Last week I was at the Cool Spring Power Museum (CSPM) spring show, attempting to make a living as a humble itinerant bookseller dealing in industrial and transportation history. The CSPM is just south of Brookville, Pennsylvania, a small burg of not quite 5,000 souls, exactly 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Formally chartered in June 1985, CSPM contains the largest collection of historically significant, early internal combustion engines in the country, and probably the world. There are over 250 engines, most built between the 1870s and the 1920s, displayed in 20 buildings. In 2001, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers recognized the importance of the Cool Spring collection by inducting the museum into ASME’s History and Heritage Landmarks Program.
This year's show was extra special, as it featured "flame licker" engines - the earliest internal combustion engines, designed and built before spark plugs and electric ignition systems were perfected and put into use. These engines are the advent of the petroleum age - which we now must bring to an end. But they are marvels of mechanical design and machine precision, fully embodying the "instinct of workmanship." Visit Cool Spring, and you will immediately realize that you are in "producer class" heaven. (I believe that Marx's class analysis is all wrong, but that Thorstein Veblen gets it right - the big class difference is between producers and predators. Veblen termed the latter - much too politely in my opinion - "leisure class.")
Extremely cool pictures below
By the 1850s, steam engines had become generally accepted, and were in wide use, but were perceived as dangerous, as well as expensive. And steam engines were simply not suited to portable and small applications. A number of people around the world were experimenting with engines that ignited a combustible mixture of fuel and air within a confined space in the engine. The first working internal combustion engine was designed and built by Belgian engineer Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir in 1858, in Paris. The Lenoir design was a single-cylinder engine operating on two-strokes, using a mixture of coal gas and air which was not compressed before ignition.
Lenoir installed an engine in a carriage, but its top speed was less than that of a person walking. Still, almost 500 Lenoir engines were sold and installed as a stationary power source for printing presses, water pumps, and machine tools. There were a number of problems with the engine: it was fuel inefficient, extremely noisy, tended to overheat, and would seize up if sufficient cooling water was not applied immediately. There are reportedly only seven Lenoir engines still intact, and all are in Europe.
In 2013, the international stationary engine rally in Nuenen, Germany featured a Lenoir engine in operation, shown below. The picture is from the Nuenen show website.
In 1861, Nikolas August Otto in Germany designed and built a free-piston single vertical cylinder atmospheric engine. It was not a four-stroke internal combustion engine, which is what Otto was working toward designing. (In an atmospheric engine, the explosion of fuel is used to create a vacuum, and the power derives from atmospheric pressure returning the piston). In 1864, Otto began collaborating with another German engineer, Eugen Langen, to perfect the design, and begin its commercial development. The resulting engine consumed less than half the fuel of the Lenoir engines, and is considered to be the first commercially successful internal combustion engine in history. There are only three operating examples of Otto-Langen engines known in the world, and one was at the Cool Spring show:
The 1867 Otto-Langen vertical cylinder engine, the first commercially successful internal combustion engine.
This historic Otto-Langen engine was lent to the Cool Spring show by the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association, which runs the second oldest threshermen’s reunion in the country the middle of each August. Rough & Tumble has a large collection of stationary steam and IC engines, as well as one of the country's largest collections of steam traction engines (the forerunner of the gas-powered farm tractor), and a two thirds scale Shay side-geared steam locomotive. All this equipment is on display at the half dozen or so public events held each year. The threshermen’s reunion is by far the largest in terms of attendance. But my favorite event is the Time of Harvest Show in October. The weather is cooler, the crowds are thinner, but all the exhibits are open, and the Pennsylvania Dutch cooking is just as good as ever.
The Bisschop engine was patented in 1871 by Prussian engineer Alexis De Bisschop. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be much biographical information about him available on the tubez. Bisschop's design was low power engine which ran smoother and quieter than the Otto-Langen engine. It is described as a non-compression engine since there is no compression of the air/gas mixture before it is combusted. Bisschop's design quickly gained a reputation for durability and efficient cost. Over 2,000 were produced from 1878 to 1894 in England alone by J E H Andrew & Co of Stockport, England,. This Bisschop engine in the CSPM collection appeared in the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878 (another display at this event was the completed head of the Statue of Liberty):
The next picture is of a Sombart gas engine built by a licensee in Hartford, Conn., 1882-1884. This engine was advertised as needing no oil lubricant or water for cooling, and could supposedly be managed by "any boy or girl." The simplicity and ease of repair of these engines made them very popular with small businesses, shops and even churches, which required an engine that operated only intermittently. They were used to power a wide range of machines, including printing presses, sausage machines, coffee grinders, lathes and other machine tools and woodworking equipment, and organ blowers.
