The Lauson Legend

Dedicated to Producing Quality Products, John Lauson took this Company from Thought to


| July 2005



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Although advertised as a Lauson, the solid-flywheel engines were apparently only sold through De Laval as the Alpha model.

"The Lauson Frost King is the highest priced engine on the market and has no competition." So stated a circa-1911 advertisement for the premier engine built by John Lauson Mfg. Co. And though it sounds like hyperbole, it was probably true. The Frost King had just taken the Gold Medal for the second time in a Norwegian competition, and the official report showed that the engine "will pay for itself in saving of fuel running 700 days ..."

In the Genes

Among the skilled craftsmen to help establish the new community of New Holstein, Wis., were the five Lauson brothers, who started a repair and implement shop.

One of those brothers was John Lauson. When his father, Detlaff, died when he was 14, John joined the newspaper machine shop. Two years later, he was so well-regarded that his uncle George Lauson and John Optenberg asked him to join them in a three-way partnership to start a machine repair shop together, using a windmill for power. A year later, in 1885, the plant was destroyed by fire.

Out of the ashes came the John Lauson and H. Optenberg and Co. business, which specialized in repairing steam traction engines, and also began making Uncle Sam steam traction engines. Twenty-five were built by 1887. By this time, John was a first-class machinist and repairman. At age 19, he bought out the Optenberg shares and became sole owner of the renamed John Lauson Co.

Company employees were expected to be highly skilled, and it showed in Lauson's products. All boilers were riveted and caulked by hand, producing a quality far better than the then-contemporary standard of air hammering.

Now John Lauson began to forge the direction he wanted for his own company. The Uncle Sam was dropped, but steam boiler production, heavy machinery repair and the manufacturing of sheet metal products were continued. But John Lauson had another idea: He wanted to build gas engines. Perhaps as part of a greater plan, his brother Henry had been working in a gas engine manufacturing plant in Chicago. In 1895, Henry, Jacob Schmidt and John incorporated as the John Lauson Mfg. Co., and began planning for the first Lauson gasoline engine. Spark ignition was practically unheard of at the time, so the first Lauson used hot tube ignition. A brass tube extended up from the cylinder, which was heated via a blow torch. Once drawn into the cylinder, the fuel mixture was ignited by the heat of the tube.