A simple idea that worked: that’s all it took to set the New Holland engine apart. The New Holland was a popular engine in its day, and remains popular with a core of avid collectors more than 100 years later.
The New Holland Machine Works was founded in 1895 in New Holland, Penn., by Abram M. Zimmerman. Zimmerman trained as an apprentice at the Ezra Landis Machine Works in Lancaster, Penn. He then worked for P.E. Shirk, operator of the Blue Ball (Penn.) Machine Works, which later produced the Shirk tractor.
Zimmerman’s company was established on Luther Avenue (now North Railroad). Initially, the company focused on engine repair. But by 1897, the company developed its first real marketable product: a corn grinding mill with sandstone grinding wheels. Soon after, New Holland began production of hog troughs and water tanks.
New Holland was rebuilding secondhand engines when, in 1898, the company became a dealer for the Columbus Gas Engine. Many of the early Columbus engines ran only on natural gas, making them useless to the farmer who had no access to city gas mains. Sensing a market for engines to power the mills he was already producing, Zimmerman created a device converting the engines to gasoline.
A year later, he applied for (and received) a patent for a cob grinder with an adjustable grinding plate. That machine proved very popular, and was built by New Holland into the late 1920s.
By 1901, Zimmerman had built his first gas engine: a 1 1/2 hp engine based on the Otto Cycle Principle. Because most small engines of the era were water cooled, Zimmerman sought to develop one that was freeze-proof. The lowly hog trough produced by New Holland in its earliest years may have provided inspiration for the engine’s unique feature: a V-shaped water hopper created expansion space for ice, thereby preventing broken castings in freezing temperatures. Zimmerman was quick to secure a patent on his 1 1/2 hp ‘freeze proof’ engine, a model that would become popular on the farm and, years later, with collectors.
‘It’s an oddball,’ collector John Kreider, New Holland, readily admits. ‘With that trough-like hopper … there’s no other engine like it. It’s a simple idea, but it worked. It’s the only engine you could leave out in the weather, and go put warm water in it, and it’d start right up.’
More space and capital were needed to produce the new engine and meet the high demand for cob mills. In May 1903, the machine works was incorporated into the New Holland Machine Company. The new company began business in May of that year with $50,000 capital. New facilities were constructed on Franklin Street along the railroad. Also that year, Zimmerman won a patent for his engine’s unique hopper design.
Zimmerman took a conservative approach to production. His New Holland engines appear to have been produced in small batches. After the parts were machined, the machinists assembled units as sales dictated.
Soon after the 1 1/2 hp model went into production, a larger engine – 3 hp – was designed. Documentation is scarce, but it appears that during a period between 1902 and 1909, the company built only 1 1/2 and 3 hp engines. Today, the few remaining 3 hp engines have extremely low serial numbers.
Documentation remains a challenge for New Holland collectors. Records from the company’s early years, when available, are poor. Some are damaged. Those from late 1915 on are the most reliable, and give a good indication of how many engines were built, and when.
New Holland’s affiliation with the Columbus Gas Engine Company ended in 1906. That year also marked the signing of an agreement with Fairbanks Morse and Co. to market New Holland feed mills. The latter arrangement lasted just two years and was not renewed.
By early 1909, the 3 hp engine had been fitted with a slightly larger piston and re-rated to 4 hp. In about 1909, the company started building its own model of portable rock crushers. These could be powered by the larger 4 hp engine.
In 1910, two more models were added to the engine line: the 1/2 hp and the 2 hp. The company’s workforce totaled about 135.
New Holland’s engine business reached its peak in the years leading to 1920. Working at full capacity, the company built engines, stone crushers, feed mills and wood saws. Although much of that production continued into the late 1920s, and other items were produced in to the 1930s, New Holland ceased engine production in the fall of 1927.
The company struggled through the 1930s, producing stone crushers, wood saws, cast iron stoves, lawnmowers and feed mills. By 1939, the company’s workforce had dropped to 45 workers and mounting debt was a serious problem. Finally, two local banks took the company into receivership.
Later that year, three local businessmen purchased and reorganized the company, retaining the New Holland name. Their first new product was the world’s first successful automatic-pickup, self-tying hay baler. Acquisitions, mergers and buyouts have marked corporate America in the ensuing years, but the company founded by Abram Zimmerman is still recognizable as Case New Holland.
For more information: John Kreider, 327 A E. Main Street, New Holland, Penn., 17557.
Farm Collector gratefully acknowledges contribution of material for this article by John Kreider.
New Holland engines are rare birds: ‘Collectors are spreading them around more now, but there’s not that many out there… there’s just a couple hundred that we know of.’ John Kreider