A star of the Cool Spring show was Wayne Grenning, proprietor of Grenning Models. Wayne has just published a massive book, Flame Ignition: A Historical Account of Flame Ignition in the Internal Combustion Engine, drawing on his life-long passion for collecting and studying the earliest IC engines. Here is a picture of Wayne discussing the features of the Sombart engine:
Ok, back to Otto and Langen. To build their engines, in 1864 they established the first company in history to build internal combustion engines, NA Otto and Cie. When they ran out of room in the factory in 1869, the company was moved to the town of Deutz, Germany, and renamed Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz (The Gas Engine Manufacturing Company Deutz). This company is still in business today, and still making engines, as Deutz AG, in Cologne, Germany.
So, here we have another Otto engine, built in 1893 by Schleicher, Schumm & Co., the USA branch of the Otto Gas Engine Co. Schleicher, Schumm & Co., was established in 1880, and was based in Philadelphia. This engine was one of the first designs to incorporate poppet valves and hot tube or electric ignition, instead of flame ignition.
Note the simple elegance of the small brass work stand at the left rear of the engine. The column has been machined with a spiral, and attached to a chamfered circular base. This is an excellent example of what Thorstein Veblen called the instinct of workmanship, which Jon Larson has carried further along by adding a consideration of aesthetics. The instinct of workmanship is the admiration of “a job well done,” and according to Veblen is a human trait that gathers strength as a society advances industrially and technologically in the use of tools. Note that modern business management and financially oriented managers tend to disparage and destroy the instinct of workmanship because they treat labor as a commodity, rather than recognizing the inherent value of workmanship.
The Foos Gas Engine Co. was established in 1877 by John Foos in Springfield, OH. The company’s first products were probably feed grinders, but Foos was soon building gas engines based on the Otto design, and later Diesel’s design. By 1900, the Foos Gas Engine Company was advertising itself as the largest engine manufacturer in the world, with Foos engines sold globally. Foos engines were noted for the high precision of their design and manufacture. In one test, Foos engineers ran an engine based on round rollers, and moreover removed the main bearing caps so that nothing held the crankshaft in place but the accuracy of the counterbalance. Photographs snapped of the test engine in operation were not in the least bit blurred (except for the revolving flywheel), proving that the engine was perfectly balanced. In 1927, Foos Gas Engine Co.was sold to Fulton Iron Works of St Louis, Missouri. Fulton continued to manufacture Foos engines in Springfield until 1942.
The company that became Oldsmobile, Olds Gas Engine Works was founded in 1880 as P.F. Olds & Son, in Lansing, Michigan. In 1890, the company was renamed as Olds Gas Engine Works. In May 1899, the company was merged with the Olds Motor Vehicle Co., and moved to a new plant in Detroit as the Olds Motor Works. In 1901, the company produced 425 cars, making it the first high-volume gasoline-powered automobile manufacturer. It was acquired by General Motors in 1908, just a couple months after GM itself had been established by William C. Durant. Notice the aesthetics that make this hunk of iron painted red almost a work of art.
I have a photocopied reproduction of an Olds engine catalog, circa 1916 to 1920, available for sale on eBay, here. I also have a photocopied reproduction of a "Gas and Oil Engines: Their History and Mechanics," a chapter from Modern Power Generators, Vol. 2: A Practical Work on Prime Movers and the Transmission of Power, Steam, Electric, Water and Hot, by James Weir French, originally published by Gresham Publishing Co., London, England, 1908; reprinted by Eng-Trac Publications, 1977, available on eBay here.
The Olds to Oldsmobile story may have you wondering what, if any, was the connection between these engines, and the automobile industry that emerged a bit later? Well, there is a connection - lots of connections, as I will explain, and they are huge. Basically, the companies established to build these stationary engines were the inspiration, and more important, the training schools, for the men who created the auto industry. We have already seen that Lenoir attempted to use his engine to propel a vehicle. Otto and Langen seemed to have had their hands full trying to meet demand for their engine. In 1872, they hired a new technical director to improve and increase engine production at Deutz-AG-Gasmotorenfabrik. His name was Gottlieb Daimler. They also hired a new engineer to design and develop an improved engine. His name was Wilhelm Maybach. At Otto's engine factory, these two men began a life-long collaboration that would lead to the creation, in 1890, of Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (Daimler Motors Corp), manufacturing one of the world's best known automobile marques, Mercedes Benz. (Otto fired Daimler in 1880, reportedly because of jealousy over Daimler's university education).
