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Manufacturers Index - Wheelock Engine Co.
Last Modified: Dec 30 2014 10:45AM by Jeff_Joslin
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This steam manufacturer began in 1865 as a partnership of Jerome Wheelock and Charles A. Wheeler. They evolved from repairing steam engines to manufacturing them, fitted with improvements developed by Mr. Wheelock. In this era of rapid evolution of steam engines and especially their valve gear, we best remember the Corliss engine, but Wheelock's engines were considered equal in quality. Where Corliss focused on the domestic market, Wheelock put more effort into licensing his designs overseas, and their domestic operations remained relatively modest. In 1887, with Mr. Wheelock focused on developing his overseas businesses, the Wheelock Engine Co. was formed to take over Wheelock's domestic manufacturing. In 1896 the American Wheelock Engine Co. succeeded the previous organization, and was in turn succeeded by American & British Manufacturing Co. in 1902.

Information Sources

  • The Massachusetts corporate registry database lists this company's first registration as 1888-01-25.
  • Industrial Worcester by the Davis Press 1917.

    Jerome Wheelock, at one time engineer of the Washburn Iron Works in this city, commenced his business career by making and introducing the sectional ring and piston packing, patented in 1864, and afterwards extensively used in every type and make of engine. Meeting with marked success, he completed, in 1865, arrangements for its manufacture with William A. Wheeler, of Worcester. The demand soon became such that he left the Washburn Iron Company, to give his entire attention to the packing business.

    In the fall of 1865, or spring of 1866, he formed a partnership with Charles A. Wheeler. This led to a considerable repair business, and that in turn led to the invention by Mr. Wheelock of several improvements in steam-engines. In the fall of 1869, the first engine embodying these improvements was built; this proved to be the beginning of a considerable business. The earlier engines of this type were constructed with a single rotary valve, which proved imperfect in many respects, but contained the germ of success. The growth of the packing business and the prospect of engine-building occasioned the removal to 178 Union Street in 1869, where the business was continued until March, 1890. Step by step the Wheelock engine was improved, until in 1873, at the American Exhibition in New York, the four-valve engine was introduced to the public. This employed the rotary tapered valve, suspended on hardened steel spindles—a new type of valve, which became widely known and used.

    Mr. Wheelock invented and patented numerous improvements relating to the steam engine, such as feed-water heaters, condensers, and various details of the Wheelock engine. The building of these specialties, together with the piston-packing and a large increase in the engine business, required successive enlargements, until two floors were occupied, and a force of from fifty to seventy-five men employed. During the interval from 1873 to 1884 a great number of engines were built, including a large proportion of machines of five hundred horse-power. In 1883 and 1884 the most important of Mr. Wheelock's inventions was being developed and tested, the patents upon which were issued in 1885. This was the so-called new system valves, undoubtedly at that time the most original and important departure in engine construction since the invention of Corliss. This well-known valve system had for its main idea the combining of the valve, valve-seat and operating parts within a shell or tapered plug which was driven into a corresponding hole in the cylinder and retained in place without bonnets or bolts. It also employed an entirely novel method of driving the valve and combined a number of improvements, which secured economical results in the use of steam. Patents were taken out in all the larger manufacturing countries of the world, and much of Mr. Wheelock's time during the years 1886 and 1887 was spent abroad negotiating for the manufacture of the new system engine. His success was such that it was extensively built in all those countries.

    During his absence his home business so greatly declined that in the latter part of 1887 he decided to offer it for sale, which resulted in its purchase by a company organized for the purpose of carrying on the building of the new system engines. The Wheelock Engine Company took possession in January, 1888. Edward K. Hill was president and manager, and the late Edward F. Tolman was the treasurer of the Company, both of the class of 1871, the first class graduated from the Polytechnic Institute. The Wheelock business was continued in the shop in Merrifield Building, Union Street, until March, 1890, when it was removed to a new plant on Southgate Street, South Worcester.

    In 1896 the company sold its plant and business to a successor, the American Wheelock Engine Co., which carried on the same until 1902, when the business was merged with other interests in the American & British Mfg. Co., a New York corporation. Meantime the output had so increased in number and size of engines that the Worcester plant had become inadequate. From 1896 to 1899, Wheelock engines were being built for the American Wheelock Engine Co., in Philadelphia, Chicago and Milwaukee. The product at Worcester had become a small part of the total business. In consequence of this condition, the Corliss Steam Engine Co. plant at Providence, R. I., was acquired in 1899, and the Worcester business was moved to Providence in the spring of that year. Since that date the business has continued at the Corliss Works under the ownership of the American & British Mfg. Co. The product during this time has been the George H. Corliss engines as well as the Greene-Wheelock engines, the latter being the improved successor of the Wheelock engine. At one time about eight hundred men were employed at the Providence works in building these engines.

