A Short Chronological History of the Geiser Manufacturing Co.

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Courtesy of W. J. Eshleman, 722 E. End Avenue, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17602 Peter Geiser Tombstone in Green Hill Cemetery, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
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Courtesy of W. J. Eshleman 722 E. End Avenue Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17602 Best Engine Plate owned by Howard Eshleman, Willow Street, Lancaster, Pa.
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Courtesy of W. J. Eshleman, 722 E. End Ave., Lancaster, Pa. 17602 The last Peerless Engine, Serial No. 18298 owned by Samuel G. Stoltzfus of White Horse, Pennsylvania. It is a 50 Hp.

722 E. End Ave., Lancaster, Pa.

In the Industrial Revolution of America which spanned the
1800’s continuing into the present century, the names of many
deserving pioneer geniuses have been buried in oblivion. If we
could but know the lost details and obscure incidents, many stories
of interest and inspiration would emerge for us today.

The inventor of the grain thresher or separator was one of these
men, but was fortunate to Lave lived to see the fruits of his early
trials and tribulations develop into one of the successful
manufacturers of farm and forest machinery.

I refer to Peter Geiser, whose grandson, Robert Geiser of
Waynesboro, Pa. recently discovered the autobiography of his
grandfather and had it published. In order to complete the Geiser
data of later years it was necessary to connect the thresher with
the steam engine.

On March 6, 1826, at Smithburg, Washington County, Md., was born
Peter Geiser, a son of Daniel Geiser of Swiss-German heritage. His
mother’s name was Singer, of the famous sewing machine
family.

In the Green Hill Cemetery of Waynesboro, Pa. stands a modest
tombstone with the following inscription: PETER GEISER March 6,
1826 – March 18, 1901 Inventor of World’s First Threshing
Machine 1848 Founder of Waynesboro’s First Industry 1852 In the
light of the autobiography data the last line would appear to be
open to some question.

There is no question that Peter Geiser was one of the great
inventors of the age, and should rank along with Cyrus McCormick,
John Deere and a host of others. Let us look at the record and make
a comparison. John Deere is credited with inventing the steel plow.
So now we can plant the grain. Cyrus McCormick is credited with
inventing the reaper. So now we can harvest the grain, but we still
had no mechanical method of threshing the grain, until the advent
of Peter Geiser who did invent the grain thresher.

To those who question this we will also give some of the
evolution of the reaper. At Union Bridge, Md., a state marker
records that in the year of 1811 Jacob Thomas demonstrated a reaper
on the adjoining farm. ‘Britannica’, issue of 1895,
mentions Obed Hussey of Ohio as having a reaper with the first
sickle knife running through a guard mechanism. Tradition states
that a young man named Cyrus McCormick, from Steeles Tavern,
Virginia, had been to Ohio. He adapted the reaper knife principle
to his machine which he demonstrated successfully in the year 1832.
And who, today, would dare to question Cyrus McCormick as the
inventor of the reaper?

From the account of Peter Geiser, he copied no one, since he was
a poor farm boy with little money and no means of travel, but with
a desire to make labor easier by the invention of machinery. In
this task he endured personal hardship with no encouragement from
anyone. There was no subsidized school for budding engineers, no
welfare programs, no small business loans. He, like so many other
true Americans never gave a thought to failure. Although Peter
Geiser did wear a beard, and his father was not in exact sympathy
with his modern ideas, he did not complain of a generation gap and
whine that no one understood him or groan that the establishment
was unfair. Of course, it then too merited respect.

He, like so many other men of the era, was proud to be an
American and was inspired by God and country which enabled him to
overcome his difficulties by hard labor and perseverence which
brought forth the first successful grain thresher in America, and
founded an industry which carried his name around the globe.

Since time and space do not permit otherwise we will list this
short history by years of important target dates in the life and
evolution of Peter Geiser and his company and those who associated
with him in the development of farm machinery and sawmills.

1848-1850- Peter Geiser built first grain thresher at Smithburg,
Md.

1852- Peter Geiser patented first grain thresher.

1854- Displayed thresher at Hagerstown Fair and won first prize
in competition with a newly built Smith thresher from New York.
Peter Geiser records that from this time many new brands entered
the field. John A. Pitts of Buffalo, New York built a machine,
which apparently performed very well, since it soon conquered the
West and was manufactured by many companies with names familiar to
us today; such as Russell Bros., Massilon, Ohio; C. Altman &
Co., Canton, Ohio; Garr & Co., Richmond, Ind. and later Jerome
I. Case Co., Racine, Wis. 1855- The Geiser Company was organized,
and entered into an agreement with Jones & Miller, Hagerstown,
Md., to manufacture Geiser threshers. Peter Geiser then went into
Ohio and Indiana, where he entered into competitive demonstrations
against the Pitts and two other threshers which he does not name.
Here, even though he was financially embarrassed, he won the award
for best performances. A firm of Musselman and Victor, now asked
for and received permission to build Geisers. This same year Samuel
Fitz at Hanover, Pa., who also had a branch at Martinsburg in what
is now West Virginia, also was franchised.