Other men who worked for Otto and who later became important figures in the motor vehicle industry are: Prosper L'Orange, Rudolf Diesel, Robert Bosch and Ettore Bugatti.
With the help of all this talent, by 1876 Otto had developed the four-stroke cycle which is so well known today: an engine operating on four piston strokes (intake, compression, power, and exhaust). The result was marketed as the Otto Silent Engine, which became the first commercially successful engine to use in-cylinder compression. Here is a webpage full of very nice photos of a "Silent Otto" engine, including a close-up view of the Deutz-AG-Gasmotorenfabrik nameplate, and a few pics of retired Tonight Show host Jay Leno, who is an antique engine collector.
Yep, that's Jay Leno on the right, watching a Silent Otto engine in operation at an antique engine show in California. Photo from this website.
In 1879, Henry Ford was an apprentice at James Flowers & Bros. Machine Shop in Detroit. It was during this time that Ford read an article on the new Silent Otto design of 1876 in The English Mechanic and the World of Science, entitled "The Silent Gas Engine." A few years later Ford examined an Otto engine in operation at the Norris Bottling Works in Detroit, and soon concluded that a gasoline engine instead of a steam engine should be used to propel a horseless carriage.
This little exploration of some of the key names in creating the auto industry reveals an important socio-economic phenomena that almost all economists entirely neglect - especially those who contend that the "creative destruction" of mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, and private equity, serves to "make markets more efficient." As I wrote in The Obama administration as “managed democracy" (May, 2010):
Crotty’s phrase, “the Chandlerian view of the large NFC as an integrated combination of illiquid real assets” is extremely important because it points to something that very few economists ever consider: the immense difficulty and length of time required to assemble a well-functioning industrial enterprise. Consider that it takes at least ten years to train a competent tool-and-die maker. Or how long it takes to train a competent airline pilot. Why would any industrial enterprise want to invest in years of educating someone, if that industrial enterprise is likely to be sold off like a commodity in a few years?
In fact, as an industrial enterprise grows and matures, its trained and skilled employees make the surrounding community a pool of technical talent that is highly conducive to the creation of other industrial enterprises that use the same or similar skills. That’s why certain towns and cities become known as centers for specific industrial products. Sheffield in England was known for its highly specialized alloy irons and steels. Delft in Holland is known world-wide for its blue pottery. The Hocking River valley in southern Ohio became known in the 1800s as a center of brick manufacture. The Connecticut River valley was known for almost a century as “Precision Valley” because it was a center of designing and making high-precision metal-working machine tools. Detroit became known for making automobiles. Today, almost every high-speed, high-volume printing press in the world comes from Heidelberg, Germany. The southern part of the San Francisco Bay area became known as Silicon Valley.
How much is it worth to have a locale or city renowned for the technical excellence of its local enterprises and workers? What value can be assigned to having a few hundred wizened old men around who can train entire generations of new, highly-skilled workers? Or who have a few different ideas than their boss, and decide to start up their own company?Exactly these kind of links are traced out by David R. Meyer, a professor of Sociology and Urban Studies at Brown University, in his 2006 book, Networked Machinists: High-Technology Industries in Antebellum America. This is important because it details how the USA machine tool industry developed - and the USA machine tool industry is the foundation of the modern industrial mass production economy.
