Abstract

Advertisements for internal combustion engines, commonly called gas engines, appeared regularly in farm magazines in the mid-1890s. By the century's turn, one hundred US companies produced stationary or portable gas engines for farmers. Fifteen years later, the number of gas engines on farms had exploded to one million. The skills gained by hundreds of thousands of farmers with these engines facilitated the rapid adoption of the automobile on farms and the more gradual adoption of the tractor. Yet the use of such engines has received scant attention. This paper examines the farm demand for stationary power and compares alternative power sources in 1895. It traces the development of the market for farm gas engines and its interaction with the markets for automobiles and tractors. It then presents evidence from magazines to show how farmers became engine mechanics and facilitated the adoption of automobiles and tractors across rural America.

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NOTES

1. James J. Flink,
America Adopts the Automobile, 1895–1910
(
Cambridge
:
MIT Press
,
1970
); Reynold M. Wik,
Henry Ford and Grass-roots America
(
Ann Arbor
:
University of Michigan Press
,
1972
); Allan Nevins,
Ford: The Times, the Man, the Company
(
New York
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Charles Scribner's Sons
,
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Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture
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Yale University Press
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2003
),
85
;
Department of Commerce
,
Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1925
(
Washington, DC
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Department of Commerce
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558
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,
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(
Washington, DC
:
Department of Commerce
,
1935
), Table
556
.
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(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
2000
),
66
79
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,
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35
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:
Iowa State University Press
,
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.
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763
95
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:
MIT Press
,
2007
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University of Chicago Press
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(
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,
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An Appraisal of Power Used on Farms in the United States
,
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(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
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Prairie Farmer
,
Sept.
21
,
1895
,
5
. On cream separators, see, Carrie A. Meyer,
Days on the Family Farm: From the Golden Age through the Great Depression
(
Minneapolis
:
University of Minnesota Press
,
2007
),
42
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(
Madison
:
State Historical Society of Wisconsin
,
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The Use of Alcohol and Gasoline in Farm Engines
,
USDA Farmers' Bulletin No. 277
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1907
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“Motive Power on the Farm,”
Prairie Farmer
,
July
6
,
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,
1
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“Power for Farm Work,”
Gas Review
1
(
Dec.
1908
):
38
.
6. For advertisements, see,
Prairie Farmer
,
Feb.
9
,
1895
,
6
;
Sept.
1
,
1900
,
16
;
American Thresherman
2
(
Feb.
1900
):
47
;
American Thresherman
4
(
Oct.
1901
):
3
; C. H. Wendel,
Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques
(
Iola, Wisc.
:
Krause
,
1997
),
210
13
; Stevens,
“Motive Power,”
1
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,
194
.
7. Wendel,
Encyclopedia
,
382
95
;
Sears, Roebuck & Co.
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Consumers Guide Spring 1897
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1897
),
148
.
8. Reynold M. Wik,
Steam Power on the American Farm
(
1953
; repr.,
Philadelphia
:
University of Pennsylvania Press
,
1959
),
5
6
,
20
22
; Schlebecker,
Whereby We Thrive
,
192
;
Farm Implement News Company
,
Buyer's Guide: Where to Purchase Farm Implements, Machines, Vehicles and Repairs
(
Chicago
:
Farm Implement News
,
1903
),
65
69
;
Farm Implement News Company
,
Buyer's Guide: Where to Purchase Farm Implements, Machines and Vehicles
(
Chicago
:
Farm Implement News
,
1888
),
53
57
.
9. Wik,
Steam Power
,
37
38
,
210
.
10. Stevens,
“Motive Power,”
1
; Xeno W. Putnam,
The Gasoline Engine on the Farm
(
New York
:
Norman W. Henley
,
1913
),
36
37
.
11. See, for example,
Prairie Farmer
,
June
15
,
1895
,
16
;
Farm, Field and Fireside
,
June
27
,
1896
,
9
;
Oct.
2
,
1897
,
2
; W. W. Stevens,
“The Cheapest and Best Power,”
Prairie Farmer
,
Aug.
17
,
1895
,
7
.
12.
“Farm Power and Engines,”
Prairie Farmer
,
July
4
,
1896
,
14
.
13.
“Practical Farming,”
Farm, Field and Fireside
,
Dec.
17
,
1904
,
8
;
Gas Review
1
(
Oct.
1908
):
16
.
14.
“Practical Farming,”
Farm, Field and Fireside
,
Mar.
10
,
1900
,
8
;
“Practical Farming,”
Farm, Field and Fireside
,
Dec.
17
,
1904
,
8
.