    Edward K. Hill, having in his engineering practice, become well acquainted with the Wheelock engine, recognized the desirability of some changes which would better meet the more exacting conditions which the increase in electric lighting and power were imposing upon steam engines. This was one of the reasons for acquiring the Wheelock business, and soon after doing so improvements were adopted which finally resulted in a valve gear consisting of a combination of the latest inventions of Nathaniel T. Greene, with those of Edward K. Hill, and based upon the Wheelock foundation. This valve gear has been in use since 1895 in all Greene-Wheelock engines, a great number of which have been built, and are to be found in every section of the country and in nearly every state. They have attained, at least, an equal rank with the George H. Corliss engines. In response to my request my friend, Edward K. Hill, has made the following statement of his estimate of the contribution of Jerome Wheelock to the development of the steam engine: The Wheelock Engine as invented, developed and built by Jerome Wheelock from its inception in the early sixties until 1888, embodied several unique features, the most important of these being the valve system, although there were others of his invention which had real value as essential parts of an improved steam engine. This valve system was probably the most original in type, and the widest departure from the prevailing Corliss type, of any of the several successful valve gears that have been developed. The exception, if any, was the inventions of the late Nathaniel T. Greene, of Providence, R. I., which were embodied in the Greene Engine, a type that had a considerable use in certain localities. All automatic cutoff valve gears employ the detachable principle, invented, or at least controlled and introduced by George H. Corliss. While the Wheelock system necessarily involves the use of that principle, in practically every other respect it is as original and unlike the Corliss or any other system as a valve gear can well be. This originality was acknowledged and appreciated by engineers generally. It was quite commonly considered that the Wheelock system was potentially the most serious rival that the original Corliss system ever had. A fair idea of the true value of the former system cannot be had from the extent of its use in this country for there were unfortunate limitations not dependent upon the value of the system. It is necessary to take into account the extensive adoption by engine builders of other countries where it attained greater popularity and proportionally wider use than it did in the United States. Under foreign patents there were licensed builders in Canada, England and France, concerns of first magnitude and high standing, in each case. These builders gave a high character to the Wheelock system and built a great number of the engines. In Canada they became the most prominent type of engine, while in Europe they achieved an equality with the Corliss system as a general thing. Numerous modifications were adopted in several countries, particularly in Germany, where a number of hyphenated Wheelock system engines were evolved by builders. The English licensees, Daniel Adamson & Co., Manchester, built many for export, conspicuous examples being found in the great cotton mills of Bombay, India. Geographically the use of this system has been as widespread as the Corliss system, and had the business in this country had the advantage of the character and administrative ability of another George H. Corliss, it would probably have ranked only second to that famous business in Providence. The potential and intrinsic value of the Wheelock engine was widely recognized in this country. Its limitations and attainments as a manufacturing enterprise can be gauged and appreciated from the following incident: In 1886-7, the writer was engaged in planning changes in the plant of the Crompton Loom Works. A new engine was required and Mr. Horace Wyman, at that time the head of the business, stated that he would have no other than a Wheelock engine provided he could have one built under the inspection of his representative. A contract was entered into on these terms and an engine built under the supervision of the writer, which proved a highly satisfactory machine in all respects. It is no small compliment to the system that so many engines built without such supervision should have given such satisfactory service upon the whole. The writer regards Mr. Wheelock as having had in his inventions the ample foundation for one of the largest, most dignified and creditable enterprises in the city of Worcester in his time. Were it not for unfortunate limitations, his name in this city could undoubtedly have attained much of the unique distinction of that of George H. Corliss in the city of Providence, and a second place only, in the country. In the foreign countries mentioned his name stands very near the head of the list of the world's improvers of the steam engine. As an illuminating incident, the following is apropos: Soon after the writer had succeeded to the Wheelock business, while still occupying the unbelievable shop on Union Street, a dark complexioned gentleman was shown into the dingy enclosure that served as an office. An extraordinary perplexity and dubiousness of countenance and manner of this gentleman was explained when it finally came out that he was the East Indian representative of Daniel Adamson & Co., British builder of the Wheelock engine. As such he had installed many of them, notably, several of 2000-3000 horse-power in Bombay cotton mills. His admiration of them was such that, planning his return to India via United States, a prime object was to visit the Wheelock Home Works, in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he expected to find a plant commensurate in size and equipment with his most natural fancy or with misleading statements he may have heard. In fact, he finally stated that he expected to see a magnificent plant covering many acres and replete with equipment of the best known kind. The writer has never had to deal with a man so dumbfounded as this one was when, after a half hour of explanation and assertion he became convinced that we were not playing off some Yankee trick on him, and that the old rat hole we were in was the cradle and home of the great Wheelock Engine.

  • American Steam Engine Builders: 1800-1900 by Kenneth L. Cope, 2006 page 267