuel pump model for which Hagan is best known. The carburetor depicted in their earliest known promotional brochure (see catalog cut on facing page) shows a strange, cylindrical carburetor and a plunger-type fuel pump. Only one carburetor and pump of this style is known to exist. It is owned by Tommy Turner, Magnolia, Ky., and was acquired with the remnants of the Hagan Gas Engine and Manufacturing Co., which were purchased by Turner in 1982.
The chain drive fuel pump/carburetor was patented on June 23, 1903. The carburetor is unique in that it contains a well in which gasoline is allowed to accumulate. A belt driving the carburetor pulls a brass chain; the chain dips into the fuel and pulls fuel along its links, thereby acting as a fuel pump by bringing fuel to the top of the carburetor; and the fuel is then dumped over the end of a slide valve that is used for speed and fuel regulation.
Hagan, unique in its design, used a 'rockshaft' for valve actuation. A double-lobe cam located at the rear of the engine (and driven off the crankshaft) drives rollers located on the end of a shaft, which in turn runs forward to the valves. The valve end of the shaft has actuating arms operating directly on the valve stems. The valves are located at the 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock position (looking directly at the end of the cylinder). As the cam lobes contact one roller of the rockshaft and then the other, the shaft simply 'rocks' back and forth between the valves, controlling both intake and exhaust. At a time when most stationary gas engines utilized atmospheric intake valves, a mechanically operated intake was quite progressive in design.
Hagan was awarded first prize as the most efficient and outstanding engine at the Atlanta Exposition at the turn of the century. Outside of its regional sales in Kentucky Hagan's main distribution was in Florida. The J.P. Campbell Co. of Jacksonville, Fla., sold many Hagan engines in that area. In fact, Campbell actually tagged Hagan engines with its own company tag stating 'J.P. Campbell, Jacksonville, Fla.' One such engine is known to exist, a 2 HP owned by Turner.
Hagan used an alphabetical system to differentiate between sizes. The Size A was rated at 2 HP, B at 3.5 HP, C at 6 HP, D at 9 HP (later at 10), E at 14 HP and F at 25 HP. Hagan also built two-, three- and four-cylinder engines, which were multiple cylinders identical to a single-cylinder but mounted on a common base. Three two-cylinder Hagans are known to exist. A DD (20 HP), an EE (30 HP) and an FF (50 HP). No three- or four-cylinder Hagans are known to exist.
Inner workings of the Hagan carburetor as shown in a drawing from a Hagan catalog. The chain bringing fuel up to the carburetor is clearly shown, as is the adjustable governor for the carburetor. Engine speed is set with the speed screw on the upper left of the unit, which in turn acts on the carburetor governor, essentially making it a speed set, volume-governed engine.
Hagan was one of the first engine manufacturers to enable dual-fuel carburetion. By use on an ingenious valve that could be added to the carburetor, Hagan engines could be switched from gasoline to natural gas without ever missing a power stroke of the engine. Hagan also cut keyways at 45-degree angles (found on all but the earliest examples of Hagan engines) rather than the more common square cut. The angled keyways proved to be a very good engineering practice. Hagan connecting rods were tapered down from the center of the rod to each end. The weakest portion of the rod, if everything else is equal, is that furthest from the bearing surfaces. By making the center of the rod larger than the ends, Hagan connecting rods proved to be very strong and durable.
Hagan engines were headless and all joints were ground to fit. Therefore, no packing or gaskets were used on their engines. All bearings were fitted with automatic grease cups, which meant Hagan engines could be started and run for extensive periods of time without a necessary lubrication shutdown.
While Hagan had ideas of merit, their salesmanship apparently was lacking. Hagan never produced more than a few thousand engines, and according to a few of the original workers (now deceased) peak production was some time around 1910 to the early teens. Just as Henry Ford's Model T was enjoying success, basically unchanged for many years, Hagan engines produced from the early part of the century until production ceased in the late teens remained essentially the same. Nearly all were tank-cooled, with three examples of hopper-cooled engines remaining. Sadly, the success of Henry's T was never realized by Hagan.
