The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the September/October 2004 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As the 1890’s drew to a close and the new twentieth century began, there was a feeling in the air that everything was “new.”  (George E. Mowry, The Era of Theodore Roosevelt [Harper and Brothers Pub.: New York, 1958] p. 2.)  Technology had invented a new, efficient source of power—the internal combustion engine.  This new source of power was to revolutionize industry and agriculture.  The public was demanding ever-newer more efficient power sources.  In answer to this growing demand, development of the internal combustion engine evolved from the large bulky engines to engines that were small, efficient and simple to use.  In first years of the new century, a young man from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by the name of Charles H. John, was intrigued with the idea of designing an engine that would meet the power needs of a broad masses of the public.  As opposed to the single-cylinder “hit and miss” engine which were then being popular, Charles favored the multiple cylinder style of engine.  Thus, he set out designing this own version of this type of engine.

Charles H. John was aided in the development of this engine by A. F. Milbrath.  Following the development of a prototype of their engine the two partners sought to incorporate and on March 12, 1909 they received a corporate charter from the State of Wisconsin which legally incorporated the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company.  (C.H. Wendel, American Gosoline Engines Since 1872 [MBI Pub. Co.: Osceola, Wisc., 1999] p. 557.)  A.F. Milbrath became the Secretary of the new company.  However; because, like Charles John, A.F. Milbrath preferred to work with his hands he also occupied the position of Mechanical Engineer for the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company.  In this position, A.J. Milbrath would continue his inventive ways.  In 1916 he would be granted a patent from the United States Patent Office for a magneto coupling that he designed and built.

The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing  Company operated out of a shop in North Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  However the Company would soon outgrow this facility.  By 1911, the Company was required to purchase a 6-1/2 acre site at 53rd and Burnham Street in West Allis, Wisconsin.  On this new site the company built one of the most modern engine manufacturing plants in the world at the time.  By 1912, the Wisconsin Motor Company was employing about 300 people in this new facility on both day and night shifts making engine to fill purchase orders that were flowing in to the Company.

At first the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company found that the largest market for their four (4) and six (6) cylinder engines was for installation in heavy construction equipment.  The Bucyrus-Erie Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (formerly [prior to 1893] of Bucyrus Ohio) installed Wisconsin engines in the large cranes and power shovels which they manufactured.

 

An Erie-Bucyrus Company dragline crane working in Erie, Pennsylvania, probably fitted with an engine from Wisconsin Motor Company.

 

Indeed, seventy-seven (77) of these Wisconsin-powered Bucyrus shovels were used on the largest and most famous construction project of the time i.e. the Panama Canal which was completed on August 15, 1914.  (David McCullough, Path Between the Seas: Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 [Simon & Schuster: New York, 1977] p. 609.)  Wisconsin Motor also supplied engine to the Marion Steam Shovel Company of Marion, Ohio.  Marion was the manufacturer o large power excavators, draglines and shovels.  As their name suggests the company relied primarily on steam as a power source for their construction equipment.  (From the web page on Marion, Ohio, located on the Roadtrip America website on the Internet.)  However, the efficiency of internal combustion engines, supplied by Wisconsin Motor eventually won out over steam power.  By the late 1920’s, the Marion Steam Shovel Company had changed its named to the Marion Power Shovel Company to reflect modern realities.  (Ibid.)  The Marion Company also supplied heavy Wisconsin powered shovels and excavators to the United States Corps of Army Engineers for the mamouth Panama Canal project.  Thus, Wisconsin engines were seen every where on the Canal project under at least two different company names—Marion and Bucyrus-Erie.

 

Former President Theodore Roosevelt at the controls of one of the large Erie-Bucyrus Company cranes in the Panama Canal during his 1909 trip to Panama.