15. C. H. Wendel and George H. Dammann,
American Gasoline Engines since 1872
(
Sarasota
:
Crestline
,
1983
),
367
68
. For advertisments, see, for example,
American Agriculturalist
,
Sept.
8
,
1894
,
58
.
16.
Farm Implement News Company
,
Buyer's Guide: Where to Purchase Farm Implements, Machinery, and Repairs, 1903
(
Chicago
:
Farm Implement News
,
1903
),
69
73
. For advertisments, see, for example,
Prairie Farmer
,
Jan.
20
,
1900
,
5
.
17. Harold F. Williamson and Arnold R. Daum,
The American Petroleum Industry: The Age of Illumination, 1859–1899
(
Evanston, Ill.
:
Northwestern University Press
,
1959
); Harold F. Williamson et al.,
The American Petroleum Industry: The Age of Energy, 1899–1959
(
Evanston, Ill.
:
Northwestern University Press
,
1963
),
170
84
. For crude prices, see,
American Petroleum Institute
,
Petroleum Facts and Figures, Centennial Edition
(
New York
:
American Petroleum Institute
,
1959
),
9
.
18. Lucke and Woodward,
Use of Alcohol
,
12
;
US Census Bureau
,
Statistical Abstract of the United States 1935
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1935
), Table No. 556,
582
83
.
19.
“The Farmer's Power Plant,”
Literary Digest
(
Nov.
1915
):
1,220
;
Gas Review
9
(
Feb.
1916
):
17
;
Gas Review
10
(
Oct.
1917
):
15
; Kinsman,
Appraisal of Power
,
9
; W. M. Hurst and L. M. Church,
Power and Machinery in Agriculture
,
USDA Miscellaneous Publication No. 157
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
Apr.
1933
),
13
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
6
(
June
1913
):
54
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
6
(
Oct.
1913
):
94
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
9
(
Sept.
1916
):
52
; M. Beck,
“The Secondhand Engine,”
Gas Review
1
(
Nov.
1908
):
12
13
.
20.
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1898
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1898
),
926
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Spring 1900
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1900
),
1,017
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1902
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1902
),
494
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1908
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1908
),
542
.
21. Wendel and Dammann,
American Gasoline Engines
,
368
,
370
;
Sears
,
Fall 1900
,
959
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1903
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1903
),
349
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1905
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1905
),
570
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1906
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1906
),
544
.
22.
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1904
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1904
),
612
;
Sears
,
Fall 1905
,
930
31
;
Sears
,
Fall 1906
,
534
46
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Spring 1907
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1907
),
700
12
.
23. C. H. Wendel,
150 Years of International Harvester
(
Iola, Wisc.
:
Krause
,
2004
),
113
. For advertisements, see, for example,
Farm, Field and Fireside
,
Mar.
25
,
1905
,
5
;
Apr.
7
,
1906
,
5
;
Prairie Farmer
,
Mar.
16
,
1905
,
9
;
Aug.
23
,
1906
,
10
.
24. J. L. Graff,
“Farmers Buying Automobiles,”
Prairie Farmer
,
Apr.
26
,
1906
,
3
; Wik,
Steam Power
,
173
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1909
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1909
),
1,150
51
. For advertisements, see, for example,
Farm Press
,
Nov.
1
,
1908
,
16
;
May
1
,
1909
,
16
;
Prairie Farmer
,
Nov.
15
,
1910
,
21
. Flink,
America Adopts the Automobile
,
247
; John B. Rae,
The American Automobile Industry
(
Boston
:
Twayne
,
1984
),
38
.
25. H. B. Bonebright,
“Small Portable Gasoline Engines,”
Gas Review
1
(
Sept.
1908
):
72
;
Sears
,
Fall 1908
,
542
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1912
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1912
),
1,386
. For books on gas engines, see, for example, H. R. Brate,
Farm Gas Engines
(
Cincinnati
:
Gas Engine Publishing
,
1912
); C. F. Hirshfeld and T. C. Ulbricht,
Gas Engines for the Farm
(
New York
:
John Wiley & Sons
,
1913
); Raymond Olney,
Power Farming
(
LaPorte, Ind.
:
M. Rumely
,
1913
).
26.
“The Farmer and the Automobile,”
American Thresherman
5
(
Nov.
1903
):
7
; Walter A. Bermingham,
“Getting the Most Out of the Motor Car,”
Gas Review
9
(
Mar.
1916
):
68
; F. E. Ross,
“Who Should Handle Farm Tractors?”
Gas Review
9
(
Mar.