1858 – Geiser expansion was now going on in earnest and
manufacturing rights and franchises were granted to the following:
McDowel & McKee, Hagerstown, Md., J. S. Moore, Mount Jackson
Va., and George Frick, Ringold, Md. This same year George Frick
purchased two and one half acres of land in Waynesboro, Pa., at
Broad and Second Sts.

1860 – The Geiser Mfg. Co. moved to Waynesboro, Pa. on part of
the land purchased by George Frick two years before. At the same
time George Frick moved on his land beside Peter Geiser.

It is easy to see that the beginnings of both the Geiser Mfg.
Co. and Frick Co. are very closely related, and it is impossible to
give the history of one without mentioning the other, if the story
is to be correct. In his autobiography, Peter Geiser records the
advertisement of George Frick in the newspaper upon their arrival
in Waynesboro in 1860.

‘The undersigned having removed his foundry and machine shop
to Waynesboro where he is better prepared to carry on his business
in all its various branches than formerly would call the attention
of persons in want of anything in his line as he is fully prepared
to make to order and on short notice, steam engines, grist and
sawmills, gearing, shafting and pulleys, iron bridges, cast iron
water wheels, iron kettles, stoves, and plow castings, also cast
and wrought iron kettles, stoves, and plow castings, also cast and
wrought iron for steam or water, and brass castings of every
description; in a word he is prepared to do everything usually done
in a foundry and a machine shop. Having supplied himself with the
latest improved machinery, such as lathes, boring, planning and
drilling machines, persons can rely upon having their work done in
the most satisfactory manner. He is also prepared to manufacture to
order machinery for wood, such as tongueing and grooving machines
for flooring, surface, tenant, moulding machines, etc. He also
manufactures ‘GEISER’S PATENT SELF-REGULATING GRAIN
SEPARATORS’ with latest improvements. Also the triple-geared
horsepower arranged for running on wheels. All persons in want of
these machines will give in their orders at an early date to have
them secured.’

‘The subscriber also offers to the public a new and valuable
improvement in his steam engines made within the last year, viz:
for the economizing of fuel and the regulation of speed which
renders his new engines far superior to the old engines.’
George Frick

Peter Geiser at the end of his autobiography acknowledges
several friends who assisted him in the development of the great
Geiser Manufacturing Company. The first mentioned and I quote
‘My good neighbor and collaborator in the vineyard of invention
and manufacture, George Frick, stands out with exceptional
prominence. Living almost on adjoining farms, our labors began at
nearly the same period. It was he who made the castings for some of
my first machines. Our interests were further linked when he
connected with his engine work at Ringgold, in 1858, the
manufacture of my Separator. Then again in 1860, when he removed
here and began in his larger field of operations. Thence, on up to
1866, when he built the twin factory on the east side of Broad
Street and confined his operations to engines, boilers, etc. Since
then, the respective work of our hands has grown and developed,
side by side, with even pace unto the present. And I rejoice that
our lines still run together in pleasant neighborhood and cherished
friendship.’

The year 1860 was of importance to Peter Geiser, business was
good and now he moved to the eastern part of Pennsylvania, ever
expanding. In York, A. B. Farquhar was franchised to build Geiser
threshers. Moving on east at Mount Joy, Pa., was John A. Snyder and
at Middle-town, Delaware, J. A. Peters, both of whom received
franchises as Geiser thresher builders. And although the cost of
expansion had been heavy, the sun of success was now shining on
Peter Geiser; he had eight branches turning out 150 threshers per
year. 1861- But war clouds threatened to obscure the sunshine. The
angry cannon of the Civil War grew louder and drowned out the
peaceful pursuit of the machine shops. The national economy was
shaken; and once more Peter Geiser was in financial difficulty and
says he could hardly have weathered the storm, if it had not been
for his good friend A. B. Farquhar of York, Pa., who prevailed upon
J. I. Case to take another block of Western Territory for which he
paid Peter Geiser $1100.00, which the latter refers to as a
windfall which saved him financially.

During the four years of the Civil War the total production of
Geiser threshers was 300 machines of which George Frick built 200.
I have in my possession a Frick price list of Geiser threshers of
1863 as follows:

 Separator Thresher and  Separator Thresher Separator Power
1  $165.00 $250.00 $365.00
2  $140.00  $200.00 $300.00
3  $110.00  $160.00 $240.00

  I assume the separator may have been much like a goundhog
thresher to use with a farmer’s windmill to clean the
wheat.

1866- The Civil War over, Peter Geiser was still moving on to
success even though despair had left its mark, but also some useful
experience. He now organized the firm of Geiser, Pierce &
Oiler. This firm purchased the 2 acres which belonged to George
Frick, which included the Frick shop on the west side of Broad
Street in Waynesboro. George Frick moved to the opposite side of
Broad Street and built a new shop. From there he moved to the north
side of town where the present Frick Company stands.

1867  – The new Geiser Company now concentrated on
threshers being built in their own shop in Waynesboro, turning out
250 machines.

