THE KUHNER ENGINE COMPANY

By Staff
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Fig. 1: The Kuhner factory in Oxford.
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Fig. 10: The only known Kuhner engine, now in the Oxford Museum.
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Fig. 2: Interior of the factory in Oxford.
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Fig. 4: Kuhner 4-cycle marine engine built in East Davenport
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Fig. 5: Kuhner stationary engine built in East Davenport.
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Fig. 3: H. E. Kuhner
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Fig. 7: Aerial view of Oxford with Kuhner factory at right.
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Fig. 8: Employees of the Kuhner Engine Company.
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Fig. 6: Advertisement of the Rock Island company.
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Fig. 9: Kuhner advertisement in 1912.

7964 Oakwood Park Ct, St. Michaels, Md 21663

The formal opening of the Kuhner Engine Company in Oxford,
Maryland was held on December 1, 1911. The celebration was
described in the Easton Star-Democrat the following day. Over a
hundred guests attended. They were treated to an oyster roast, then
shown around the new factory. The factory was a new concrete
building, 50 by 160 feet, designed by architect Wilbur H. Johnson.
The factory contained twenty machine tools, including lathes,
planers, milling machines, and drill presses. Figure 1 shows the
building and Figure 2 the interior. These pictures appeared in the
January, 1912 issue of the Oysterman and Fisherman.

According to the Star-Democrat article, the new company was
capitalized at $50,000. The officers were H. E. Kuhner, president;
George M. Wingard, secretary; William B. Shannahan, treasurer;
Francis W. Wrightson, William Mason Shehan, M. Tilghman Johnston,
F. L. Cochran, and W. M. Bergman, directors. Kuhner was the
president and Wingard was sales manager. These two men were given
credit for organizing the new company. The directors (investors)
were all well-known Talbot County businessmen.

The Certificate of Incorporation had been signed on May 14,
1911. The names of directors agreed with the new article. However,
the Certificate stated that the company was capitalized at $40,000
rather than $50,000. That capital was obtained by selling 800
shares at $50 per share. The Certificate shows that George Wingard
lived in Oxford.

Who was H. E. Kuhner, Figure 3, and where did he come from? We
do not know his birthplace, but we do know from the Star Democrat
article that he was a mechanical engineer and that his first
employer was the Robert Faries Manufacturing Company in Decatur,
Illinois, where he went to work in 1886. Kuhner received his
engineering training through an apprentice program, not by
university study. Such an education was common at that time. A few
years later he went to work at the Rock Island Arsenal, building
guns for the US Government. In 1899, he started his own company on
the other side of the Mississippi in East Davenport, Iowa, and he
named it the East Davenport Machine and Novelty Company.

The company manufactured engines designed by Kuhner. For marine
use, they built one and two cylinder four-cycle engines and a
single cylinder two-cycle engine. Other Kuhner engines were
four-cycle vertical stationary engines in five sizes, 1? to 12 HP.
Figures 4 and 5 are examples of the engines. Note that the
stationary and marine engines are quite different in design. The
stationary engine has an open crankcase and exposed timing gears
and cam. In the marine engine the crankcase, gears, and cams were
enclosed. They also built portable tank-cooled engines and a
portable saw rig for cutting fire wood. The customer had a choice
of piston-break or hot-tube ignition.

About 1906, the company moved across the river to Rock Island,
Illinois and Kuhner renamed the business the Kuhner Engine and
Machine Company. One wonders what prompted the move. Perhaps it was
to be close to a foundry or some other service. Figure 6 is an
advertisement of the Rock Island company, offering stationary,
portable, and marine engines, 1? to 25 HP. The engine shown is
identical to the East Davenport product in figure 5.

In 1908, H. E. Kuhner went to work for Geiser Manufacturing
Company in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, where he was put in charge of
their engine division. That company built steam tractors and
stationary internal combustion engines. While there, Kuhner
designed two low-cost small stationary engines for Geiser. Geiser
sales were poor and, after an attempt to build tractors with
internal combustion engines in 1910, they got out of the engine
business in 1911. Geiser continued to build steam tractors.

