Southern Engine & Boiler Works Steam Engines

Rising from the burning embers of the Civil War, Southern Engine & Boiler Works steam engines shone brightly.


| March/April 2004



Portable Engine

Woodcut of Southern portable engine with water-lined smokebox.

The hard-fought Civil War was nearing its horrible end in 1865. Both sides, but especially the South, had lost much, and Jackson, Tenn., was among the razed communities. A year before, Union Colonel Fielding Hurst's army had laid waste to the town's business district, burning much of the industry.

But just a few years after the war, the first signs of rebuilding began. In 1871, the Citizen's Gas Light Co. was formed, making available manufactured gas to the area. The time was now ripe for people to return and plant the seeds of a blossoming industrial age in the deep South.

Among those pioneers were a Mr. Sherman and Mr. Cole who began the Sherman Manufacturing Co. in 1874, repairing steam engines. The firm changed its name to the Southern Engine & Boiler Works in 1884. Business prospered, and then in 1896 stock was sold to local shareholders to raise capital for a large state-of-the-art factory on Royal Street.

Jackson was a great location for a manufacturing company since it's midpoint position between Memphis, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn., gave it close proximity to both the Pearl and Mississippi rivers, and the nearest industrial hub was located a state away in Corinth, Miss. Demand for steam power was growing in the mid-South as well since the region was rife with cotton gins and sawmills requiring steam power.

PORTABLE ENGINES AND BOILERS ON WHEELS.
10 to 25 Horse Power.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

Southern Engine & Boiler Works built steam engines and boilers of various types and sizes including center-and side-crank slide-valve engines, rocking valve engines, automatic engines and Corliss engines. The firm also sold portable engines mounted on wheels and skids, and steam-powered components such as sawmills, woodworking machinery and milling supplies were advertised in the firm's catalogs. In later years, Southern Engine & Boiler Works built gasoline and kerosene engines, and even birthed an automobile company, the Marathon Motor Works.

Early steam engines were simple slide-valve types, but by the early 1900s Southern offered an increasingly diverse line. Among these new lines was a slide-valve engine built with balanced valves, which offered more bearing surfaces than an unbalanced valve.