THE SKINNER ENGINE

Past, Present and Future


| January/February 1984



Steam Engine

Le Grand Skinner with his first Steam Engine in 1868

108 Garfield Avenue Madison, New Jersey 07940

Long time regular readers of this magazine will recall the July/August, 1978 article, There Is Coal In Our Future. This pointed out the comforting fact that we have more coal than the Arabs have oil. Later, in the Nov/Dec, 1981 issue, there was the story of The Steam Engine Still Lives On. In the meantime there have been some developments that, although started even earlier, are coming to light now that suggest that coal burning steam engines are looking to a brighter future.

In July, 1983, the Quincy Shipbuilding Division of General Dynamics delivered to New England Electric System the SS ENERGY INDEPENDENCE. This is the first coal burning steamship to have been built since 1929. She is now at sea hauling coal between Hampton Roads and two Massachusetts ports. In August, 1983, the Maritime Commission released a report on the favorable economics of coal burning ships. The report intimates that others are following the route of the ENERGY INDEPENDENCE. In fact, overseas, there are six ships now under construction that will be coal fired. But, more important to the familiar steam engine is the outlook for steam powered Western Rivers towboats powered with one or more reciprocating steam engines. Since the Skinner Engine Company is the only major builder of steam engines today, that puts them in the forefront of this activity. Therefore, it might be interesting to have a brief look at their history.

Le Grand Skinner founded the Skinner Engine Company in 1868. The original manufacturing plant was in Herkimer, New York. Here he built his first line of steam engines. These were mounted atop the associated steam boiler in a manner familiar to those interested in portable engines and traction engines. By 1873 the plant had grown in size and was then moved to its present home city of Erie, Pennsylvania. By 1900, additional space was required at which time the present facility of nine separate buildings was constructed. Actually, with business expanding into other lines, this facility is too small and plans were underway to again expand.

'Grandfather' Le Grand Skinner continued as active head of the company until his death in 1922. Whereupon, Allen Skinner, his son, took over the management.

Marketing of the engines took on a different flavor with the advent of Allen Skinner to the command position. He tended to be more of the marketer than the engineer that typified his father. The product line was of such quality and superior economic advantage over the then competition that his sales approach was to offer to sell a potential customer his engine requirement for $1 plus all of the savings accruing to the installation of a Skinner engine. It sold engines and made money.