When Steam Was King... and Cincinnati Was Queen


| January/February 1996



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3982 Bollard Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45209

Shortly after Cincinnati became known as 'the Queen City' a moniker probably derived from a line of Longfellow's poem 'Catawba Wine' agricultural steam power in this southwestern Ohio metropolis was on the rise. C. M. Giddings, the mechanical engineer who gave Russell engines their distinctive look and sound, spoke of Cincinnati when The American Thresherman and Farm Power magazine published his series of articles on the historical development of the traction engine in the United States. Giddings told that, in the fall of 1872, an Aveling-Porter engine imported from England by George W. Dick of Venice, Ohio, was put to use during an equestrian epidemic to haul dead horses out of Cincinnati. Giddings also reported that Cincinnati experimented in constructing gigantic steam plows, which 'left builders with a deficit as big as the machine, and were only heard of afterwards by the junk man' (Giddings 3, 16). Intriguing as they are, these incidents barely hint at Cincinnati's prominent place in the chronicles of agricultural steam power.

Perhaps best known for her fire engines, railways, steamboats, and carriages, Cincinnati enjoys a noteworthy although often overlooked legacy in farm engines and related equipment. Numerous manufacturers of traction engines turned to Cincinnati engravers to purchase woodcuts and, later, copper cuts to illustrate their catalogues. The artists employed by companies like Bogart, Clegg-Goeser, C. A. 0Black, R. J. H. Smith, and Cincinnati Process Engraving painstakingly transformed photographs (which, in the nineteenth century, could not be reproduced in print) into the impressions much admired today for precise shading achieved through hairlines and crosshatching. Among builders of stationary engines, frequently employed in agriculture-related industries, were Niles and Company, founded in 1834 (more widely recognized for its locomotive engines) and I. E. Greenwald Company, a large firm at 248 East Pearl Street. Greenwald began in 1847 and was incorporated in 1885 (Roe 117). A Greenwald stationary engine is displayed each year at the Central Kentucky Steam and Gas Engine Association Show.

The Cincinnati steam story begins with Miles Greenwood. Born in 1807, Greenwood came to Cincinnati in 1829 and located his Eagle Iron Works on the Miami & Erie Canal (Cincinnati: Days in History 178, Giglierano and Overmyer 392). An innovator who championed the newest technologies, Greenwood, in 1848, erected a five-story brick building at 6th and Vine as a permanent home for the Ohio Mechanics' Institute (where the young telegraph-operator Thomas A. Edison studied), helped finance experimentation on a steam pumper for fire protection, and funded the building of an engine house for Cincinnati's fire department (Harlow 154, Cincinnati: Days in History 178). On February 12, 1861, Greenwood, as grand marshall, led the parade when Cincinnati turned out to see President-Elect Abraham Lincoln in a carriage drawn by six white horses (Cincinnati: A Guide To the Queen City 63). An advocate of research into steam plowing, Lincoln would have appreciated the fact that Greenwood's foundry specialized in various applications of steam power. During the Civil War, the Eagle Iron Works' seven-hundred employees could rebuild eight-hundred muskets into rifles with percussion locks in a single day. As president of the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company, Greenwood had contracted for the building of the Roebling Suspension Bridge, a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge and now a Cincinnati landmark, but the War interrupted that effort. Greenwood's foundry beside Walnut Street made gun-carriages, caissons, and cannons (Harlow 229). He even built a sea-going iron-clad monitor (Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City 67). Copperheads probably were responsible for the repeated arson attempts against Greenwood's property, one of which destroyed much of the Eagle Iron Works (A Guide 211). Greenwood died in 1885; a Cincinnati suburb bears his name (Giglierano and Overmyer 582).

Greenwood s enterprising business established a climate conducive to the manufacture of a wide variety of steam machinery in the Queen City. Founded in 1828, the firm of Reynolds and Kite was located at John and Water Streets. In itself, it was an important concern in Cincinnati's industrial heritage, but it gains yet greater significance when the historian recognizes that Lane and Bodley replaced Reynolds and Kite. Lane and Bodley were destined to become Cincinnati's premier builders of agricultural engines. Philander P. Lane's father had made the journey from Connecticut to a farm in northeastern Ohio's Portage County. Having spent his boyhood at the hard manual labor of early-nineteenth-century agriculture, Lane learned the machinist trade and moved to Cincinnati. In 1850, with only three machine tools, Lane started a small shop on Pearl Street near Race Street. The following year, Lane formed a partnership with Joseph T. Bodley, a Cincinnati native who had just completed his apprenticeship with Miles Greenwood. Soon they began manufacturing power mortising machines, which they sold nationwide. Mean while, Lane married Sophia Bosworth, and a son, Henry Marcus, was born August 15, 1854 (Roe 118). By 1856, Lane and Bodley's woodworking machinery business had outgrown their location, and they became tenants of Reynolds, Kite & Tatum in part of a building which later would be one of Lane & Bodley's five buildings (Roe 117, Kenny 274).

Around 1856, Lane & Bodley added portable sawmills and steam engines to their list of products. The Civil War slowed the rapid expansion of Lane & Bodley's business (Roe 117). During the wartime years, Lane commanded the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In winter quarters at Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in 1861 and 1862, he was accompanied by his seven-year-old son. The next winter, Sophia Lane attempted to bring her children to the 11th O. V. I.'s location in the West Virginia mountains, but she was ordered back 'owing to bushwackers and impassible roads' (Roe 118). By about 1863, when business outlooks at home were improving, Lane & Bodley acquired the patterns and took over the manufacture of Latta steam fire engines from the Buckeye Iron Works of Alexander Latta, who, in 1852, had joined Cincinnatian Abel Shawk in building North America's first successful steam fire engine. About four years later, Lane & Bodley sold this promising business to C. Ahrens, the former foreman at Buckeye (Giglierano and Overmyer 93). Both Bodley and Lane predicted a boom in the engine and sawmill line and decided to concentrate their efforts there while gradually pulling out of the wood-working machinery trade. In 1868, when Lane & Bodley's prospects were the brightest they had been since before the war, Bodley died.