Development Of The Traction Engine in America


| July/August 1957



From 'The American Thresherman and Farm Power' August of 1916

HAVING BEEN associated with the development of the traction engine industry more or less intimately, for the past forty years, I have been solicited by the publishers of this magazine, to prepare a series of articles on the early history or development of the traction engine in America and after repeated solicitations, I finally decided to undertake the task.

The firm of C. & G. Cooper of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, was among the first to bring out a self propelled steam engine for farm use. From Mr. F. J. Luger, who was a pattern maker in their employ at the time, we learn that in 1868 and 1869 a farmer living near Mt. Vernon conceived the idea of making a portable engine propel itself using horses on a tongue to guide it. In passing it might be well to state that the portable engine business had reached considerable proportions previous to any attempt at designing or building a self-propelling engine in this country. Among the more prominent firms thus engaged were the Ames Iron Works of Oswego, New York, the Watertown Steam Engine Company of Watertown, New York, Wood and Mann of Utica, New York, Clute Brothers of Schenectady, and B. W. Payne & Sons of Corning, which latter concern gave the country the well known Harris tabor or indicator and moulding machine frame.

Mr. Wood left the firm at Utica and went to Eaton, Madison County, New York, and formed the company of Wood, Taber and Morse, who became the leading portable engine builders of the country, but were the last to take up the building of a traction engine, which was of the four wheeled driver type. They built very few and as yet we have not been able to get a cut of this interesting engine, or the date of the patent. The firm lost one of its members by death soon after it quit business.

Returning to the C. & G. Cooper incident, Mr. Lugger well remembers the test of this first engine when they put a number of men on the tongue to guide it while running about town. Mr. Cooper got the farmer to apply for a patent, paying all the expenses himself in consideration of the farmer agreeing to assign the patent to Mr. Cooper, who in return cancelled the farmer's debt, for the work of converting the portable into a horse steered traction engine, doubtless the first attempt of anything of the kind in the west.

According to the writer's best knowledge and belief the next attempt to build a traction in this country was in the spring and summer of 1870 when Emory W. Mills designed and built his first traction engine at Syracuse, New York. It was a three-wheeled affair, having two equally sized and faced driving wheels at the rear of the machine which had a low platform carrying an upright boiler and engine which furnished the prepelling power, through a train of gears proportioned so as to give the machine a speed of about two and one-half miles per hour. This was the only one built of this design and was sold. I understand, to a farmer near Manilus, New York.