1916
):
100
; Kline,
Consumers in the Country
,
72
79
; Kline and Pinch,
“Users as Agents of Technological Change,”
773
77
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1917
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1917
),
1,494
501
;
Sears
,
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue Fall 1932
(
Chicago
:
Sears, Roebuck
,
1932
),
1,022
.
27. Kinsman,
Appraisal of Power
,
7n4
; Hurst and Church,
Power and Machinery
,
9
.
28. Nevins,
Ford
,
493
94
; Flink,
America Adopts the Automobile
,
61
67
,
72
73
,
83
84
; Rae,
American Automobile Industry
,
38
. Ford's Model N, introduced in 1906, was also a great success.
29. E. W. Longanecker,
The Practical Gas Engineer
(
Anderson, Ind.
:
np
,
1901
). See,
Prairie Farmer
,
Aug.
17
,
1901
,
16
, for an advertisement for Longanecker's book. Lambert Gas & Gasoline Engine Company and Fairbanks, Morse & Company both exhibited a variety of gasoline engines at the 1898 Indiana State Fair. See,
American Thresherman
1
(
Oct.
1898
):
2
3
. Horseless Age, which debuted in 1895, was the first trade journal on automobiles. Others soon followed. See,
N. W. Ayer & Son's American Newspaper Annual: A Catalogue of American Newspapers
(
Philadelphia
:
N. W. Ayer & Son
,
1905
). The American Thresherman began running instruction on gas engines in 1905, see, E. W. Longanecker,
“The Gasoline Engine,”
American Thresherman
8
(
May
1905
):
62
. Ernest G. Moore,
The Agricultural Research Service
(
New York
:
Praeger
,
1967
),
11
42
;
“School of Traction Engineering,”
American Thresherman
8
(
Jan.
1906
):
12
;
“School of Traction Engineering,”
American Thresherman
10
(
May
1907
):
54
;
“The Indianapolis School,”
American Thresherman
10
(
July
1907
):
8
9
.
30. Robert E. Stewart,
Seven Decades that Changed America: A History of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, 1907–1977
(
St. Joseph, Mich.
:
American Society of Agricultural Engineers
,
1979
),
2
9
; Howard W. Riley,
“Gasoline Engines Troubles Classified,”
Gas Review
1
(
Sept.
1908
):
34
; E. A. White,
“The Economical Operation of a Gas Engine,”
Gas Review
1
(
Sept.
1908
):
56
; J. B. Davidson,
“Gas Engine Instruction for Ag Students,”
Gas Review
1
(
Sept.
1908
):
76
; H. M. Bainer,
“The Gasoline Traction Engine,”
Gas Review
1
(
Oct.
1908
):
38
; C. A. Ocock,
“Gasoline Engines in College,”
Gas Review
1
(
Oct.
1908
):
42
;
Iowa State University, College of Engineering
, http://www.engineering.iastate.edu/the-college/history/ (accessed Feb. 8, 2013).
31. The hit-and-miss governor was generally more economic for farm work. The engine would fire again only after it slowed down sufficiently. The throttling governor slowed down the engine by controlling the amount of fuel. See and hear the hit-and-miss engine at work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOCBHa0UIsI (accessed Feb. 8, 2013).
“Question and Answer Department,”
Gas Review
1
(
Sept.
1908
):
38
39
;
“Question and Answer Department,”
Gas Review
1
(
July
1908
):
35
;
“Correspondence Department,”
Gas Review
1
(
Nov.
1908
):
62
;
“Correspondence Department,”
Gas Review
1
(
Dec.
1908
):
56
,
58
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
6
(
Oct.
1913
):
90
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
9
(
Jan.
1916
):
56
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
9
(
Feb.
1916
):
56
,
58
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
9
(
Mar.
1916
):
52
,
56
.
32.
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
1
(
July
1908
):
56
,
57
;
“Correspondence,”
Tractor and Gas Engine Review
11
(
Feb.
1918
):
20
.
33. Bainer,
“Gasoline Tractor Engine,”
38
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
1
(
Nov.
1908
):
62
. For other examples, see, A. S. Atkinson,
“The Science of Selling Gas Engines,”
Gas Review
10
(
Jan.
1908
):
65
; Chas Dawson,
“Uncertainty of the Gas Engine,”
Gas Review
1
(
Sept.
1908
):
26
.
34. Longanecker,
Practical Gas Engineer
,
25
; C. A. Ocock,
“Gasoline Engine Troubles,”
Gas Review
1
(
Aug.
1908
):
64
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
6
(
Oct.
1913
):
98
;
“Correspondence,”
Tractor and Gas Engine Review
11
(
July
1918
):
28
.
