The history of steam engines: Who made them?


When I started this series of articles many years ago, I featured the specific properties of various makes of engines in several articles. Since then several good books have been published listing the different engines and showing mostly pictures and brief descriptions of what they built.

In many cases a company built several different models. The three common types were: The standard, which featured a locomotive style boiler with a firebox with numerous stay bolts, flues through the barrel section and a smokebox and stack at the front end.

Another was the return flue, with the fire in a large central flue or tube and smaller tubes, commonly two inch, bringing the products of combustion back to the fire door end of boiler and a smokestack at the rear of the engine.


Both these types normally had the engines and related machinery on top of the boiler. The cylinder could be toward the front or rear of the boiler.

The third type was called the “double undermounted” style, which means the engine cylinders, almost always two of them, were mounted on a frame below the boiler.

Claims made for this arrangement were the mechanical parts were easier to reach for adjustment and repair, and the boiler was freed from much strain and stress.

Most of these were built by Avery of Peoria, Ill., who actually built all three styles over the years, and Twentieth Century, built by The Improved Traction Engine company of Elk Lick and Boynton, Pa.

All their engines were of this style and the catalogs that survive even show a portable, but none survive as far as I know. I wonder how many portables they sold but lots of tractions were sold and were good on the roads.

Other types

Beyond these three major types there were some individual types that do not fit these patterns. Most of those would be vertical boilered engines but it was hard to get enough steam from a vertical boiler without it getting unwieldy.

Westinghouse looks like a vertical, but was in reality a water tube boiler with cross ways tubes over the fire. It also held a bit less water than most and steamed up more quickly.

A couple return flue engines did their own thing and so looked odd. That would be the Blumentritt from Spring Valley, Minn., and the Kitten from Ferdinand, Ind.

The Blumentritt was blacksmith built and was fired from the ground and driven from a manstand on the side about midway the length of the boiler.

The Kitten had a short stubby boiler with an oversized dome to supply dry steam. It looks longer than it should be with the boiler used, but they put a water tank nearly as big in diameter as the boiler out front, making the whole unit longer and the front wheels are under this tank.


When we look at where engines came from we find some interesting numbers. It seems like the state that was home to most makes of engine was Ohio, with some 22 companies.

At the beginning of our alphabetical list we find Aultman and Aultman-Taylor, which many who don’t look too close assume were the same company. Cornelius Aultman founded C. Aultman & Company in Canton as early as 1851 and had a very good reputation as a wise business man and knowledgeable mechanic.

So when Henry H. Taylor in Mansfield wanted to get into the business he involved Aultman, believing his name would help sell equipment. It probably helped that Aultman-Taylor built well-designed equipment, both engines and threshers. Cornelius Aultman also sat on the board of directors of at least one other company, Advance Thresher Co. in Battle Creek, Mich.

Unfortunately Cornelius died early in the game and his own company in Canton, closed by 1905 or 1906.

They built a number of different models. The monitor had a vertical boiler, the Star was a standard style machine and the Phoenix and Mogul were both return flue engines.

At the end they built a few Double Star engines, which were double undermounted style, and fortunately several of those survive.

The Mogul was a compound with a high pressure boiler for performance and economy. The book shows a Double Mogul much like the Double Star but with the Mogul boiler.

Aultman-Taylor engines were all the standard style except for a Columbia Straw burner that had a return flue boiler.

They also used, longer than most other companies, the bevel gear traction drive licensed from the C. & G. Cooper Co. of Mt Vernon, Ohio.


The company lasted till 1924 when they sold out to Advance Rumley which in turn was bought up by Allis-Chalmers.

The Althaus-Ewing Co. of Bluffton, Ohio, reportedly built some engines but none survive and there are not even any pictures in Norbeck’s book.

The A.D. Baker company was in Swanton, Ohio, and Abner Baker was the guiding light there. He was well known and respected in the steam world and even designed a valve gear used on some large locomotives.

His later traction engines also built the only uniflow designs used in this field and they are quite distinctive. The theory was thermal efficiency was enhanced by having steam flow always in one direction.

Baker also licensed their early counter-flow design to the MacDonald Thresher Co., of Stratford, Ontario.

Survivors are scarce. C&G Cooper Co., of Mt. Vernon, were early in the field and built both portable and traction engines.


They also pioneered the bevel gear drive traction system that they applied to portables and made them tractions. It has been claimed this was the first successful traction system but that claim is hard to sustain on close examination.

David June founded D. June & Co. in Fremont after a lot of experience in machine work and on lake steamers. He worked with a number of partners over the years and built some machinery of good reputation quite early in the business.

He favored the vertical boiler and used a water-filled spark arrestor, calling the machine the “Fireproof Champion.”

He also allowed his brother-in-law, Charles Waterous, to build Champion engines in Canada. The Waterous company lasted a long time and moved into fire engine manufacture later.

Among the smaller and older makers were Davidson and Rutledge, Hooven, Owens and Rentschler, and Owens, Lane and Dyer of Hamilton, Ohio, near Cinncinati.

The Greyhound, built by Banting Mfg. Co., of Toledo, was a successor to the Buffalo-Pitts engine and were a bit later in the game. The Marion, Ohio area seems to be the favored home of return-flue style engine.

The Huber Company built the largest number of engines and the Lobo was built there by the Fairbanks steam Shovel Co. There is rumored to be a survivor out West, but it doesn’t show up often.

Leader’s also came from Marion,but were a Standard Style engine. O.S. Kelly was in Springfield, Ohio, and came to be joined to Buffalo, as the Buffalo-Springfield Roller. Few of their traction engines are left and one is in Australia.

An engine called Morningstar was built in Napoleon, Ohio, and none are left. The town of Newark was home to three engines two of which are well known, being Scheidler, and McNamar. The third was called the Walker, and only two were built and none are left in one piece.

Walkers were built by the Union Iron Works company and designed by an inventor from Canada in 1891. Their first engine was shown in the Columbian exposition in 1893.

Massillon company. One of the largest builders of steam engines was the Russell & Co., of Massillon, Ohio. Charles M. Russell came to Massillon from New England in 1838 for business related to the canal that passed through the town.

The company was founded in 1842 by Charles and two of his brothers. Seven brothers were eventually involved, and they were by far the biggest employer in Massillon for many years.

They also built threshers and sawmills and related equipment.

The main company sold out in 1927, but a successor company supplied parts and repairs well into the 1940s, possibly 1952.

An industrial branch allied with Griscom and, known as Griscom-Russell, built heat exchangers and such until well into the 1950s, and is the main part remembered today.

They also got involved in steam shovels in the late 1920s, but that business got sold out of town and died, though they had a good reputation.

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