One of the striking features of America on the eve of the Civil War was the number of companies manufacturing steam engines for agricultural purposes. Cincinnati offers a case in point. I have already outlined the history of Miles Greenwood and his justly famous Eagle Iron Works in my article entitled “When Steam was King … and Cincinnati was Queen,” Iron-Men Album, January/February 1996. In that same story, I covered Lane & Bodley, well-known successor to Reynolds, Kite & Tatum. It is important to recognize the 10 other Cincinnati concerns – all but one of them fleeting – that built engines with applications to agriculture:
The First Nine
1. Around 1849, James Todd started a foundry and machine shop. A decade later, Todd’s advertisements in city directories mentioned portable corn and flouring mills, steam engines, and other machines. A year or two after the close of the War Between the States, Todd’s business ended.
2-4. In 1856, steam engines were produced in the Columbia foundry of J.H. Burrows & Co., David Griffey’s Fayette Works and Lee & Leavitt’s sawmill factory. All three firms disappeared after that year.
5. Beginning in 1856, the firm of George D. Winchell & Brother built steam pumps, pipe, fittings, brass valves, couplings, nozzles and rubber hoses. Winchell’s advertisements in city directories included stationary and portable engines, and boilers. In 1863, the hydraulic works of Charles C. Winchell replaced the earlier firm. In 1865, Charles C. Winchell listed portable and stationary engines. There were no Winchell advertisements after that year.
6. In 1858, Captain Oliver Palmer, associated with F. Calligan & Co. in Buffalo, N.Y., joined Captain David Millard in Cincinnati to publish a catalog proclaiming the advantages of Palmer’s rotary, hydraulic, lifting and forcing pump. The year before, Palmer had won the New York State Agricultural Society silver medal for his hydraulic force-pump. In 1860, Palmer formed the Palmer Pump Co. at the corner of the Miami Canal and Third Street; he advertised portable engines in 5, 6 and 8 HP. By 1862, Palmer’s manufactory had faded from view in the Cincinnati city directories.
7. The British American Guide Book, published in New York in 1859, included an advertisement for Cincinnati’s W.W. Hamer & Co., which furnished portable and stationary engines, as well as saws, corn and feed mills, corn shellers, grain scales, and flour packers.
8. In 1862, while the firm of Lane & Bodley was producing steam engines in its foundry and machine shop at the southeast corner of John and Water streets, the Hamilton Iron Foundry of W.W. Hanes manufactured circular sawmills, grist mills, boilers, and steam engines on the northeast corner of the same streets. City directories carried no listing for Hanes in 1865.
9. For only the year 1864, Day, Lee & Co. built circular sawmills, portable engines and stationary engines in its factory at the corner of Hamilton Road and Walnut Street.
Blymer – The Lasting Tenth
While the 1850s and 1860s witnessed the sudden birth and equally sudden death of at least nine Cincinnati steam engine manufacturers, another company in addition to Greenwood and Lane & Bodley achieved lasting success. It was the Blymyer Mfg. Co., a major firm the history of which has long deserved to be chronicled.
The year was 1866. Various entrepreneurs in the North considered the end of the Civil War a favorable time to profit from the reestablishment of trade with their former patrons in the South. The Blymyers of Mansfield, Ohio, shared this perception. The Blymyer family had manufactured Cook’s sugar cane evaporators for a number of years in Mansfield. Planning to take advantage of steamboat shipping to ports along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and of railway transportation to markets throughout the former confederacy, William H. Blymyer sold the Blymyer, Day & Co. works in Mansfield in 1865. He then assumed the presidency of the Clark Sorgho Machine Co. in Cincinnati in late 1866. The Blymyer family became the successors to Clark of Cincinnati in 1867. W.H. Clark continued to work for the Blymyer firm. By 1870 the Blymyer foundry, located on West Eighth Street in Cincinnati, was producing sugar machines and agricultural equipment at a prodigious rate.
On May 5, 1871, Blymyer sustained a $40,000 loss by fire, the bane of 19-century factories. Beginning in 1872 – the year of the horse epizootic that brought Cincinnati businesses to a standstill – the firm was named Blymyer, Norton & Co. Besides agricultural machinery in general and sugar cane processing equipment in particular, the manufacturer advertised bells, which became a significant product of the rapidly growing company.
