Farm Collector


[100 styles of steam engines offered]

PREFACE The following article was sent to us by Russell W.
Templeton, 308 Prospect Street, Warren, Pennsylvania 16365. He has
obtained permission from The Standard Times of New Bedford,
Massachusetts for The Iron-Men Album Magazine to use this article.
It was in the October 22, 1972 issue. We thank both Russell and The
Standard Times.

From Mr. Templeton’s letter, I quote: ‘From time to time
I have read in your fine magazine, interest in the Weeden
Manufacturing Company, probably one of the most famous companies
for producing toy model steam engines in the country, and through
their marketing the toy steam engine, introduced steam power to
millions of boys in years past.

As a buff of toy steam engines, and from interest that I have
seen in the history of this company, I was able, through a friend
of mine in New Bedford, Massachusetts to obtain this article about
the company, which I am sure will be of interest to many

The building at the southeast corner of Elm and Bethel Streets-
24 Elm Street., to be exact was one which just about every boy in
New Bedford had an interest. That was where the Weeden
Manufacturing Co. made the famous Weeded toy steam engines that
were invented by William N. Weeden.

Born in New Bedford in 1839, Mr. Weeden was a watchmaker, having
learned the trade as an apprentice to James T. Almy, watchmaker,
engraver and jeweler, whose shop was on the east side of Purchase
Street, just north of what is now the Bristol Building, at the
northeast corner of Union Street.

Becoming proficient as a watchmaker, Mr. Weeden went to Boston,
where he opened his own small watch repairing shop. He also made
stencils and dies, and invented a pencil sharpener. It was while he
was developing the pencil sharpener, preparatory to putting it on
the market, that he became acquainted with a Colonel Merritt, who
afterward was connected with the company that made the Waterbury
watch. Eventually, Mr. Weeden was engaged as superintendent of the
watch factory.

It was while he was serving in that capacity that Mr. Weeden met
a Mr. Upham, who was affiliated with the Youth’s Companion,
which used an attractive premium list to get boys interested in
selling subscriptions to the magazine. Mr. Upham was searching for
a toy steam engine that would really work. Those that he had found
abroad were largely imperfect, and he would not feature in his
premium list something that wasn’t good.

Mr. Weeden was an artist and somewhat of a mechanical genius –
at Mr. Upham’s request, he undertook the job of designing and
making a toy steam engine that would be practical, would really
work, and that would not cost too much. Mr. Upham was so pleased by
the working model Weeden sent him that he immediately ordered
10,000 engines just like it, to be delivered at a price of one
dollar each. This $10,000 order served as the basis for the
establishment of the Weeden Manufacturing Co. in 1877.

That original upright style was ever the most popular: It had an
oscillating cylinder, a metal balance wheel, a safety valve, a
whistle and two tiny screw valves. It exhausted through the smoke
stack and was entirely made of metal, the boiler being provided
with a small spirit lamp to heat the water. Only improvement since
the original was the addition of a small glass water gauge.

It was only natural that the Weeden company should develop other
models, including those with stationary valves and oscillating
cylinders; those with stationary cylinders and rocking or sliding
valves; some of the upright type, some horizontal; some with
walking beams, such as were seen in steamboats of that day, while
some had double balance wheels and others single flywheels.

In some types, the engine was attached to the boiler while in
others it was on a separate base, connected with the boiler by tiny
steam pipes. There were those with revolving governors; some had a
secondary sheet metal sheathing to keep the heat from radiating too
rapidly; and there were various sizes of each type.

By 1922, the Weeden company made more than 100 different styles
of the toy steam engines, some with a tiny pump or pile driver
attached. It also made such accessories as shafting, toy machine
shops, tiny saw tables, stamping presses, grind stones to complete
the engines. The company even did a brisk business in replacement
parts for all its products a service that made it not only unique,
but much preferred over the foreign competitors. The big
‘plus’ was the guarantee of the company for every tiny part
of any of its products.

The toy engines retailed at prices from 75 cents to as much as
$12 each, depending of the type chosen. Each engine was capable of
being taken completely apart and re-assembled, the original upright
sort with 62 parts being still the simplest the company

Incorporation papers of 1877 gave the company the right to make
all kinds of toys and novelties. Poor business conditions in the
beginning two years necessitated reorganization in 1889.  New
Bedford men backing Mr. Weeden, who had every faith in him, were
the incorporators: J. Arthur Beauvals, George S. Homer, Frederick
A. Homer and Edward S. Brown.

The entire line of electrical toys was discontinued during the
World War I years, and in 1922 only the toy steam engines were
produced. Past years had seen a considerable output of mechanical
banks and small pocket music boxes the size of a pocket watch, that
were wound up to play a complete tune, but these, too were

  • Published on Jan 1, 1974
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