Gas Engine Magazine

The Man Behind the ‘Ashtabula’ Engine

By Staff

Box 151 Andover, OH 44003

Herman Bieder lived and developed his Bieder Engine and Home
Power washing machine in Ashtabula, Ohio. This information can be
obtained by studying the nameplate on the little one horsepower,
aircooled upright engine that has become a much sought after
collector’s specialty. Beyond this meager start, background
information becomes hard to find and details are obscure and
sketchy. Engine magazines and books, library date and records, and
court house records provide a few glimpses into his activities and
life-style. Relatives still living in the area have little to
offer, perhaps due to circumstances which occurred in the short
span of time that his activities were centered in the Ashtabula
area.

Apparently Herman was a somewhat unusual, though quite gifted
and ingenious individual. Of a Swiss-German origin, he, along with
a limited number of Bieders, some brothers and sisters, appeared in
the early records of the city of Ashtabula. He is first pinpointed
on existing records when in February, 1897, he purchased a lot at
70 Bridge Street in the Ashtabula Harbor area. Next, in the 1902-03
Ashtabula City Directory, the H. Bieder Confectionery and News Room
had been established at 70 Bridge Street with H. Bieder rooming at
107 Bridge Street nearby.

Court records for 1904 provide a new aspect to the future
activities which will be unfolding. A George D. Zeile, associated
with a leather and tannery business, has died leaving his widow,
Lizzie J. Zeile, an estate consisting of their home at 11 Elm
Street, close to uptown Ashtabula, other properties, and monies in
the amount of $8,000.00. The 1904 Directory lists Lizzie J. as the
only resident at 11 Elm Street.

By 1908, Herman has married Lizzie J. and their residence shows
as 11 Elm Street. Meanwhile, the H. Bieder Company has been formed
with William Christensen as manager of the Confectionery at 70
Bridge Street. In May, 1908, Herman sells the 70 Bridge Street
property to his wife, Lizzie J. for $8,000.00. Perhaps only
coincidental, but it is also in 1908 that advertisements for the
Bieder engine and the Bieder Manufacturing Company of Ashtabula,
Ohio, start appearing in various trade magazines. Between 1903 and
1908 Herman bought and sold properties, one of which was located on
Main Avenue, Ashtabula.

It is not unreasonable to assume at this point, that during this
same period of time, the plans and procedures for developing the
Bieder ‘housewife’s’ engine and washing machine were
finalized. Two possible locations existed where patterns could be
taken and castings produced; the main requirements to realize the
new engine Herman had designed. First, the McKinnon Iron Works in
the Harbor or, more likely the Phoenix Iron Works along the
Ashtabula, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh Railroad tracks on Fisk
Avenue. This was close to the Center Street location where assembly
and sales would take place. The Phoenix Iron Works was a large
casting and machine shop, established in 1876, with facilities more
than adequate for meeting the Bieder Company need. A relative of a
young man who was serving his machinist apprecticeship at Phoenix
has verified production of Bieder engine parts in the early 1900s.
In fact, the writer obtained an incomplete engine for which the
apprentice machinist had ‘brought home’ parts to
assemble.

By 1912 the Ashtabula Directory shows considerable change in the
H. Bieder Manufacturing Co. Herman Bieder (wife Lizzie J.) is now
President, and F. A. Mason is Secretary-Treasurer. The company is
located at 180 Center Street. Washing machines and equipment are
the sales commodities listed. This directory shows other Bieders in
occupations such as a machinist and a salesman; however, there is
no direct association shown with the Bieder Company to indicate
that they were working with or for Herman. Regardless, production
is well under way.

1912 was the critical year for the marriage of Lizzie and
Herman. In May, court records show Herman, single, and former
husband, deeding all properties, including that on Bridge Street to
Lizzie J. Zeile. This divorce apparently ‘blacklisted’

Herman and any future social or business designs and
possibilities in Ashtabula. The Bieder family ties were badly
strained, if not broken. Advertising changed from the Bieder
Manufacturing Co. to the Home Power Co., which became the successor
to H. Bieder Co. and operated for a short time after 1912. No
mention of Herman or his H. Bieder Co. is listed in the 1915
Ashtabula Directory.

Apparently, Herman was not about to give up. He located in Erie,
Pennsylvania where an engine for which a patent was applied is
placed in production. How many of the engines and how long they
were built has not been determined.  

The Erie Bieder Engine has only minor modifications from the
‘Ashtabula’ Engine. The three things to look for are: (1)
name and place of manufacture which appears on one of the two
crankcase cover plates, (2) slightly wider and heavier flywheels,
and (3) the engine base casting has different measurements and
configuration.

The lifestyle and record of what happened in Erie will require
additional research. Meanwhile, the information trail grows dimmer
on one Herman Bieder, who we must admit, was an interesting and
somewhat unusual individual, who played a part in the mechanization
and industrial development of our own local area as well as our
great nation.

  • Published on Mar 1, 1987
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