When Philander P. Lane opened his first small machine shop in downtown Cincinnati, in 1850, he owned only three machine tools. Ten years later, he was one of the most noted and distinguished industrial representatives of the city. In 1852, Lane took a partner, Joseph T. Bodley. While Lane promoted the company, Bodley saw to the manufacturing. Together they developed the firm into a top manufacturing company of Cincinnati’s early history.
Lane became “one of the most distinguished representatives of Cincinnati and a conspicuous figure in the city’s material development and progress.” He was not only a civic leader but also a founder of the Ohio Mechanics Institute, a member of the board of school examiners, and clerk of the new town of Cumminsville. Lane also served as colonel in the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the battle of Antietam during the Civil War. Bodley continued to run the company in Lane’s absence.
After a modest beginning, company growth soon necessitated a move to larger quarters. In 1852, Lane & Bodley moved the company from Pearl Street to the southeast corner of John and Water streets. At their new location they shared space with the already well-established manufacturing company Reynolds & Kite. The two companies were similar and shared a large complex that consisted of five buildings divided into six departments and a foundry, boiler shop and finishing shop. Lane & Bodley bought out Reynolds & Kite in 1858.
Business growth slowed during the Civil War (1861-1865) but rapidly picked up at the war’s end. Bodley died in 1868 just as the business had begun to expand. Known as J.T., Bodley had earned “ … a high reputation among Cincinnati’s many notable and distinguished manufacturers … his acts survive and his name belongs to the incorporated title, a fitting and honorable memorial.” Lane & Bodley employed over a hundred workers and was shipping products throughout the United States. Eight years after Joseph Bodley’s death, Lane incorporated the company with a capital stock of $375,000. The company now employed as many as 300 workers and began expanding and remodeling their existing buildings with all the latest improvements and laborsaving devices. For its time it was a modern, efficient factory. The firm also had begun shipping products all over the world as well: “The reputation of the manufacturers of the Lane & Bodley Co. is so effectively established as to have created for them a large demand throughout the United States and a growing trade in the East Indies, Russia, Sweden, Germany, France, England, Australia, the West Indies, South America and Japan.”
The Lane & Bodley Co. was at the forefront of the steam engine industry with their Corliss-type automatic cut-off engines. They produced both stationary and portable steam engines with 2 to 10 HP capacity. As advertised, these engines were unrivaled in economy and durability. A standard single-cylinder stationary engine, for example, had an operating capacity of 100 psi and weighed about 70,000 pounds. These engines, beginning at $700, were tough, durable, and reasonably priced. Many different types of engines were made for various purposes, and this diversity made them even more popular and useful.
The Cincinnati stationary steam engine was designed for printing offices, corn mills, cotton gins, sawmills and small factories. This style of engine, made from 8 to 25 HP, had a heavy cylindrical bedplate to which all parts were attached. These engines were built for high speed, and Lane & Bodley declared they would “develop as large a percentage of power as any engine in the market.”
Lane & Bodley also manufactured portable steam engines. They had a large firebox and a steam dome made of wrought iron and were quite mobile for their time: “Our smaller sizes for farm and plantation uses are permanently mounted and can be moved with as much facility as a loaded wagon.” These engines were advertised as costing between $900 to $1,850.
The company produced a number of other goods as well. Early products were woodworking machines, circular sawmills and hydraulic elevators. They also sold flooring machines, sash molding machines and surfacers. A 30-inch railway cut-off saw was listed at $175 in their 1871 price list. Every article was tested and examined before being shipped.
Direct-action hydraulic elevators were popular (understandably) and were used widely in Cincinnati in such places as the Cincinnati Gas Co., the Cincinnati Public Library, the Grand Hotel and H. Closterman, as well as the Exposition Hall in Chicago and locations in Louisville, Memphis, Baltimore and St. Louis. Lane & Bodley also offered wire cable, hydraulic and steam-powered elevators, as well as valves used in the elevators.
On Thursday night, Dec. 13, 1900, the worst nightmare of any business struck the foundry of Lane & Bodley, destroying the building. The headline of Dec. 14 in the Cincinnati Enquirer screamed, “IN RUINS is Lane & Bodley Plant … Disastrous Conflagration in the Lower Part of the City Last Evening.” The fire was believed to have started in the cupola and spread quickly. The only piece of luck that saved the rest of the plant was a huge firewall between the foundry and the remaining departments.
The company was still at the southwest corner of John and Water streets. The entire Cincinnati fire department responded, but the fire was quickly out of hand. The water supply was limited, and at times not even one hose was playing water on the blaze. To complicate matters further, freight trains were blocking Waters Street, and the fire department could not bring water to that side of the building.
Upon returning to the city the day following the fire, Henry M. Lane, son of the founder and now president of the company, assured all his customers that the company was insured and all orders could and would be filled, as the ma-chine shop, drafting room and office were intact. He would be reopened the following Monday! In the meantime, 200 men were out of work and 50 years worth of patterns stored on the fourth floor were destroyed.
Not everyone was as sanguine in the aftermath of the fire as Henry Lane. Thomas P. Egan, owner of a nearby plant, the J.A. Fay & Egan Co., loudly criticized the handling of the fire. He said that the firemen were untrained and unorganized and that many stood by not knowing what to do. The fire chiefs were incompetent, trying to do too much themselves, and were not putting enough effort into directing the operations. Egan believed that, had the fire been fought correctly, the pattern works would not have been lost.
Twilight of the Firm
Philander P. Lane died in December 1889 and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery. He had retired some years earlier, financially secure, and had already turned the business over to his sons. Lane had built himself an impressive home on Montgomery Road just north of Norwood, Ohio. That home still stands and today is the Vorhis Funeral Home. His son Henry Lane became the president of the Lane & Bodley Co. and expanded the business in new directions.
Henry, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was responsible for the building of the first cog railroad up Pikes Peak. He also designed inclines for several of Cincinnati’s hills, which are still talked about today, as well as cable systems in Denver, St. Paul and Providence.
The company continued to prosper under Henry’s leadership until at least 1920. He had relocated the company to new premises at Paddock and Tennessee streets in 1901 after the fire. Lane was still listed in the 1920 Cincinnati directory as president of the Lane & Bodley Co. on Paddock; however, in 1921 only his home address at Lenox Place remained in the listings.
Henry’s life ended tragically. In May of 1929 there was a deadly fire in the Cleveland Clinic where he had gone to receive treatment: “Among those killed in the Cleveland Clinic disaster was Henry Marcus Lane,
75 years old, one of the foremost engineers in the country.”
Cory Ament and Sandra Seidman are students who attended Robert T. Rhode’s seminar at Northern Kentucky University on the literature and the history of the steam-power era, and spent the 2005 fall semester researching and composing this document.