Innovation Leads to Early Success at Cushman Motor Co.

The history of the Cushman Motor Co.

| August 2016

  • Cushman's 4 hp vertical engine.
    Photo courtesy Farm Collector Archives
  • “One blacksmith sold three the first month,” this ad crows, in an effort to win additional agents.
    Photo courtesy Farm Collector Archives
  • Everett Cushman and Leslie Cushman’s 1902 patent for a gas engine.
    Photo courtesy Farm Collector Archives

Cushman Motor Co., Lincoln, Nebraska, was not formally incorporated by the Nebraska Secretary of State until 1902, but the gears were turning at least as early as Oct. 25, 1901, for that is when Everett B. Cushman and Leslie S. Cushman applied for their first patent. Awarded on July 1, 1902, patent no. 703,695 covers a 2-cycle vertical gasoline engine, “designed for use in connection with a bicycle or other light work.”

That much is clear. Other aspects of the Cushman story are lost to time. Renowned historian C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 identifies the two Cushman men as brothers. Several other sources attribute the early Cushman patents to Everett Cushman and his cousin, Clinton Cushman – but Clinton’s name does not appear on any of the three earliest Cushman patents.

That bit of murkiness aside, it’s clear that the Cushman company’s early focus was on 2-cycle vertical marine engines (promoted as “the valveless, cussless motor”) and their later adaptation to stationary and automotive use. In 1904, sensing the enormous market for stationary engines, Cushman introduced a 2-cycle horizontal engine. “Rated at 3 hp, it used a closed cylinder jacket as did most engines of 1904,” Wendel notes. “Spark plug ignition was featured, and this along with the 2-cycle design made the engine a model of simplicity.”

Built Strong, but Light

In 1910, Cushman launched a vertical 4 hp engine that became a popular power source for grain binders. The 4 hp vertical weighed 190 lbs., “about 50 lbs. per hp, Wendel says, “at a time when most engines weighed 150-200 per hp.” The 4 hp vertical remained in the Cushman line into the 1930s.

By 1914, Cushman had introduced an 8 hp vertical engine, essentially a double-cylinder version of the original 4 hp model. A 15 hp vertical unveiled a year later remained in the line into the 1930s (a 10 hp twin-cylinder was produced in the 1920s). A twin-cylinder 20 hp engine topped the line. A flyball governor on the camshaft characterized the 20 hp; all other models carried governor weights within the flywheel. The 20 hp engine was offered with a radiator; a tank-cooled version was also available.

Everett Cushman appears to have departed the company in 1919. But he left his fingerprints on engines across the country. The Cushman name is linked to Bean Spray Pump Co., San Jose, California (Bean engines appear to have been built under the supervision of E.B. Cushman); Fairfield Engine Co., Fairfield, Iowa (whose engines strongly resemble the Cushman vertical engine); and Pierson Mfg. Co., Topeka, Kansas (whose engines also appear to have had design input from E.B. Cushman).


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