The following year, the firm was renamed Blymyer Mfg. Co. While a national financial panic and a regional cholera epidemic menaced business in 1873, Cincinnati managed to host the fourth Industrial Exposition. W.H. Blymyer was the fair’s president. Under his shrewd leadership, the Industrial Exposition earned a profit in excess of $10,000 – a sizable sum for those days. The money went a long way toward paying debts accrued from previous fairs.
In 1878, Blymyer was advertising shaker threshing machines. On Sept. 23 of the following year, John S. Blymyer secured patent no. 219,797 for his cane-evaporating pan and was assigned two other patents for similar pans. The firm continued a robust trade in agricultural equipment through the late 1880s.
Around 1889 the Cincinnati Bell Foundry Co. became successors to the Blymyer Mfg. Co., but the Blymyer Iron Works Co. continued to produce cane equipment. By 1889, J.S. Blymyer was named president of the Cincinnati Ice Machine Co., and, in 1891, D.W. Blymyer served as president of both the ice machine firm and the iron works.
The first mention of steam engines in Blymyer advertisements occurred in 1875; the last, in 1889. It is safe to assume that Blymyer engines were manufactured for 14 years. During its heyday, Blymyer sold a full line of sorghum and sugar cane mills, portable grain mills, evaporators, vacuum pans, centrifugal machines, shaker separators, single-gear horsepowers, cross-cut sawing machines, corn planters, corn and cob crushers, corn shellers, feed cutters and sulky rakes.
Blymer also manufactured boilers and vertical portable engines introduced in 1877 known by the product name Queen City (4, 6 and 8 HP), portable engines on wheels (6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 16, 20, 25 and 30 HP), the same engines on skids, the same engines detached from their boilers and set up as stationary engines, side-crank stationary engines (cylinder sizes 5-by-10-, 6-by-10-, 7-by-10-, 8-by-12-, 9-by-12- and 10-by-15-inch), center-crank stationary engines (same sizes), standard stationary engines (cylinder sizes 6-by-12-, 7-by-12-, 8-by-16-, 9-by-16-, 10-by-16-, 10-by-20-, 12-by-16-, 12-by-20-, 12-by-24-, 14-by-24-, 16-by-24- and 18-by-30-inch), and long-stroke engines (cylinder sizes 14-by-48-, 15-by-48-, 16-by-48- and 18-by-48-inch).
Blymyer portable engines powered cotton gins, threshers, cane mills, cheese factories – even printing presses. Blymyer stationary engines won medals awarded by the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 and the International Cotton Exposition in Atlanta in 1881. The gold medal of the Cincinnati Exhibition of 1879 went to the Blymyer stationary engine. Blymyer also won first premiums for the Victor mill and Cook evaporator at over a hundred state fairs, at the Cincinnati Expositions and at the Centennial Exhibition
By 1893, the Blymyers were so successful they had a large building named for them at 216 Main St. In 1901, William H. Blymyer resumed the presidency of the resurrected Blymyer Mfg. Co. Around 1904, the Blymyer firm vanished, perhaps a victim of the 1903-04 financial panics. Whatever the cause of its demise, Blymyer had enjoyed a remarkable manufacturing history stretching over 40 years.
Contact steam historian Robert T. Rhode at: 990 W. Lower Springboro Road, Springboro, OH 45066;
• For more about Miles Greenwood and Lane & Bodley, see article “When Steam was King … and Cincinnati was Queen.” Iron-Men Album 50.3 (1996): 2-7.
• Palmer’s Rotary, Hydraulic Lifting and Forcing Pump. Cincinnati: n.p., 1858.
• History of Richland County.
• Ford, Henry A. and Kate B. History of Cincinnati, Ohio. Cleveland: L.A. Williams, 1881.
• For more about the equine influenza attack, see article “An Engine and an Epidemic,” Engineers and Engines 43.6 (1998): 38-43.
• Greve, Charles Theodore. Centennial History of Cincinnati. Vol. 1. Chicago: Biographical, 1904. 865.
I thank Tina Bamert, library assistant at the Cincinnati Historical Society; Judy Bolton, head of public services, Special Collections of the Louisiana State University Libraries; Diane Mallstrom, librarian in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County; Anne B. Shepherd, reference librarian at the Cincinnati Historical Society; and John H. White Jr., formerly chairman of industries and historian at the Smithsonian, who provided information on W.W. Hamer and the Blymyer fire. The assistance of these dedicated professionals made my article possible.