As I read Dr. Graeme Quick’s article on development of the Charter farm tractor – quite likely the world’s first liquid-fueled internal combustion engine tractor (see John Charter: Charter Member), I got hung up on one detail. “John Charter persuaded W&O management to take on engine manufacture after a visit to the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, where he and the office manager saw an Otto engine working. They ordered one on the spot.”
On the spot. Charter — not yet 40 — ordered the engine on the spot, without having researched the device online. Without having a paid sales rep to educate them on the engine’s design and operation. Without the confidence that comes when every company in town has placed the same order. With no charge card and no expedited shipping.
Once the engine arrived — weeks later? Months later? — there was no negotiation with local agencies to get three-phase electricity installed. The manufacturer didn’t send out a trainer to work with onsite staff. There was no 24/7 technical support; shoot, there was no phone, Alexander Graham Bell having just refined his invention that year. When the inevitable technical hiccups came, Sterling, Ill., must have felt like the far side of the moon. Had any other person in Sterling even heard of an Otto engine in 1876?
You don’t have to “compare and contrast” for long before you start giving old John Charter a pat on the back instead of some kind of consolation prize for being born before his time. After all, he was the kind of man who made things happen — without Internet, without cell phones, without electronic bank transfers, without technicians and without overnight delivery. He rolled up his sleeves and next thing you know, his company held one of the earliest patents issued in the U.S. (in 1884) for a liquid-fueled engine. Then he went to work, creating markets for his company’s invention.
Today’s incarnation of John Charter lives in airports, uses a Bluetooth, embraces cutting edge technology, thinks globally. Nearly 150 years later, it’s a different world. Plant John Charter in 2014 and his head would spin. But some things never change. Before long, one suspects, he’d be making things happen. FC