All the engines shown and discussed so far were for relatively small industrial applications requiring only a few horse power. But as industry developed and became more complex, the need for power grew geometrically. The last two engines we will look at were designed for driving large compressors and pumps to move liquids and gas fuels long distances. First is another Otto engine, but this one develops 175 horsepower. As you can see, it is much larger than the Otto engines we looked at previously. This engine was probably manufactured in the 1910s, and was used at the the Brookville Water Works (close to CSPM) to power a Deane triplex water pump. The museum's webpages on this engine states that it
is the largest remaining single-cylinder engine we know of in the world. It weighs about 25 tons and the Deane pump weighs 20 tons. The engine has a 21 inch bore and a 30 inch stroke, which yields a displacement of 10,391 cubic inches, or approximately 170 liters. Its nameplate rating is 175 hp at 180 RPM. When operating at these conditions the engine produces over 5100 ft lbf of torque. The Deane pump was built by Worthington Pump and Machinery Corporation. Each of its three cylinders is 14 inch bore by 12 inch stroke. Powered by the Otto, it delivered 1.5 million gallons of water per day.The 175hp Otto was moved to CSPM by John Wilcox, a notable engine collector who is memorialized by one of the large display buildings at Rough & Tumble. It was later acquired by Paul Harvey, founder of the Cool Spring Power Museum. Paul is featured in one of the photos on the CSPM webpages on the 175hp Otto.
The 175hp Otto from one side.
The other side of the 175hp Otto, focusing on the Deane triplex water pump which delivered 1.5 million gallons of water per day to the citizens of nearby Brookville, Pa.
The final engine we will look at is massive. I should write that as MASSIVE. It is the tandem, double-acting Snow engine, which puts out 600 horsepower. You can get an idea of the size of this monster a good hundred yards or so away from the exhibit building in which it is housed:
Everything about the Snow engine is impressive. It is 75 feet long, with an 18-foot diameter flywheel that weighs 18 tons. The total weight of the entire engine, including flywheel, is nearly 140 tons. Each cylinder pair contains a double acting piston, with a bore of 24 inches, and a stroke of 48 inches. (By comparison, the 302 (5.0L) Windsor V8 engine Ford places in its F-Series pick up trucks (the best selling vehicle in North America for the past three decades), has a bore of 4.004 inches and a stroke of 3.0028 inches.) The Snow was given to the museum in 1993, and preparing a site and reassembling it was a 20 year project. The restored engine first ran at the Cool Spring show at about 10 PM on June 11, 2013.
This engine was built in 1917 for National Fuel Gas Corporation of Titusville, Pa., and installed in NFG's Roystone Station, near Ludlow, PA to step up the pressure of natural gas for transportation by pipeline in a field about 45 miles southeast of Erie. The gas was sent to Buffalo and Rochester, New York, to be distributed for home and industrial use.
CSPM’s website has 12 pages of photos and commentary documenting the moving, emplacement, and reassembly of the Snow and the special building built to house it.
The Snow company was established in 1889, as the Snow Steam Pump Works in Buffalo, New York. The company produced water pumps for steam boilers and engines installed in vessels on Lake Erie and the Erie Canal. In 1896, the Indianapolis, Indiana, water company contracted with Snow for a vertical, triple expanding steam pump which produced 775 hp at 21 rpm, delivering 20 million gallons of water per day.
By this time, it was clear that IC engines had numerous advantages over steam engines, and Snow changed its focus accordingly. A 1914 catalog for Snow engines stated, "Careful attention has always been given to the fact that engines for gas country service cannot be built too substantial, and the metal has been well distributed over one continuous block of concrete, making the machine a solid and substantial one." Indeed, Snow engines were famous for their massive proportions. The catalog concluded by noting that 116 Snow engines had been placed into service by 1914. Snow was building some of the largest IC engines in the world. The last massive Snow IC engine was a 1,600 hp unit of 26 inch bore and 36 inch stroke, delivered in June 1951.
You would think that this massive beast shook the entire building as it operated. But it doesn’t. In a real testament to its designers, and to the volunteers at CSPM who restores and reassembled it, you can stand right next to this massive engine as the flywheel revolves, and feel not a shake or shimmy. AT ALL. This is in stark contrast to the frightening bucking, shaking, and snorting you experience when you are in the cab of an operating steam locomotive – an iron horse, indeed.
These last three photos are from the website of the Cool Spring Power Museum. I took a number of photos, but it was night, and the museum's photos are much better quality.
Finally, as I was researching this article, I found this wonderful brief reminiscence of an engineer who operated a giant engine at a trash burning facility during his college years. Particularly interesting are the little details reflecting the asset stripping (financial looting) of this particular facility, which has been occurring in all parts of the USA economy for the past thirty to forty years.
Life of an operator is 90 percent sheer boredom followed by 10 percent sheer terror. And with maintenance dynamics/skillsets as they are today, stations are not particularly well maintained and breakdowns are frequent.