According to the Star Democrat article, George Wingard had been
a salesman for Geiser. His territory was the state of Delaware and
the Eastern Shore of Maryland and his headquarters were in Easton,
Maryland, the county seat of Talbot County.

An old photograph exists showing the interior of the Walter M.
Lane & Son machine shop in Easton. One can see parts of
stationary engines being machined and assembled, and these look
very much like Geiser products. I believe that Geiser was
contracting all or some of their engine manufacture to the Lane
machine shop. H. E. Kuhner would have spent time in Easton and he
would have known George Wingard.

I assume that both Kuhner and Wingard lost their jobs in 1911
when Geiser got out of the engine business. Kuhner’s Rock
Island factory must still have existed, though perhaps closed down.
These two men decided to revive the Kuhner engines and build them
in nearby Oxford. The village of Oxford was a reasonable location,
as there were many workboats in the area, harvesting crabs and
oysters.

Figure 7 is an aerial view of Oxford with the Kuhner factory at
the right; it was taken years after the factory closed and the
building is surrounded by weeds. (Oxford today is a very attractive
village, a good place to live and popular with tourists and with
yachtsmen cruising the Bay. At the time of the aerial photo, there
were fine old houses beyond the field of the photo. Development
within the area of the picture is in good taste.)

The factory building had a flat roof with eight skylights.
Figure 8 is a photograph of the employees about 1912, loaned by
William Bringman, Jr. Mr. Bringman’s father, unmarried at that
time, is standing at the right. Two men are wearing ties and suit
coats. I believe that one in the center is H. E. Kuhner and the man
to the left is George Wingard. Others in the photo are Henry Lewis,
Eugene Lewis, Owen Tull, and Walter Crockett; Mr. Bringman could
not connect the names with the figures with certainty. The men are
standing in the dirt road with the factory just out of the picture
to the right. The railroad tracks were just behind the
photographer.

Figure 9 is an advertisement that appeared in the December 10,
1912 issue of Motor Boat Magazine. The two-cycle engine shown in
the ad may be a new design required by Bay watermen. An article in
the same issue states that Kuhner is building single cylinder
two-cycle engines as shown in the ad plus 15 HP four-cycle marine
engines, both for the fishing and oystering industry. According to
the article, four and six cylinder engines up to 75 HP are shown in
the company catalog. The company is also building an oyster dredge
winder (hoist) using their horizontal stationary engine. It seems
likely that the latter engine was an engine Kuhner designed for
Geiser.

An obituary in the Star-Democrat told that H. E. Kuhner had died
on March 20, 1914 after an illness of several months. His body was
sent to Ohio. The very brief obituary did not mention a wife or
children. It seems tragic that this talented engineer, designer,
and inventor received so little local recognition. He would not
have been much over age 50 when he died.

Six months after the death of Kuhner, George M. Wingard and his
wife Mary H. Wingard obtained a loan of $3500 from the Talbot Bank,
Sept. 14, 1914, and signed a mortgage on Oxford real estate. The
mortgage states the property is that which was conveyed to the
Kuhner Engine Company July 22, 1911. The mortgage was on the land,
factory, and contents. The fact that Wingard could mortgage the
factory shows that he was the sole owner as of the date of the
mortgage. The other owners must have sold their stock to Wingard.
The mortgage has a list of the Kuhner machinery:

1 Schumacher & Bonde lathe, 24 x 15′ 1 Schumacher &
Bonde lathe, 24 x 10′ 1 Sebastian lathe, 14 x 8′ with taper
attachment 1 New Haven lathe, 36 x 16′ 1 Prentice lathe, 15 x
6′ 1 Barnes lathe, 13 x 6′ 1 speed lathe 1 Aurora milling
machine 1 Automatic mill & reamer grinder 1 Cincinnati shaper,
16′ stroke 1 Mortan key seat machine 1 Bond drill press 1
Greenwood arbor press 1 Pond planer, 36 x 36 x 10′ 1 small
planer, 23 x 23 x 5′ 1 radial drill press, 4′ arm
2 Barnes drill presses, 20′ swivel table 1 Barnes
sliding-head drill press 1 Wilmath & Norman twist drill grinder
1 Rock Falls power hack saw 1 circular saw machine 1 wood turning
lathe 1 3-ton trav. crane & truck 1 Weston 3-ton block 1 swing
crane 1 1-ton Weston block 1 swing crane with trolley

Also included were designs, patterns, office furniture, tools,
and ‘equipment of every description now at or in
factory.’

