Information comes to light on the history of an early American steam-powered wagon manufacturer
A circa-1903 catalog cut showing a Morgan 10-ton steam-powered truck.
In the July/August 2003 issue of Steam Traction, we ran an article on the Morgan Motor Co., a turn-of-the-century manufacturer of steam-powered wagons based in Worcester, Mass. At that writing our information on Morgan was limited to two photographs of Morgan steam wagons: one showing six wagons under construction and another showing six wagons plying the streets of (presumably) Worcester, Mass. Since running the article we've received additional information on Morgan Motor Co., some of it more than a little surprising.
Walter Jones, Northboro, Mass., was our original source on the Morgan, providing us with the two photographs we ran in the July/August issue. Not long after our article ran, Walter was contacted by Peter S. Morgan, a descendant of Ralph Landers Morgan, founder of Morgan Motor Co.
Morgan Motor Co., Peter told Walter, was an outgrowth of Morgan Construction Co., Worcester, Mass., founded in 1888 by Charles Hill Morgan. Morgan Construction Co., which now manufactures and designs high-quality rolling mills, is still in business. Ralph Morgan was one of Charles' sons.
Ralph Morgan had a keen interest in engines, and his venture into manufacturing steam-powered wagons and trucks is briefly documented in a book published by Morgan Construction Co. in 1988 on the occasion of that company's 100th anniversary.
According to the book, Morgan Milestones, Ralph Morgan constructed stationary engines 'of several varieties' between 1897 and 1900. He is also cited as having designed a diesel engine in 1899. In 1897 he built a steam-powered buggy, the apparent forerunner of his move into the manufacture of steam-powered wagons in 1902. Ralph established Morgan Motor Co. at a location know as Barber's Crossing in the Greendale section of Worcester. Ralph's operation was situated behind the Morgan Spring Co., which was established by Charles H. Morgan and his brother, Francis, in 1881.
In our original article we said the Morgan Motor Co. was affiliated with Heald Machine Tool Co., also of Worcester. This is apparently untrue. In his conversations with Walter, Peter mentioned that Heald occupied the Morgan Motor Co. building, but after Ralph ceased operations in 1903. Peter also told Walter that one of his relatives worked for Heald, but that appears to be the extent of any connection between the two companies.
After the demise of his steam wagon enterprise, Ralph Morgan went on to work for the Pope-Toledo Automobile Co., Toledo, Ohio, manufacturers of the famous Thomas Flyer. He returned to Worcester in 1909 and resumed manufacturing trucks, but using four-cylinder gasoline engines for power instead of steam. According to Morgan Milestones, Ralph Morgan sold the company to William Steele in 1914, who continued production, but under the Steele name, until 1919.
A 3-ton Morgan steamer, circa 1903. Morgan appears to have been in business from 1902 to 1903, although some sources list the company as active up to 1904.
Walter was not the only person to help fill out our knowledge of the company. Agriculture machinery historian Jack Alexander, Gilroy, Calif., sent in clippings from several books referencing Morgan Motor Co., most of which lined up with what Peter Morgan told Walter. Jack found a reference in the Standard Catalog of American Cars (1996) by Kimes & Clark, in which it says the Morgan steam wagon was produced 'from 1902 to 1903, though not successfully.'
The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles (1979) also cites Morgan Motor Co., saying Morgan steam wagons were 'powered by a two-cylinder compound engine fed by a vertical water tube boiler working at 600 psi.' Reader Bob Carlson found similar information in a different source, Oldtime Steam Cars by John Bently (1953), but that book states 1903-1904 as the time of manufacture for Morgan steam wagons.
We may not have a complete history, but we certainly know a lot more about Morgan Motor Co. than we did just a few months ago. It's interesting where two simple photos can lead.
Richard Backus is editor of Steam Traction. Contact him at: 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265, or e-mail email@example.com