 

The role played by Wisconsin engines in the construction of the Panama Canal, was glamorous and the connection with this huge construction project was used by the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company for advertising purposes.  Nonetheless, the contracts with construction equipment manufacturing companies were small in comparison to the mushrooming market that was soon to occupy nearly all of the production capacity of the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company.  This was the automobile market.

The vast number of automobile companies that sprang up in the early 1900s had no time to develop their own engines.  They appreciated the smooth running engines that Wisconsin Motor had available.  Thus, many small, but up and coming, automobile manufacturers looked to Wisconsin as an outsource supplier of engines for their automobiles.  Supplying this new burgeoning market, propelled the Wisconsin Motor Company into period of rapid expansion.  Automobile engines proved to be the most popular market for the Wisconsin Motor Company.

One of the new auto companies contracting Wisconsin Motor, was the Ideal Motor Car Company, (later in May of 1913 this company became the Stutz Motor Car Company).  (Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark Jr., Standard Catelogue of American Cars, 1805-1942 [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1996] p. 1442.)  In 1911, Harry C. Stutz, founder of the Ideal Company, built the first prototype of a car in just five weeks. Almost immediately this car was entered in the very first Indianapolis 500 mile race, where the car averaged 68.25 mph. and made history as “the car that made good in a day.  A few weeks later when the Ideal Company put the car into production, they were fitted with the Wisconsin Type A,engine.  The Type A was a “T-head” 60 hp. four-cylinder engine with a 4-3/4”bore and a 5-1/2” stroke.  (Ibid.)  When in 1912, the famous “Bearcat” model car was introduced it was made available with either the four cylinder Type A engine or an alternative six-cylinder Wisconsin 60-hp. engine.

 

When the famous Stutz Bearcat came onto the market in 1912 it was available with an optional 6-cylinder engine made by Wisconsin Motor Company.

 

Besides supplying the engine for the mass-produced Stutz cars, the Wisconsin Motor Company also built the overhead 16 valve engine that was used in 1915 by the “White Squadron” (the Stutz Company racing team).  At the 1915 automobile race held at the Long Island Raceway in Sheepshead By, New York, Bearcats of the White Squadron finished first and second among the field of race cars crossing the finish line.  However, starting in 1917 Stutz Motor Car Company started building their own engines for their cars and ceased purchasing engines from the Wisconsin Motor Company.  (Ibid.)  The Stutz Company continued building their own engines until they went broke in 1939.

The success of the White Squadron racing team created a demand by other race car drivers and builders to have Wisconsin engines installed in their racing cars.  Among these famous racing car drivers were Ralph de Palma, Bill Endicott and Sig Haugdaul, all of whom insisted on Wisconsin engines in all the race cars that they drove.  Sig Haugdaul drove a car called the “Wisconsin Special”  In 1921, Sig Haugdaul and the Wisconsin Special established a new world speed record of 180 mph.  Thus, he and the Wisconsin Special, became the first man and car to travel at a speed of three (3) miles a minute.  During this time, Art Brown, who figures prominently later in this story, also drove race cars which were fitted with Wisconsin engines.

Wisconsin also signed another contract to supply the Kissel Motor Car Company of Hartford, Wisconsin, with engines for all the cars they produced.  (As noted in a previous article, in July of 1915 the Oltrogge family of Waverly, Iowa, purchased a 1911 Kissel Model D-11 Touring Car with a water-cooled 50 hp. four cylinder Wisconsin engines as their first automobile.  [See the article “Massey-Harris Farming: The Oltrogge Family” contained in the March/April 2004 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.])  The Kissel Company continued to use Wisconsin engines in all their cars until 1915 when they began to make their own engines.  (Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark Jr., Standard Catelogue of American Cars, 1805-1942 p. 811.)

