Hamilton, Ohio's Contributions to Agricultural Steam Power

| March/April 1997

3982 Bollard Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45209-1716

Reflecting on conditions in the late teens, The Republican-Newsof Hamilton, Ohio, reported, 'The smoke from hundreds of factories, mills and machine shops indicates clearly that a considerable business is being transacted here; the thousands of men who daily find employment in the hundreds of industries attest to the city's power as an industrial center... [The products of its shops...will be in demand as long as the industrial world revolves on its axis' (48). In actuality, Hamilton had been a hub of technological activity since the 1850s. When The Republican News commented on Hamilton's importance, steam engines, threshing machines, and other agricultural implements had been steadily issuing from Hamilton's foundries for over two generations.

Job E. Owens provided the opening chapter of Hamilton's agricultural steam history. Owens was born in Morgan shire, Wales, in 1819 (General Machinery Corporation 10). He arrived in newly settled Columbus, Ohio, in 1824, moved to Hamilton in 1845, and founded the firm of Owens, Ebert & Dyer in that year. He established his works on the southeast corner of Fourth and Heaton Streets immediately west of the canal fed by the Miami Rivera fortunate choice of locations because, later, the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad was built near the canal, passing along the west side of his shops, and, later still, the Pennsylvania Railroad erected a trestle along the canal. Owens' new foundry 'made nearly everything in metal,' with iron and coal shipped down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh and up the Miami and Erie Canal to Hamilton.

In the mid-1840s, a depression had concluded, announcing a decade of prosperity. In February of 1846, Owens won the contract to create the iron portions of a new jail. Business took off running, and, in 1847, the growing firm was reorganized and renamed Owens, Lane, Dyer & Company (Kessling). The factory built 'iron castings, moldings and iron stoves...By 1853, they were producing steam engines and papermaking machinery. In the 1860s and '70s, they became known for their steam threshers and other farm machinery.' At the time of the Civil War, the firm's agricultural products and mill gearing were being marketed under the trade name 'Eclipse,' not to be confused with the Frick Company of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, which, according to a Frick catalogue, was using the Eclipse trademark for portable engines by 1874.

On early models of portable and skid engines designed by the Eclipse Machine Works of Hamilton, Ohio, the steam dome resembled a teakettle on a constricted pedestal. The cylinder clung to the side of the boiler beside the firebox, and the crankshaft ran across the smoke box end. Although the Eclipse engines were as popular as they were, Owens, Lane, Dyer & Co. anticipated the development of a traction engine. In 1873, the firm experimented with a chain drive (Norbeck 196); however, in 1874at about the time the name changed to Owens, Lane & Dyer Machine Company the manufacturer brought out a radically redesigned traction engine with gear drive, a tilted cylinder near the smoke box end, piston and connecting rods on an incline toward a massive flywheel with a diameter larger than the driver wheels, and a pair of belt pulleys on a shaft across the smoke box door. Billed as a 'traction or road engine,' this new machine and its chain-driven predecessor gave Hamilton a mark of distinction: '...Job E. Owens was presented with a Gold Medal for the first traction engine built west of Pittsburgh.' [General Machinery Corporation 10.) Owens accomplished this honorable feat by the slimmest of margins, as companies like C. & G. Cooper of Mount Vernon, Ohio, were experimenting with traction at almost the same time.

A public gradually adjusting to the idea of steam-powered farming, saw milling, and general manufacturing welcomed the firm's stationary, skid, portable, and traction engines: '...thousands of these engines were sold all over the world, and the owners grew gray in the service.' (Centennial Anniversary of the City of Hamilton. Ohio 257.) Selling engines and other equipment from the headquarters at Hamilton and from the Owens, Lane & Dyer Machinery Depot located at 717 North Second Street on the corner of Morgan in St. Louis, Missouri, the manufacturer distributed special handbills proclaiming the success of the 'Road or Field Locomotive 'the engine which won the Grand Gold Medal presented by the Ohio State Board of Agriculture at the Ohio State Fair in 1874 as the first traction engine west of Pittsburgh. One of these handbills reprinted the September 11, 1874, Cleveland Herald's account of the engine's tests: