A Short Chronological History of the Geiser Manufacturing Co.

Peter Geiser Tombstone

Courtesy of W. J. Eshleman, 722 E. End Avenue, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17602 Peter Geiser Tombstone in Green Hill Cemetery, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

W. J. Eshleman

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722 E. End Ave., Lancaster, Pa.

In the Industrial Revolution of America which spanned the 1800's continuing into the present century, the names of many deserving pioneer geniuses have been buried in oblivion. If we could but know the lost details and obscure incidents, many stories of interest and inspiration would emerge for us today.

The inventor of the grain thresher or separator was one of these men, but was fortunate to Lave lived to see the fruits of his early trials and tribulations develop into one of the successful manufacturers of farm and forest machinery.

I refer to Peter Geiser, whose grandson, Robert Geiser of Waynesboro, Pa. recently discovered the autobiography of his grandfather and had it published. In order to complete the Geiser data of later years it was necessary to connect the thresher with the steam engine.

On March 6, 1826, at Smithburg, Washington County, Md., was born Peter Geiser, a son of Daniel Geiser of Swiss-German heritage. His mother's name was Singer, of the famous sewing machine family.

In the Green Hill Cemetery of Waynesboro, Pa. stands a modest tombstone with the following inscription: PETER GEISER March 6, 1826 - March 18, 1901 Inventor of World's First Threshing Machine 1848 Founder of Waynesboro's First Industry 1852 In the light of the autobiography data the last line would appear to be open to some question.

There is no question that Peter Geiser was one of the great inventors of the age, and should rank along with Cyrus McCormick, John Deere and a host of others. Let us look at the record and make a comparison. John Deere is credited with inventing the steel plow. So now we can plant the grain. Cyrus McCormick is credited with inventing the reaper. So now we can harvest the grain, but we still had no mechanical method of threshing the grain, until the advent of Peter Geiser who did invent the grain thresher.

To those who question this we will also give some of the evolution of the reaper. At Union Bridge, Md., a state marker records that in the year of 1811 Jacob Thomas demonstrated a reaper on the adjoining farm. 'Britannica', issue of 1895, mentions Obed Hussey of Ohio as having a reaper with the first sickle knife running through a guard mechanism. Tradition states that a young man named Cyrus McCormick, from Steeles Tavern, Virginia, had been to Ohio. He adapted the reaper knife principle to his machine which he demonstrated successfully in the year 1832. And who, today, would dare to question Cyrus McCormick as the inventor of the reaper?

From the account of Peter Geiser, he copied no one, since he was a poor farm boy with little money and no means of travel, but with a desire to make labor easier by the invention of machinery. In this task he endured personal hardship with no encouragement from anyone. There was no subsidized school for budding engineers, no welfare programs, no small business loans. He, like so many other true Americans never gave a thought to failure. Although Peter Geiser did wear a beard, and his father was not in exact sympathy with his modern ideas, he did not complain of a generation gap and whine that no one understood him or groan that the establishment was unfair. Of course, it then too merited respect.

He, like so many other men of the era, was proud to be an American and was inspired by God and country which enabled him to overcome his difficulties by hard labor and perseverence which brought forth the first successful grain thresher in America, and founded an industry which carried his name around the globe.

Since time and space do not permit otherwise we will list this short history by years of important target dates in the life and evolution of Peter Geiser and his company and those who associated with him in the development of farm machinery and sawmills.

1848-1850- Peter Geiser built first grain thresher at Smithburg, Md.

1852- Peter Geiser patented first grain thresher.

1854- Displayed thresher at Hagerstown Fair and won first prize in competition with a newly built Smith thresher from New York. Peter Geiser records that from this time many new brands entered the field. John A. Pitts of Buffalo, New York built a machine, which apparently performed very well, since it soon conquered the West and was manufactured by many companies with names familiar to us today; such as Russell Bros., Massilon, Ohio; C. Altman & Co., Canton, Ohio; Garr & Co., Richmond, Ind. and later Jerome I. Case Co., Racine, Wis. 1855- The Geiser Company was organized, and entered into an agreement with Jones & Miller, Hagerstown, Md., to manufacture Geiser threshers. Peter Geiser then went into Ohio and Indiana, where he entered into competitive demonstrations against the Pitts and two other threshers which he does not name. Here, even though he was financially embarrassed, he won the award for best performances. A firm of Musselman and Victor, now asked for and received permission to build Geisers. This same year Samuel Fitz at Hanover, Pa., who also had a branch at Martinsburg in what is now West Virginia, also was franchised.

1858 - Geiser expansion was now going on in earnest and manufacturing rights and franchises were granted to the following: McDowel & McKee, Hagerstown, Md., J. S. Moore, Mount Jackson Va., and George Frick, Ringold, Md. This same year George Frick purchased two and one half acres of land in Waynesboro, Pa., at Broad and Second Sts.

