Franklin Landis

Franklin Landis

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The brothers Franklin Frick Landis and Abraham B. Landis, natives of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, hold a distinguished place in the history of engines powered by steam.

Sons of a farm family, orphaned early in life, they exercised their mechanical genius in many enterprises, especially the production of the Geiser 'Peerless' and the Frick thresher.

Another man born in Lancaster County, George Frick, holds a key role in the Landis story. Peter Geiser, also a major figure, was born at Smithburg, Md. The stories of Frick and Geiser, and their work together, has frequently been related. We are presenting this story on the Landis family through the suggestion and cooperation of Charles M. Car Baugh, of Waynesboro, Pa., the city in whose industrial growth all these men took integral parts.

Franklin Landis became a master mechanic and tool maker as a young man. He then began a shop to make models of machines for persons who were seeking patents; a model was a required part of the patent application. He took a brother, Ezra, as partner. George Frick was a frequent visitor at the Landis home, traveling from Waynesboro.

Frank and Ezra sold their business in 1872 to John Best, a Lancaster traction engine manufacturer. Frank became manager for Best. In 1876 Frank and Abraham formed a partnership to make small portable farm steam engines and stationary steam engines. By 1879 they had sold out to Geiser Manufacturing Co. and moved to Waynesboro to start work with Geiser Jan. 1, 1880.

Frank was put in charge of design and manufacturing, for the production of the 'Peerless' portable engine. A year later he designed and built a traction engine within 11 weeks. So outstanding was this engine that it won first honors in economy and field tests at the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition. A prize of $500 in gold accompanied the honor.

The spring-mounted engine was very easy to handle. It could be entirely taken apart with a 12-inch monkey wrench. This engine also had a compensating gear, now known as the differential gear in automobiles; its use far antedated the use in autos.

Frank started design on a plow to attach to the 'Peerless' in 1884. When completed, it could provide eight to ten plowshares at one time. These could be raised or lowered by steam lift. The 'Peerless' Steam Plow appealed especially to farmers in the West and South.

Next came the new type of threshing machine with novel features not found on competing products. The 'New Peerless' Thresher became another popular money-maker. Throughout Frank's career he displayed an eagerness to do old jobs betterto produce new machines which made the farmer or any other operator able to do far more, with greater efficiency in less time, than had ever before been possible.

Frank was given assists throughout by brother Abraham. Thus Frank had developed a cylindrical grinder on which A. B. worked out improvements. It was put into use in the Geiser factory in 1888. The next year the brothers formed the Landis Tool Co. to manufacture the Landis Cylindrical Grinder, employing hundreds of workers.

The brothers saw a need for a bolt threading machine; designed one, and had it installed at the Geiser plant. In 1903 they formed the Landis Machine Co., winning further recognition for machine tool expertise.

After that came the inspiration for, and the design of, the device which became known as the Landis 'Farmer's Friend' Pneumatic Wind Stacker. Covered by 25 patent grants, it was licensed for manufacture nationally.

Frick Co., of Waynesboro, called on Frank in 1895 to design and build a threshing machine which became known as the 'Landis Eclipse'. It was totally new in design. He also designed machines for making concrete blocks. He devised the Electric Time and Program Clock System for Schools.

Another of his 'brain children' was a type of shock absorber, which he saw as elemental to comfort for passengers of automobiles. He formed another firm, Landis Engineering and Manufacturing Co., in 1913 with his son, Mark H. Landis, who became president. The company made clocks and shock absorbers.

Frank continued working on ideas after he moved part-time to Florida and was still mentally agile in his late 80's, in his laboratory at Miami Beach. By that time he had received over 200 U.S. Patents.

(This article was based on a booklet, 'The Twenty Minute Whistle', which paid tribute to George Frick, Peter Geiser, Franklin F. Landis and Abraham B. Landis, by George B. Coffman, 21 Twin Hill Road, Waynesboro, PA 17268, and an article titled 'The Landis Family of Waynesboro', by D. McCall White, which appeared in Automobile Topics, May 31, 1930. We appreciate having these materials, supplied by Charles M. Car Baugh, The Quincy Engine Man, 17 Frick Ave., Waynesboro, PA 17268. --Ed.)