1868   – Success seemed assured, 300 threshers turned
out.

1869  – The Geiser Manufacturing Company was incorporated
and turned out 400 threshers.

1876 – The United States celebrates its 100th birthday with a
Centennial in Philadelphia. All the manufacturers, large and small,
either attended or had a display there. We are told that the Geiser
thresher was there and also a steam engine made in Lancaster, Pa.,
known as the Best Engine was on display. Peter Geiser struck up a
friendship with Frank and Abe Landis who worked for the Best
Foundry in Lancaster and were the brains of the Best steam engine;
they were excellent machanics. Peter Geiser told them of his
thresher, and related how when a farmer wished to buy a portable
threshing rig it was necessary to sell a Frick steam engine with a
Geiser thresher. He formulated the idea of having a Geiser steam
engine of his own. And why not? His company was now solvent. The
friendship grew into a business proposal, asking the two
Landis’, Frank and Abe, to leave Best in Lancaster and come to
Waynesboro to develop a Geiser steam engine. They accepted. 1881 –
Frank Landis, not bothering too much about patents, took the Best
engine and assimilated it into the Geiser which was named Peerless
in order to compete with the Frick Eclipse. Frank Landis was under
contract to Geiser and received $200.00 per horse power per engine
plus $1.50 per $100.00 of the selling price. A Geiser thresher
selling at $600.00 netted Mr. Landis $9.00.

In Lancaster County, Howard Eshleman still owns the brass name
plate of his father’s Best engine, which with an Andes thresher
made up his portable rig. The Best engine, which had wooden wheels,
burned up in 1906. As the Peerless engine was developed the Best
engine went into oblivion.

1882- The Geiser Mfg. Co. now employed between 400 and 500
persons. But again disaster was to strike, when the factory burned
to the ground. However, a large, new and magnificent factory was
erected the same year. 1892- Frank Landis resigned from the Geiser
Mfg. Co. and in 1894 joined Frick Co. as a thresher designer
followed by Andrew Hess, also a thresher engineer, formerly from
Lancaster, Pa. They had patented the ‘lateral moving rolls’
into the Geiser thresher, and when they both went to Frick Company
they incorporated the same idea into the Frick thresher 1897- The
Geiser Mfg. Company sued the Frick Company, and no one had any
threshers for a year. Frick, however, won the suit. Sometime later
Andrew Hess left Frick and returned to the Geiser Mfg. Company and
was sent abroad for the company for four years. However, he later
returned to Frick Co. where he ended his carreer 1958.

1912- The Geiser Mfg. Company on August 1 sold out to the
Emerson Brantingham Company of Chicago, Ill. The E-B Company did
not buy Geiser to boost its prestige, but rather to eliminate
competition, and again the Geiser interests declined.

1928- Things were booming and some of the old Geiser interests
in Waynesboro, including Mark Landis (son of Frank) repurchased the
Geiser Mfg. Company from E-B. The great crash of 1929 was too
great, and the company was unable to weather the storm. There were
some threshers, some sawmills, and a hand full of steam engines
built, but one morning the shop doors did not open, although there
was a last 50 Hp. Peerless engine partially finished. The receivers
eventually completed this Peerless traction engine which bears
serial number 18298. When finished it just had a flat coat; of
brown paint, and was purchased by Samuel G. Stoltzfus, White Horse,
Pa., who still owns it; but has given it a true coat of Peerless
olive green paint. 1937- The last Geiser sawmill was sold at retail
by the receivership of the Geiser Manufacturing Company to Roy and
H. T. Compton of Floyd, Va. There were later sold at Sheriff Sale
fourteen more sawmills to sawmillers whose names have been buried
by the sawdust they made.

1940 – The end came when the Geiser factory and shops burned to
the ground, with the exception of the brick office building which
has been converted into a dwelling and still stands.

1969 – The only surviving connection with Geiser is W. G.
Runkles Machinery Co., Trenton, N. J. Mr. Runkles, who was once
affiliated with Geiser, died several years ago. His son, Russell
Runkles, however, conducts the business and still furnishes parts
for Geiser sawmills; he is also a current Frick dealer, and sells a
full line. Until recently the Runkles Company retained the
remaining Geiser blueprints and records. This year, however, they
sold all but the sawmill data to Robert L. Johnson, Crossville,
Ga., who operates ‘Whistles in the Woods’. He plans to move
his operations to Ellamore, W. Va., where we understand he will
make Geiser steam engine parts.

And so the colorful saga of the Geiser Manufacturing Company, so
loved and respected by farmers, threshermen and sawmillers has
drawn to a close, but their reputation for quality and fair dealing
can still serve as an example to modern firms.

We do not claim infallibility on the foregoing data but have
done the best we could to get the Geiser story in print, and due to
diligent research we believe the foregoing to be correct.

W.J. Eshleman Territory Manager, Frick Company

Acknowledgments to:

 Robert Geiser         
 Andrew Hess

Roy Herr               
  Howard Eshleman

Gilson E. Miller        
Russell Runkles

(Russell Runkles died October 7, after this article was
written.)

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