Several theories exist about the demise of the Hagan Gas Engine and Manufacturing Co. One, and probably the most likely, is that Hagan simply did not change with the times. While its engines were high quality, they still could not compete with the simplicity and low cost of the Hercules-built products or other, similar mass producers. Hagan and many other small manufacturers simply could not overcome the established sales networks of IHC, Fairbanks-Morse and others.
Hagan s veiled attempt to keep pace with competitors also possibly caused the company financial troubles. Hagan introduced a single-cylinder tractor mounted on a Morton-type truck. Very few were produced, and only one is known to exist. Hagan's design using a chain for fuel pickup made it very important to have the engine level and stationary. If it wasn't, the chain would end up dragging on the side of the carburetor well, resulting in fuel pulling off the chain before the chain reached the slide valve at the top. The tractor, with its swaying, rocking motion, especially over rough Kentucky ground, proved to be a terrible runner, with fuel delivery being very inefficient in such an environment. Hagan also engineered a multi-cylinder tractor, which used one large drive wheel. An experimental model was apparently built, but on the first test run it became stuck in the soil due to the great amount of weight concentrated in one spot. Nothing more is heard from their tractor construction effort.
Financial problems of another type possibly helped bring the Hagan brothers' shop to a close. The Hagans were of German descent and apparently had numerous family members in their native homeland. It is rumored that the Hagan company was commissioned to build war materials during WW I and that the company balked rather than be involved in a conflict with their homeland. Mo factual evidence is available to support this claim. However, it is very conceivable that some of the financiers of the Hagan enterprises were family or acquaintances from Germany, and further that issues centering around WW I eliminated the flow of funds necessary to maintain the operation. In any event, the Hagan Gas Engine and Manufacturing Co. was sold around 1918 to Saunier Brothers Iron Works of Lexington, Ky. The story of Hagan engines does not end here, however.
Saunier Brothers was primarily a metal work fabricator. It is not believed they ever entered the foundry business, but possibly contracted for this work to be done. The inventory of parts and materials from Hagan also provided a ready supply of materials necessary to continue to construct engines. Saunier Brothers rebuilt, repaired and assembled Hagan engines for the next few years. One mail order house, Banks Miller Supply Co., listed Hagan engines for sale as late as 1925. From the artwork provided in the catalog, the engine was virtually unchanged from those built a quarter century earlier. Nothing is found on the company after this date.
For the most part, Hagan Gas Engine and Manufacturing Co. remained silent for many years. Engine enthusiasts periodically visited the Saunier Brothers Iron Works (which remains in business today) to try to find remnants of the former company. Once in a while an engine part or Hagan related item would turn up.
Saunier Brothers is a compilation of several aging turn of the century buildings, and in 1982 Tommy Turner was given permission by the owner to search each building for materials and parts related to Hagan. Many of the areas he had access to had not been open for public inspection in over half a century. The search turned up a wealth of Hagan parts, over 1,000 original shop drawings and original Hagan patterns. Sadly, Turner learned that only four years earlier one building containing hundreds of the original patterns had been cleared by one of the employees, with the majority of the patterns used for firewood. The employee spoke of one piece in particular that was a large wheel about five feet in diameter with big spokes (presumably a flywheel pattern). He said it took longer for him to chop it into stove-length pieces than it did to burn. Considering how dry the 90-year-old wood must have been, this is not surprising.
In 1983 Turner purchased the Hagan Gas Engine and Manufacturing Co. materials from Saunier Brothers for $200. In all, four pickup truck loads of parts, patterns, drawings and Hagan related items were salvaged.
About 50 Hagan engines are known to exist, ranging from one example of a salesmen's sample to the large 50 HP twin-cylinder. Turner would like to start a registry of Hagan engines, so if you have a Hagan or know of one, please mail or e-mail any information and, if possible, a photograph on any Hagan engine.
Contact engine enthusiast Tommy Turner at: 1174 Upton Road, Magnolia, KY 42748, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org