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Manufacturers Index - Providence Steam Engine Co.
Last Modified: Mar 8 2013 8:09PM by joelr4
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Providence Steam Engine Co.

Sole Builders of the Improved Greene Engines, Stationary and Marine Boilers, etc., 373 to 379 South Main Street.

The Providence Steam Engine Co. is one of the oldest steam engine manufacturing companies in America, having been founded in 1821, by R. L. Thurston, who, at that early period in the history of engine building, with a small capital and modest resources, laid the foundations of what has since grown to be one of the most prominent concerns of the kind in the country. From that date the business has been continuously conducted, under various styles of firm, and in 1863, the present stock company was incorporated with a capital of $300,000. At this time the plant was greatly enlarged, the buildings increased three-fold, new machinery and processes introduced, improvements made in all departments and the whole establishment placed upon a footing that leaves it at the present writing with but few compeers in capacity, product or dimensions. From 1861 until 1865 these works were largely engaged in building marine engines and boilers, especially for the United States Government, and the most complimentary letters have been received by the management from the Navy Department with regard to the high character of the machinery furnished. The manufacturing plant now covers an area of 300 feet square, fronting on four streets, nearly the whole of which is covered by buildings, several of which are very capacious. The location of these works is particularly adapted, with reference to all the advantages afforded by ocean navigation: enabling the company to load their products directly from their own docks on vessels, thus securing shipment to all points at lowest rates—a matter of no small importance alike to shipper and receiver. The wharves of the company have a frontage of 225 feet on the river, and on them are erected shear poles 90 feet high, capable of handling a hundred tons or more. The works are among the most completely equipped of any in the United States, and the management has always been in the van of progression in the introduction of special tools, for the economic manufacture or perfection of their products. Among the chief machinery remarkable for size or power, in use at these works, may be noted a machine produced by them which is used to hold the sheets of boiler iron together while heading the rivets by steam machinery, and the use of which has given a reputation to the company's boilers, acquired by none of other makes. Another machine is a pit-planer capable of planing the largest engine made, which has a revolving tool, enabling the operator to plane in both directions. In every respect the plant is perfect, systematic and orderly, and employment is furnished to about three hundred skilled workmen. The products of the company embrace stationary and marine boilers, sheet iron and tank work, etc., the chief specialty however, of late years, being the Improved Greene Engine, of which they are the sole builders, and the merits of which are so well admitted that steady employment is given to the company's full capacity to keep up with the demand for these engines. The design and arrangement of the Greene engine embody peculiar and excellent features. The parts are large, thus insuring the full pressure of the steam on the piston to the point of the cut-off. All the parts are well proportioned, made of the best ma terial, accurately fitted and splendidly finished. Unlike the usual type of drop cut-off engines, the Greene engine has a separate eccentric for both the inletand the exhaust valves, which give the engine much better regulating powers, and enables suitable compression to be given for high speeds. These engines work With uncommon smoothness and regularity, and present a very agreeable and symmetrical appearance. They enjoy a wide-spread repu'atio.i for being the most durable, economical and efficient engines on the market. With so many extraneous advantages, it is not surprising that the trade relations of the Providence Steam Engine Co. are of an extensive nature. Their products are shipped to every state and territory in the Union, as well as the Canadian provinces, and their admirable mechanism is largely exported to many foreign countries.

One of the oldest steam engine builders in the United States is Mr. R. L. Thurston, senior partner of the well-known firm of Thurston, Gardner & Co., of Providence, R.I. In 1821 he commenced the manufacture of engines, and since that period has been constantly engaged in it. In 1834, he, with others, originated the Providence Steam Engine Co., which, in 1838, was succeeded by the firm of R. L. Thurston & Co. During the seven years of, the existence of this firm style, they employed about sixty hands, but increased their business considerably, and added much new machinery. In 1845, when the style of the firm was changed to Thurston, Greene & Co., they employed about eighty hands, and doubled the quantity of their machinery. In June of the same year, their whole works were destroyed by fire, occasioning a loss to the concern of $25,000, the property being only in part insured. They then erected their present buildings, which consist of a main shop, 200 by 50 feet, two stories high, a boiler shop, 200 by 40 feet, with which is connected a blacksmith's shop of proportional dimensions. In fitting up the new establishment with machinery, it was found necessary for Mr. Greene to visit Europe, where he purchased 812,000 worth of machinery that could not at that time have been procured in this country. The firm of Thurston, Greene & Co. continued in existence until 1854, when, Mr. Gardner becoming a partner, and bringing a considerable accession to the capital, it was succeeded by the present firm of Thurston, Gardner & Co. The concern now employs about 250 hands, and has a capacity for doing work to the amount of $200,000 per annum. The capital invested is about $120,000. Messrs. Thurston, Gardner & Co. are principally engaged in building stationary engines, boilers, and manufacturing tools. The engines of their construction enjoy a high reputation, and may be seen in a large number of the large cotton, iron, and other mills throughout the United States. They are also the proprietors of two valuable patents, applicable to stationary engines: the one is Pitcher's Hydraulic Governor, for regulating velocity—a matter of great importance, especially in cotton machinery,—and the other is Sickle's Adjustable Cut-off, for working steam expansively.

Information Sources

  • The industrial advantages of Providence, R. I. page 85 by Jasom P. McKinney 1889
  • Leading Pursuits and Leading Men Edward Young 1856 pg 290
  • American Steam Engine Builders: 1800-1900 by Kenneth L. Cope, 2006 page 196