Wisconsin Gas Engine Companies

By Staff
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The badge on this Fairbanks-Morse engine, manufactured in Beloit, Wis., reveals its 25 HP size.
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One of the best-known of all Wisconsin engine outfits was the John Lauson Mfg. Co. of New Holstein, Wis., which claimed the Frost King, shown in this 1910 advertisement, was “used successfully in all climates for the past decade.”
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A closeup shows some basic information for Fuller & Johnson Mfg. Co. of Madison, Wis., off a 1-1/2 HP Fuller & Johnson pump jack made in 1905.
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Cudahy, Wis., was the home of Ingeco, short for the company’s name, International Gas Engine Co. They made engines from 1-1/2 to 60 HP, as this circa-1920 Farm Implements ad shows.
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This 6 HP Oshkosh engine was manufactured in 1912 or 1913 by Oshkosh Mfg. Co., Oshkosh, Wis., but only for a couple of years. Robert Geiken of Hastings, Minn., owns this rare piece.
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Termaat & Monahan Co. of Oshkosh, Wis., made engines for more than 20 years starting in 1895. This 1910 Gas Review ad shows one of the T&M pumping outfits.

Over the years, Wisconsin could boast of at
least 150 operating engine manufacturers, ranking the Badger State
the fifth-largest engine manufacturer nationally.

Wisconsin’s engine manufacturers included some of agriculture’s
biggest names, like J.I. Case and Allis-Chalmers, well-known for
tractors, for example, but not necessarily for building engines.
Other names included LeRoi and Briggs & Stratton, whose engines
were well-known but not generally associated with agriculture. And
then there were well-known agricultural companies with reputations
for building tractors and engines, like Fairbanks, Morse & Co.,
Eagle Mfg. Co. and John Lauson Mfg. Co., as well as dozens of
companies most people have never heard of.

When Fairbanks, Morse & Co. of Beloit began manufacturing
engines in 1893, they had a built-in advantage. Since 1880 they had
been selling Eclipse windmills to railroad companies and farmers,
and had purchased Eclipse Wind Engine Co. of Beloit in 1890. When
F-M hired James A. Charter from the established Charter Gas Engine
Co. of Sterling, Ill., railroad companies and farmers, who had
already had successful dealings with F-M, flocked to buy
Fairbanks-Morse engines. Though early F-M engines were merely
renamed Charters (newer ones under Charter’s tutelage soon took on
a different look, becoming more compact and neater-looking), F-M
charged to the lead in building farm engines.

Fairbanks-Morse’s large, early horizontal engines used air
starters because of the difficulty of turning them over by hand.
Instead of a carburetor, they used a metering pump. Over the years,
F-M introduced many popular engines, like Type Y verticals and
Jack-of-All-Trades engines, staples in the company line from 1895
to 1916. Oil-cooled Jack-of-All-Trades engines were designed
expressly for cool weather, and despite the heavy radiator, were
still popular. The Type Z engine was introduced in 1915 and was so
popular, it put many smaller companies out of business.
Fairbanks-Morse engines came in almost every size from 1-1/2 to 44
HP, as well as some larger ones. Some were built specifically for
mining concerns, including a gasoline hoist that could be broken
into 300-pound-or-less pieces to allow them to be carried into the
mountains by mules. The company also made engine/generator outfits
like the 11-ton, 54 HP unit. Fairbanks-Morse still survives, and
makes engines in Beloit today.

Name them “Wisconsin”

At least three engine companies used “Wisconsin” in their
corporate names: Wisconsin Engine Co. of Corliss, Wisconsin Motor
Co. of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Machinery & Mfg. Co., also of
Milwaukee.

Wisconsin Engine Co. migrated from Chicago in 1908 where it had
been Sargent Engineering Co., selling Sargent engines. These were
renamed “Wisconsin” engines in Corliss, then renamed “Adams”
engines in 1912. The company produced only large engines up to 65
HP for electric generators. In 1912, Edward A. Rumely tried to buy
the company, and had already begun advertising Rum-ely-Adams
engines when his negotiator died; the deal, and company, fell
through.

In 1909, Wisconsin Motor Co. began manufacturing “Wisconsin”
engines, which would become the real success story in engines
bearing that name. Determined to make high-quality engines from the
start, the company was hugely successful. Within three years they
had a new factory, employing 300 workers on both day and night
shifts.

The earliest engines from Wisconsin Motor Co. were for
automobiles, and three famous racers, Ralph de Palma, Bill Endicott
and Sig Haugdaul, all preferred Wisconsins. Well-known automobiles,
like Stutz, Case and Kissell cars filled their hoods with
Wisconsins, as did Four-Wheel-Drive (Automobile Co.) trucks. In
1929, Wisconsin Motor Co. began manufacturing air-cooled engines,
and by 1959, the firm had made three million engines. Teledyne
Wisconsin Motor later purchased the company, and today, Wisconsin
engines are produced under the name Wisconsin Motors LLC.

