The Sparta Economy Engine News

By Staff
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20601 Old State Road Haubstadt, Indiana 47639

Here is the beginning of a story about a company that eventually
became the Hercules Gas Engine Company.

Today, when you drive east from Highway 37 into the village of
Sparta, Michigan, a very attractive sign will greet you.

The village, as it is called, is located some 15 miles north,
northwest of Grand Rapids. According to the clerk in the village
office, there were 3,968 people in Sparta for the 1990 census. The
1910census listed 1203 people living there during the time that the
following story takes place, 1908 – 1913.

Then, as now, communities were looking for ways to attract new
industries and businesses. The Business Men’s Association in
the village of Sparta was no different. They had come up with a way
to raise funds to use as an incentive to prospects. They would bond
the village for $20,000 for an electric light plant. That
apparently was legal. However, everyone knew that the money would
be used otherwise. On August 6, 1908 a referendum was held and the
bonding issue passed 234 to 23. A two-thirds majority was necessary
so it passed easily. Actually, the money raised would be used for
cash and facility incentives to prospective industries.

In August of 1908 the Luens Pump Company of Dayton, Ohio was
interested in locating in Sparta; however, they had demanded too
much incentive from the village and they were turned down.

The Business Men’s Association in Sparta must have been busy
looking for new industry. On September 8, 1908 it was announced
that the village had a proposition for a factory from a large
company. There was concern that the proposition was too great for
the Association to handle. The proposed business would build gas
engines, marine engines, automobile engines, cream separator
engines, pump jacks and wood-sawing outfits. It would also make a
full line of concrete machinery including block making equipment
and molds for porch columns, tile, posts, silos and ornamentals.
Concrete mixers would also be made. These products would be
marketed through Sears, Roebuck & Company. There was fear that
the modest $20,000 the village had available would not be enough to
land such a concern.

By October, 1908 the village had three prospective new
industries. They included a chair factory, a canning factory and a
machine company.

On October 30, 1908 came the announcement that, a new factory
had been landed. The earlier proposal apparently was scaled down to
fit the capabilities there at Sparta. Construction would be
starting in two weeks. The new firm would manufacture a large line
of farm machinery, all of which were to have ready sale through
Sears, Roebuck & Company. The man behind this new company was
Peter J. Holm, a 57-year-old Swede from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who
was named general superintendent. Among his references were William
M. Tippet, who was a machinery and equipment buyer, and J. F.
Skinner, general merchandise manager for Sears, Roebuck &
Company. Holm’s Machine Manufacturing Company was the name of
the new factory.

Peter Holm was director and superintendent at the Northwestern
Steel and Iron Works of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He had 30 years of
experience as an inventor, designer and mechanic. Northwestern was
involved in the gas engine business and manufactured concrete
machinery. The latter was marketed through Sears. This is where the
Sears-Holm connection was. It was likely through Sears’ urging
that Holm went to Sparta and established the Holm’s Machine
Manufacturing Company. Holm brought with him two sons. H. C. Holm
was to be in charge of the machine shop, and W. C. Holm was to be
in charge of the factory and pattern shop.

For further information about Peter J. Holm and the Northwestern
Steel and Iron works, see the article on page 12 of the September
1995 issue of Gas Engine Magazine.

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