Dickson J. Preston’s book Oxford, the First Three Centuries
states that the company stopped engine manufacture during WWI and
concentrated on machining parts for artillery shells. After the war
the Kuhner Engine Company closed its doors and never returned to
building engines according to that book. This account may not be
correct, as will be shown.

After the factory closed, George Wingard continued to live on a
farm near Oxford called ‘Combsbury.’ It has a fine
three-story house built in the early 1700s. His only daughter died
childless a few years ago at age 90. Wingard seems to have been a
good salesman and promoter.

One of the employees of the Kuhner Engine Company was Walter
Crockett, who began his own business in 1918. He installed some
machine tools from the Kuhner factory in an old oyster house owned
by his uncle Scott Crockett and repaired oyster dredge winders and
marine engines. In the 1920s Walter’s brother Arthur joined him
and they expanded the business as Crockett Brothers Boatyard.
Walter Crockett used a Kuhner stationary engine to power the
machine shop. That engine is now in the Oxford Museum and is shown
in Figure 10. On the brass name-plate is Kuhner Engine Company,
Oxford, Maryland, 4 HP, serial number 167. The crankcase and
flywheels seem identical to those of the stationary engines of the
East Davenport and Rock Island factories figures (5 and 6), but the
cylinder is like that of the marine engine in figure 4. For many
years there was a Kuhner engine and hoist in use in Belleview,
across the Tred Avon river from Oxford. Its present location is
unknown.

An Oxford resident told me of an employee of Crockett Brothers
Boatyard who stated that he had operated the same lathe in three
locations-the boatyard, the Kuhner factory in Oxford, and in Rock
island. This is evidence that machines and at least one employee
were moved from Rock Island to Oxford.

There is a gunmaker in Federalsburg, Maryland who has two lathes
and a milling machine that once were at Oxford Boatyard. He was
able to identify them in the mortgage list, so they came from the
Kuhner factory.

I had heard of a marine engine with the trade name
‘Chesapeake’, built in Oxford. I once believed that Kuhner
must have used that name. Recently, I happened to see a listing of
marine engines in the December 10, 1923 issue of Motor Boat
Magazine. One maker was listed as follows:

CHESAPEAKE ENGINE CO

Oxford, Maryland

Model

HP

Cycle

B&S

Cyl

Ignitn

L

7

4

5×6

4

maq

LL

14

4

5×6

4

mag

B

5

2

5×5

1

bat

BB

10

2

5×5

2

bat

I have little doubt that these were Kuhner engines. I have not
been able to determine whether someone had reopened the Kuhner
factory or whether the engines were being offered and built by the
Oxford Boatyard. The latter seems more likely. There must have been
parts and castings still in Oxford.

In 1980, I went to the place where the factory had stood. The
only thing remaining was the concrete floor. Now, the area has been
developed and all signs of the factory have disappeared.

I am most grateful to William Bodenstein for the Star Democrat
articles and for directing me to the incorporation papers and the
mortgage, to jerry Dunn for the 1912 Motor Boat Magazine data, to
Richard Dodds for the Oysterman and Fisherman information, to Mr.
Bring-man for loaning me the employee photo, and to Oxford
residents Jerry Valliant, Clarence Cox, William Benson, and Edwin
Sinclair for their recollections. Figure 4, 5, and 6 and some of
the Geiser data are from C. H. Wendel’s book American Gas
Engines. The Lane machine shop picture appears in Norman
Herrington’s book Easton Album. There is a paragraph about the
Kuhner Engine Company in Dickson J. Preston’s book Oxford, the
First Three Centuries. The certificate of incorporation and the
mortgage are in the Talbot County Court House. The aerial
photograph is from the Hollyday Collection, Talbot County
Historical Society.

If readers have further information, I would like to hear from
them. Of particular interest would be existing Kuhner engines,
recollections of Kuhner engines, or a Kuhner catalog.

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