1860 - The Geiser Mfg. Co. moved to Waynesboro, Pa. on part of the land purchased by George Frick two years before. At the same time George Frick moved on his land beside Peter Geiser.

It is easy to see that the beginnings of both the Geiser Mfg. Co. and Frick Co. are very closely related, and it is impossible to give the history of one without mentioning the other, if the story is to be correct. In his autobiography, Peter Geiser records the advertisement of George Frick in the newspaper upon their arrival in Waynesboro in 1860.

'The undersigned having removed his foundry and machine shop to Waynesboro where he is better prepared to carry on his business in all its various branches than formerly would call the attention of persons in want of anything in his line as he is fully prepared to make to order and on short notice, steam engines, grist and sawmills, gearing, shafting and pulleys, iron bridges, cast iron water wheels, iron kettles, stoves, and plow castings, also cast and wrought iron kettles, stoves, and plow castings, also cast and wrought iron for steam or water, and brass castings of every description; in a word he is prepared to do everything usually done in a foundry and a machine shop. Having supplied himself with the latest improved machinery, such as lathes, boring, planning and drilling machines, persons can rely upon having their work done in the most satisfactory manner. He is also prepared to manufacture to order machinery for wood, such as tongueing and grooving machines for flooring, surface, tenant, moulding machines, etc. He also manufactures 'GEISER'S PATENT SELF-REGULATING GRAIN SEPARATORS' with latest improvements. Also the triple-geared horsepower arranged for running on wheels. All persons in want of these machines will give in their orders at an early date to have them secured.'

'The subscriber also offers to the public a new and valuable improvement in his steam engines made within the last year, viz: for the economizing of fuel and the regulation of speed which renders his new engines far superior to the old engines.' George Frick

Peter Geiser at the end of his autobiography acknowledges several friends who assisted him in the development of the great Geiser Manufacturing Company. The first mentioned and I quote 'My good neighbor and collaborator in the vineyard of invention and manufacture, George Frick, stands out with exceptional prominence. Living almost on adjoining farms, our labors began at nearly the same period. It was he who made the castings for some of my first machines. Our interests were further linked when he connected with his engine work at Ringgold, in 1858, the manufacture of my Separator. Then again in 1860, when he removed here and began in his larger field of operations. Thence, on up to 1866, when he built the twin factory on the east side of Broad Street and confined his operations to engines, boilers, etc. Since then, the respective work of our hands has grown and developed, side by side, with even pace unto the present. And I rejoice that our lines still run together in pleasant neighborhood and cherished friendship.'

The year 1860 was of importance to Peter Geiser, business was good and now he moved to the eastern part of Pennsylvania, ever expanding. In York, A. B. Farquhar was franchised to build Geiser threshers. Moving on east at Mount Joy, Pa., was John A. Snyder and at Middle-town, Delaware, J. A. Peters, both of whom received franchises as Geiser thresher builders. And although the cost of expansion had been heavy, the sun of success was now shining on Peter Geiser; he had eight branches turning out 150 threshers per year. 1861- But war clouds threatened to obscure the sunshine. The angry cannon of the Civil War grew louder and drowned out the peaceful pursuit of the machine shops. The national economy was shaken; and once more Peter Geiser was in financial difficulty and says he could hardly have weathered the storm, if it had not been for his good friend A. B. Farquhar of York, Pa., who prevailed upon J. I. Case to take another block of Western Territory for which he paid Peter Geiser $1100.00, which the latter refers to as a windfall which saved him financially.

During the four years of the Civil War the total production of Geiser threshers was 300 machines of which George Frick built 200. I have in my possession a Frick price list of Geiser threshers of 1863 as follows:

  SeparatorThresher and  SeparatorThresher Separator Power
1 $165.00$250.00$365.00
2 $140.00 $200.00$300.00
3 $110.00 $160.00$240.00

  I assume the separator may have been much like a goundhog thresher to use with a farmer's windmill to clean the wheat.

1866- The Civil War over, Peter Geiser was still moving on to success even though despair had left its mark, but also some useful experience. He now organized the firm of Geiser, Pierce & Oiler. This firm purchased the 2 acres which belonged to George Frick, which included the Frick shop on the west side of Broad Street in Waynesboro. George Frick moved to the opposite side of Broad Street and built a new shop. From there he moved to the north side of town where the present Frick Company stands.

1867  - The new Geiser Company now concentrated on threshers being built in their own shop in Waynesboro, turning out 250 machines.

1868   - Success seemed assured, 300 threshers turned out.

1869  - The Geiser Manufacturing Company was incorporated and turned out 400 threshers.