Wisconsin Machinery & Mfg. Co. made 2-cycle auto or marine
engines starting in 1912, probably for local markets. Little else
is known about this producer of “Wisconsin” engines.

Lauson and Wisconsin

“Wisconsin” engines were also manufactured by the Lauson-Lawton
Co. of DePere, making 4 to 20 HP stationary engines starting in
1908. A few years later, they introduced a 1-1/2 HP model. The
company also produced complete electric lighting plants from 15-300
volts, including dynamo, storage batteries and switchboard.
Although the company did not invent hopper-cooled engines, they
claimed theirs was the first successful one, using a cylinder
projecting full length over the bed, to relieve expansion stresses.
Larger 24 and 30 HP models were added in 1913. Though they quit
manufacturing engines four years later, their successor, C.A.
Lawton Co., still makes die-cutting presses and rebuilds machinery,
though now in Green Bay. The original factory buildings in DePere
were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and
are owned by the local government.

“Lauson” was also a popular name for Wisconsin engines, with two
other companies containing that name: A.H. Lauson Co. of Milwaukee,
and the largest, John Lauson Mfg. Co. of New Holstein.

A.H. began operations in 1905, manufacturing marine engines in
1-1/2, 3 and 5 HP 4-cycle, single-cylinder sizes using a 4-cycle,
single-cylinder engine, 2-cylinder 8 and 15 HP engines, and a
4-cylinder, 30 HP machine. A year later, the company was renamed
Badger Motor Co., but probably only lasted a few months longer.

John Lauson Mfg. Co. began in 1895, with an 1,100-pound, 4 HP
engine that used hot tube ignition. By 1904, tank-cooled engines in
5 to 20 HP sizes had been added to the line, as well as an open
jacket or hopper-cooled engine, which was completely
self-contained. This led to the development of the Frost King
engines, which were not actually frost-proof. By 1916,
hopper-cooled sizes ranged from 1-1/2 to 28 HP. In American
Gasoline Engines Since 1872, C.H. Wendel writes that “Lauson was
early in adapting built-in magneto ignition – a feature that soon
paid for itself by eliminating dry cell batteries and their
frequent replacement.” John Lauson Mfg. also built a sawing outfit
mounted on sleigh runners. Lauson was also making the Lauson Forty,
which weighed more than 12,000 pounds, and an advertisement noted
that this engine didn’t require any torch or preheating to get it
started.

Though John Lauson Mfg. Co. made it through the agricultural
depression of the early 1920s, it could not make it through the
Great Depression. It was reorganized in 1935, and sold in 1941.

The Wisconsin Badgers

With Wisconsin known as the Badger State, it’s no surprise that
companies appropriated “badger” for their name: Badger Concrete
Mixer Co., Badger Engine Co. and Badger Motor Co., all of
Milwaukee, as well as Badger Mfg. Co. of Oshkosh, formerly A.H.
Lauson Co.

Badger Concrete Mixer Co. sold a 1-1/2 HP Sexton Jr. engine of
3-7/8-by-4-inch bore and stroke, but that’s about all that’s known
about them. Even less is known about Badger Engine Co. and Badger
Mfg. Co.

Additionally, two other Wisconsin companies – C.P. & J.
Lauson and Christensen Engineering Co., both of Milwaukee, produced
engines named Badger.

C.P. & J. Lauson began in 1893 with engines built by Otto
Gas Engine Works of Philadelphia. By 1903 the Badger sideshaft
design came in 4-1/2 to 25 HP models, in portable, stationary and
traction types. Badger engines were finely detailed to enhance
their salability. As Wendel writes, “Fancy pinstriping was a
cardinal feature of the Badger engines. It reflected in part a
time-honored custom, and certainly enhanced the overall appearance.
Cyrus Hall McCormick discovered some years earlier that his bright
red reapers sold much better than the drab brown ones of earlier
years, even though the machine was otherwise the same.”

C.P. & J. also built vertical Badgers and saw rigs. The
Badger “Farmer’s Friend” engine, as well as other C.P. & J.
engines, continued to be sold when the company became Christensen
Engineering Co. in 1908. They also made Farmhand engines until
their 1917 demise.

The Big and Small

Fuller & Johnson Mfg. Co. of Madison was another big player
in Wisconsin engines, with engines built by Gisholt Machine Co. of
Madison from 1901 to 1903. Several early engines were oil-cooled,
including a 1-1/2 HP oil-cooled engine that weighed in at 1,300
pounds. Until 1910, oil cooling with regular home radiators was
standard on F&J’s 2, 3-1/2 and 6 HP engines.

