THE HISTORY OF GILSON MANUFACTURING COMPANY

By Staff
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5,6,7 and 9 HP model (1926).
2 / 5
1% and 2 HP, style 'U (1917).
3 / 5
A style 'K' portable engine and wood saw attachment from 1907 catalog.
4 / 5
Photo from 1926 Catalog
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The 1907, 4 HP, style 'A' engine.

We thank the Badger Steam and Gas Engine Club, Inc. of Baraboo,
Wisconsin for allowing us to reprint this article. This came from
their Annual Show book 1975. And thanks to Verne W. Kindschi, Route
1, Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin 53578, for submitting it.

As we have done in each of the past years in which we have
published an Annual Showbook, we have again researched an old
Wisconsin Farm Machinery Company. This year we are featuring the
Gilson Manufacturing Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin. After
much inquiring and searching we have obtained the following
information on this company.

Actually, when one hears the name of Gilson, it could be any one
of three different companies. The Gilson we are mainly interested
in is the one that built the gasoline engines.

In 1850 Theodore Gilson, a native of Luxembourg, started a
foundry at Port Washington, a city located on the shore of Lake
Michigan. In association with Nicholas Martin, they built plows
until 1866 when Martin established his own company.

In 1866 the firm was called Theodore Gilson and Son, as his son
had joined the company at an early age. During these years they
built threshing machines and horse powers, as well as improved
models of their plows.

It is interesting to note that in 1897 John Gilson invented the
first adjustable office chair irons. The Gilson Company became very
well known for their chair irons, which they produced under the
name of the Gilson Manufacturing Company. Stockholders in this
company were H. W. Bolens and Boerner Brothers.

In about 1905 they came out with the gasoline engines. Also, in
1905 and 1906 John and J. E. Gilson built several two-cylinder cars
at their plant in Port Washington.

Some years later, the exact year is not known, this company was
known as the Gilson Bolens Manufacturing Company; then in 1914 the
Gilsons sold out to Bolens.

It was during the years of the Gilson Manufacturing Company,
Gilson Bolens, and Bolens Manufacturing Company that they built
gasoline engines. We were not able to find out how many engines
were actually built, or just exactly which dates they were built;
however, from some old production records it would appear that they
built engines from about 1905 until the 1920s. All of the engine
records were destroyed or lost.

Gilson also had a plant in Canada where they built gas engines;
also, it is interesting to know that they had a silo patented which
they built there.

Mr. H. W. Bolens became president and principle owner of the
Bolens Manufacturing Company; at the time of his death in 1944 they
had become the largest producer of office chair irons and one of
the earliest and largest producers of garden tractors. Bolens,
today, is still a large producer of lawn and garden tractors, etc.
They are now a Division of Food Machinery Corporation where they
are still building the equipment at Port Washington.

After the Gilsons sold out to Bolens in 1914, they formed the J.
E. Gilson Company in 1916 to manufacture gray iron castings and
garden tools. In the early 1920s they suffered a fire at their
plant. It was rebuilt; however, in 1962 fire again destroyed the
plant. At this time George I. Gilson decided not to rebuild. At
this time a fifth generation of Gilson, George U., had become
briefly associated with the plant.

It was George U. Gilson, along with I. O. Heatwole, (who is
related to the Gilsons through marriage), who were able to give us
some of this information. Mr. Heatwole is the president of the
Heatwole Foundry Company in Port Washington. We appreciate the time
Mr. Heatwole spent with us and the information which Mr. Gilson
gave us to use in this history.

Another interesting sidelight on Gilson is that in 1911 John
& Michael Gilson, who were related to the other Gilsons and had
actually worked for them at their plant, started their own small
foundry and machine shop, Gilson Brothers Co., at Fredonia,
Wisconsin, which is near Port Washington. Here at their factory
they went into production of cement mixers, feed cutters, limestone
crushers, hand cement tile making machines and other equipment and
tools. This company is still in business today, having grown into a
large manufacturer of lawn and garden equipment, outdoor recreation
equipment and cement mixers.

Contrary to what some gasoline engine collectors have thought,
we were informed through correspondence with this company that they
never did build any gasoline engines. All Gilson gas engines were
built in Port Washington.

In addition to Mr. Gilson and Mr. Heatwole, we wish to thank Mr.
John M. Posewitz of Gilson Brothers Company at Fredonia, the
Wisconsin Historical Society, and the W. J. Niederfcorn Library at
Port Washington.

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