American Steam Wagon

From a Small Factory in Worcester, Mass., Morgan Motor Company Turned out Steam-Powered Wagons

Morgan Motor Company

A view inside the Morgan Motor Company, Worcester, Mass., date unknown.

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Never heard of the Morgan Motor Company? Don't feel bad, because until these photos came to our attention, neither had we.

Walter Jones, an antique engine enthusiast from Northboro, Mass., has had these photos in his possession for almost 20 years, but in that time has yet to uncover any information about these steam wagons. His detective work has borne some fruit, however.

Heald Machine Tool Company

Walter has learned the Morgan Motor Company was part of Heald Machine Tool Company, Worcester, Mass. James N. Heald, a third generation blacksmith, took over the reins of the family company in the late 1800s, and in 1903 he moved the company from its roots in Heald Village, Mass., to Worcester. An interest in engines appears to have driven Heald's work, evidenced by his 1905 invention of a rotary grinder for machining piston rings, followed by development of an internal grinder for machining cylinder bores that paved the way for mass production of engines. Heald's machine tool contributions landed him a spot in the Machine Tool Hall of Fame at the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt.

With that kind of background, you'd think it would be easy to find information on Heald's foray into steam, but so far that's not been the case. Calls to the Worcester Historical Society have yielded no further information, and discussions with East Coast steamers have, similarly, brought no new information.

Judging from what can be seen, the Morgan Motor Company, Worcester, Mass., was actively engaged in the construction of steam-powered wagons in the early part of the 20th century. No dates of any kind appear on the photos, but the dress of the workers suggests these pictures were taken sometime in the late teens. The Morgan evidently used a flash boiler system as commonly found on steam-powered automobiles of the period. Much smaller than traditional locomotive boilers, flash boilers operated at pressures up to 750 psi, and were so named because of their ability to reach operating temperatures quickly, often within one minute of firing. The engines themselves are not visible, but assuming the wagons followed contemporary steam car practice it's a good bet they were two-cylinder compound engines.

It's interesting to speculate about these photos, and the Morgan Motor Company. Note, for instance, that the picture on the preceding page shows five wagons at various stages of completion, one boiler unit on a moveable cart on the floor and one evidently complete wagon wearing the company name on its front. Now compare that to the picture above showing six operating wagons, and one could justifiably speculate the company made seven complete units, and possibly no more.

Whatever the case, these photos present a compelling insight into early steam-powered vehicles, and an interesting mystery, to boot. If anyone out there knows more, we'd like to hear from them.

Richard Backus is editor of Steam Traction. Contact staeam engine enthusiast Walter Jones at: 44 School St., Northboro, MA 01532, or e-mail: gretwall@gis.net.