1876 - The United States celebrates its 100th birthday with a Centennial in Philadelphia. All the manufacturers, large and small, either attended or had a display there. We are told that the Geiser thresher was there and also a steam engine made in Lancaster, Pa., known as the Best Engine was on display. Peter Geiser struck up a friendship with Frank and Abe Landis who worked for the Best Foundry in Lancaster and were the brains of the Best steam engine; they were excellent machanics. Peter Geiser told them of his thresher, and related how when a farmer wished to buy a portable threshing rig it was necessary to sell a Frick steam engine with a Geiser thresher. He formulated the idea of having a Geiser steam engine of his own. And why not? His company was now solvent. The friendship grew into a business proposal, asking the two Landis', Frank and Abe, to leave Best in Lancaster and come to Waynesboro to develop a Geiser steam engine. They accepted. 1881 - Frank Landis, not bothering too much about patents, took the Best engine and assimilated it into the Geiser which was named Peerless in order to compete with the Frick Eclipse. Frank Landis was under contract to Geiser and received $200.00 per horse power per engine plus $1.50 per $100.00 of the selling price. A Geiser thresher selling at $600.00 netted Mr. Landis $9.00.

In Lancaster County, Howard Eshleman still owns the brass name plate of his father's Best engine, which with an Andes thresher made up his portable rig. The Best engine, which had wooden wheels, burned up in 1906. As the Peerless engine was developed the Best engine went into oblivion.

1882- The Geiser Mfg. Co. now employed between 400 and 500 persons. But again disaster was to strike, when the factory burned to the ground. However, a large, new and magnificent factory was erected the same year. 1892- Frank Landis resigned from the Geiser Mfg. Co. and in 1894 joined Frick Co. as a thresher designer followed by Andrew Hess, also a thresher engineer, formerly from Lancaster, Pa. They had patented the 'lateral moving rolls' into the Geiser thresher, and when they both went to Frick Company they incorporated the same idea into the Frick thresher 1897- The Geiser Mfg. Company sued the Frick Company, and no one had any threshers for a year. Frick, however, won the suit. Sometime later Andrew Hess left Frick and returned to the Geiser Mfg. Company and was sent abroad for the company for four years. However, he later returned to Frick Co. where he ended his carreer 1958.

1912- The Geiser Mfg. Company on August 1 sold out to the Emerson Brantingham Company of Chicago, Ill. The E-B Company did not buy Geiser to boost its prestige, but rather to eliminate competition, and again the Geiser interests declined.

1928- Things were booming and some of the old Geiser interests in Waynesboro, including Mark Landis (son of Frank) repurchased the Geiser Mfg. Company from E-B. The great crash of 1929 was too great, and the company was unable to weather the storm. There were some threshers, some sawmills, and a hand full of steam engines built, but one morning the shop doors did not open, although there was a last 50 Hp. Peerless engine partially finished. The receivers eventually completed this Peerless traction engine which bears serial number 18298. When finished it just had a flat coat; of brown paint, and was purchased by Samuel G. Stoltzfus, White Horse, Pa., who still owns it; but has given it a true coat of Peerless olive green paint. 1937- The last Geiser sawmill was sold at retail by the receivership of the Geiser Manufacturing Company to Roy and H. T. Compton of Floyd, Va. There were later sold at Sheriff Sale fourteen more sawmills to sawmillers whose names have been buried by the sawdust they made.

1940 - The end came when the Geiser factory and shops burned to the ground, with the exception of the brick office building which has been converted into a dwelling and still stands.

1969 - The only surviving connection with Geiser is W. G. Runkles Machinery Co., Trenton, N. J. Mr. Runkles, who was once affiliated with Geiser, died several years ago. His son, Russell Runkles, however, conducts the business and still furnishes parts for Geiser sawmills; he is also a current Frick dealer, and sells a full line. Until recently the Runkles Company retained the remaining Geiser blueprints and records. This year, however, they sold all but the sawmill data to Robert L. Johnson, Crossville, Ga., who operates 'Whistles in the Woods'. He plans to move his operations to Ellamore, W. Va., where we understand he will make Geiser steam engine parts.

And so the colorful saga of the Geiser Manufacturing Company, so loved and respected by farmers, threshermen and sawmillers has drawn to a close, but their reputation for quality and fair dealing can still serve as an example to modern firms.

We do not claim infallibility on the foregoing data but have done the best we could to get the Geiser story in print, and due to diligent research we believe the foregoing to be correct.

W.J. Eshleman Territory Manager, Frick Company

Acknowledgments to:

 Robert Geiser           Andrew Hess

Roy Herr                  Howard Eshleman

Gilson E. Miller         Russell Runkles

(Russell Runkles died October 7, after this article was written.)