35. Geo. A. Townsend, Jr.,
“Gasoline and Oil Storage on the Farm,”
Gas Review
6
(
June
1913
):
56
60
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
6
(
June
1913
):
54
; Brate,
Farm Gas Engines
,
21
30
; Hirshfeld and Ulbricht,
Gas Engines for the Farm
,
3
5
; Joseph E. Pogue and Isador Lubin,
Prices of Petroleum and its Products
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1919
),
16
21
.
36. E. L. Vincent,
“Power for Farm Work,”
Gas Review
1
(
Dec.
1908
):
38
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
1
(
Dec.
1908
):
56
; J. B. Davidson,
“Gas Engine Instruction for Agricultural Students,”
Gas Review
1
(
Sept.
1908
):
76
.
37. Geo. Cormack Jr.,
“Operating a New Engine,”
Gas Review
1
(
July
1908
):
52
; Cormack Jr.,
“Overhauling the Gas Engine,”
Gas Review
1
(
Aug.
1908
):
20
.
38. Victor Heichs,
“Seventeen Years of Farm Engine Experience,”
Tractor and Gas Engine Review
11
(
Mar.
1918
):
64
; M. Beck,
“The Secondhand Engine,”
Gas Review
1
(
Nov.
1908
):
12
13
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
10
(
May
1917
):
46
.
39. E. A. White,
“The Economical Operation of a Gasoline Engine,”
Gas Review
1
(
Sept.
1908
):
56
58
.
40.
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
9
(
Nov.
1916
):
18
.
41. Flink,
America Adopts the Automobile
,
66
78
; Meyer,
Days on the Family Farm
,
38
40
,
47
54
;
“Historical Statistics,”
series Ba4298, http://hsus.cambridge.org (accessed Feb. 11, 2013).
42.
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
9
(
June
1916
):
22
24
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
9
(
Apr.
1916
):
50
;
“Correspondence,”
Tractor and Gas Engine Review
15
(
Apr.
1922
):
20
21
.
43. For sources on tractor history, see, for example, Eugene G. McKibben and R. Austin Griffin,
Changes in Farm Power and Equipment: Tractors, Trucks, and Automobiles
(
Philadelphia
:
WPA
,
1938
); Allan G. Bogue,
“Changes in Mechanical and Plant Technology: The Corn Belt, 1910–1940,”
Journal of Economic History
43
(
Mar.
1983
):
1
25
; Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode,
“Reshaping the Landscape: The Impact and Diffusion of the Tractor in American Agriculture, 1910–1960,”
Journal of Economic History
61
(
Sept.
2001
):
663
. Iowa Farmer,
“A Few Remarks about Horse Power,”
Gas Review
6
(
June
1913
):
26
. The Fordson was first produced for the British Ministry of Munitions in 1917. The tractor became available to US farmers the following year. A newspaper advertisement announced the arrival of the first Fordson tractors in Green County, Wisc.: Independent Register, May 29, 1918, 4. See, also, Robert N. Pripps and Andrew Morland,
Fordson Tractors
(
Osceola, Wisc.
:
Motorbooks International
,
1995
),
19
30
,
47
49
. For domestic annual sales of tractors, see, McKibben and Griffin,
Changes in Farm Power
, Appendix Table B-1,
78
. For annual figures of estimated tractors on US farms, see,
“Historical Statistics of the United States,”
series DA 623, http://hsus.cambridge.org (accessed Feb. 11, 2013).
44.
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
1
(
Aug.
1908
):
52
53
;
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
1
(
Nov.
1908
):
62
.
45.
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
9
(
Dec.
1916
):
30
34
.
46.
“Correspondence,”
Gas Review
6
(
Oct.
1913
):
90
98
; Jas. I. Gerstbauer,
“Putting a Good Tractor Together,”
Tractor and Gas Engine Review
11
(
Oct.
1918
):
26
.
47.
“Questions and Answers,”
Tractor and Gas Engine Review
11
(
Mar.
1918
):
58
;
Better Farming
(
Aug.
1
,
1917
):
11
; Kline,
Consumers in the Country
,
76
. During the Great Depression, Sears sold kits for $99.50.
Sears
,
Fall 1932
,
990
; Wik,
Henry Ford
,
93
.
48. For the impact of the tractor, see, William J. White,
“An Unsung Hero: The Farm Tractor's Contribution to Twentieth-Century United States Economic Growth”
(
PhD diss.
,
Ohio State University
,
2000
); Olmstead and Rhode,
“Reshaping the Landscape.”