The company also produced a water-cooled line of 8 to 15 HP
sizes, incorporating a separate subbase that could be removed for
portable mounting. Some F&J lines included the Double
Efficiency (see feature on page 17 of this issue) and People’s
Price engines, which was changed to the Model N in 1913. They also
developed an engine equipped with a vapor vent so it could be used
safely in buildings; it could also be connected to an auxiliary
water tank.

Starting in 1905, they also made hopper-cooled engines up to 16
HP. Wendel writes: “Without a doubt, Fuller & Johnson engines
were built as well as anything on the market. In addition to
excellent design, these engines were all finished in heavy enamel
with the addition of elaborate lettering and striping.”

In 1909, F&J began making pumping engines. In the 1920s,
they produced two direct-connect power plants with storage
batteries, at $450 for the No. 8 (850 watts) and $605 for the No.
15 (1,500 watts).

Progress was the company’s final undoing. Fuller & Johnson
had used most of their assets developing multi-cylinder engines,
and in 1929, investors forced asset liquidation. Parts were sold
until 1954.

Ingeco engines (short for International Gas Engine Co.) were
built in Cudahy beginning about 1910. Although the company only
lasted seven years before it was purchased by Worthington Machinery
Co., it made some interesting and unique engines. Their early 1-1/2
HP engine, for example, used extra-heavy bolted-hub flywheels, like
their larger models, and also had a speed control lever on the
low-tension make-and-break ignition.

One Ingeco line was the Standard line, with stationary vertical
engines, including hopper-cooled types. Lubricators, batteries and
tools were shipped standard.

The company made 1-1/2, 2-1/2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 15 HP
engines. They also made some huge engines, like their 17,800-pound,
60 HP monster that used flywheels 6-1/2 feet in diameter. These
were the standard flywheels; extra-heavy could be bought when the
machine was used as an electricity generator.

About 1915, the company began manufacturing Ingeco tractors,
using the same engine as in their 20 HP portable outfit. It weighed
just over a ton, had magneto ignition, and a built-in clutch
pulley.

Despite filing a patent for a stationary engine as their first
order of business, Termaat & Monahan Co. of Oshkosh began life
in 1895 by manufacturing light marine engines. In 1905 their 1-1/2
HP reversible engine weighed but 100 pounds, and sold for $60. The
2-1/2 HP was $81, the 4 HP $108, the 6 HP $220 and the 8 HP model
$286. Each year, T&M improved their marine engines, eventually
manufacturing up to 100 HP sizes.

They also produced generator outfits, which used T&M’s
specially-designed governor. “The 2-cycle design,” Wendel writes,
“with an explosion every revolution, probably made it much easier
to maintain accurate speed, thus minimizing the annoying flicker
caused by varying voltage.” Termaat & Monahan also built
pumping outfits in 2-1/2, 4, 6, 9 and 12 HP sizes, all in a similar
style. In 1917, the company went into receivership and was
reorganized as Termaat & Monahan Mfg. Co., but disappeared soon
afterwards.

Like many engine companies across the U.S., Reliance Iron &
Engine Co. began making engines in one city – Racine, in 1906 – and
then moved to La Crosse, where they changed names (Sta-Rite Engine
Co.), but continued to manufacture engines.

Reliance began in 1906, making Sta-Rite engines with “none of
the annoyance and expensive repairs that go with complicated
engines,” one advertisement said. However, within two years they
used a completely new engine design, then moved to La Crosse in
1911, where 1-1/2 to 8 HP engines with a governor inside the
flywheel, and 10-16 HP engines with a flyball governing system were
manufactured. They made Types A, B, C, D, E, F and G engines, as
well as others, with distinct varieties – B1, E2, etc. By 1917 they
were absorbed by the Happy Farmer Tractor Co. of La Crosse and
Minneapolis. In 1922 the company folded.

The Rest

Wisconsin had many other engine companies worthy of mention,
like Eagle Mfg. Co. of Appleton, a major player in tractor
manufacturing that also made engines, but little is known about
them. There was Turner Mfg. Co., of Port Washington, which began
life with one of the longest company names of all – Western
Malleable & Gray Iron Mfg. Co. – with their line of Simplicity
engines. Oshkosh Mfg. Co. of Oshkosh; Piera Vapor Engine Co.,
United Machine Works and Wisconsin Wheel Works, all three of
Racine; Shaefer Mfg. Co. of Berlin (which made “Berlin” engines);
J.C. Vanderbloom of Milwaukee; Waukesha Motor Co. of Waukesha, and
many more. Some were fly-by-night, some had brief lives like
shooting stars and some have lasted parts of two centuries. For
some, a great deal of information is known; for others, for various
reasons, very little is known. It is just known that they
existed.

New York, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois each had more engine
companies (New York the highest at 291) than Wisconsin, but in the
end, it is not the number of companies, or even the number of
engines each company made, but the distinctiveness of the engines
and their collectibility that makes the difference.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several
books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact Bill at: Box 372,
400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414;
bvossler@juno.com

Gas Engine Magazine
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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines