J. C. Hoadley & Co.


| September/October 1986



Portable steam engines

Several years ago, IMA purchased a beautiful 1870 catalog of portable steam engines manufactured by J. C. Hoadley & Company of Lawrence, Massachusetts. We thought some further investigation into the company's history and the life of its founder might be of interest to our readers, since Hoadley is not included in Jack Norbeck's Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, or Floyd Clymer's Album, and is mentioned only in passing in Reynold Wik's Steam Power on the American Farm. These are three of our most frequently used references on American steam engine manufacturers. With the assistance of Robert Lovett of the Beverly Historical Society in Lawrence, we were able to obtain copies of original documents from the Baker Library of Harvard University's Graduate School of Business Administration and the Museum of American Textile History, which helped to tell the story presented below.

John Chipman Hoadley was born December 10, 1818 in Turin, New York, the son of a farmer. At the age of 18, he began working for an engineering party doing preliminary surveys for the enlargement of the Erie Canal. He soon became a draftsman and continued in this occupation until 1844.

At the end of 1844, Hoadley went to Lancaster, Massachusetts to work for Horatio and Erastus Bigelow who were engaged in constructing the extensive works of Lancaster Mills.

In 1848, accepting an offer of partnership with Gordon McKay, he went to Pittsfield and began manufacturing steam engines (for locomotives) and other machinery under the company name McKay and Hoadley. Business continued in Pittsfield for about four years.

Early in 1852, the two disposed of their firm and went to take charge of the large machine shop owned by Essex Company in Lawrence, Massachusetts. By 1858 this Lawrence Machine Shop, a separate entity, had failed apparently through fiscal difficulties, and Hoadley turned to the manufacture of portable and semi-portable steam enginesa class of engines little known in this country at the time.

Hoadley's engines were apparently so well designed and constructed that on the West coast where they were very popular, the name 'The Hoadley' became something of a generic term for portable steam engines.