Ever since 1871 the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company had been dabbling with the idea of building a “horseless carriage.”  (Ibid., p. 261.)  That year, Dr. J.M. Carhart built a steam powered buggy.  (Ibid.)  Most of the actual work on the steam buggy was completd at the Case Company facilities in Racine, Wisconsin.  (Ibid.)  The steam powered buggy did not work out and the Case Company became one of the early pioneers in the development of the internal combustion engine.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of J.I. Case [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1991] p. 103.)  In 1895, the Horseless Age Magazine announced what was the first automobile race in the United States.  (Ibid., p. 58.)  The race was sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald newspaper.  (Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark Jr., Standard Catelogue of American Cars, 1805-1942 p. 261.)  However, the Case Company was unable to complete development of their automobile in time to participate in this race.  (Ibid.)  The Case Company was preoccupied by planning other uses for the internal combustion engine.  The Company was attempting to produce its “Patterson tractor.”  Accordingly, Case’s first attempt at production of automobile had to be abandoned.

The second attempt of the Case Company to enter the automobile market came in 1911 when the company purchased the small Pierce Motor Company of Racine, Wisconsin.  The Pierce Company had been producing a small number of automobiles since 1904.  (Ibid., p. 1189.)  In 1911, Pierce was producing their Model 30 automobile.  This car was powered by Pierce’s own 30 hp. engine.  Following the corporate buyout, the Case Company continued production of the Model 30 and introduced a larger Model 40 to the new line of automobiles.  Although the newly acquired Pierce Company had in the past produced their own 40 hp. Engine, their capacity to produce the engine in the numbers needed was extremely limited.  Thus, the Case Company turned to the Wisconsin Motor Company to make up the deficiency in their capacity to produce a 40 hp. engine for the Model 40 car.

 

Some of the Case Model 40 automobiles were fitted with Wisconsin Motor Company 40 horsepower engines. Note that the J. I. Case Company dealership window says “The car with the famous engine.”

 

Eventually, the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company offered complete line of line of engines ranging from the 20 hp. models up to the 200 hp. models.  Wisconsin engines were advertised as “Consistent” engines.  Three of the most popular Wisconsin engines intended for use in passenger cars were the four-cylinder 25.6 hp. Type TAU engine, the four-cylinder 28.9 hp. Type UAU engine and the four cylinder 32.4 hp Type VAU engine.  Ranging from 650 to 680 pounds and containing four main bearings on the crankshaft, these engines were intended for heavy duty use despite advertisements stating their intended use as passenger car engines.

However, as the various automobile companies became more secure in their positions, they began to design and manufacture their own engines.  Thus, Wisconsin Motor’s role as an outsource supplier of  automobile engines declined.  Thus the Company was forced to seek other markets for their engines.  Sometime prior to the First World War, the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company introduced a line of marine engines called the “Wisconsin Whitecaps.”  During the Prohibition Era of the 1920’s, the United States Coast Guard contracted with the Wisconsin Motor Company for a large number of these “Whitecap” marine engines for installation into patrol boats that the Coast Guard used to patrol the coastlines of the United States looking for “rumrunners” attempting to import illegal liquor into the nation.  Soon an international market developed for these marine engines, as is shown by a 1925 piece of Spanish-language advertising literature entitled “El Motor Consistente: Wisconsin.”

One contract the Wisconsin Motor Company signed with a vehicle manufacturer would survive throughout the 1920s.  This was the long-term contract with the innovative Four Wheel Drive Company of Clintonville, Wisconsin (known as the FWD Company).  The FWD Company began its corporate existence in 1909 as the Badger Four Wheel Automobile Company and only later shorted its name to FWD.  (Albert Mroz, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks and Commercial Vehicles [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1996] p. 156.)   The company was the brain-child of Ottow Zachow and his brother-in-law William Besserdich.  (Ibid.)  Both men were machinists working in Clintonville, Wisconsin.  (Ibid.)  Ottow was the original developer and owner of the patent for the first “double Y” ball and socket universal joint.  (Ibid.)  This ingenious invention would eventually become very common in machinery through out the world.  However, for Otto it solved an immediate problem of allowing the front wheels of his automobile become “drive wheels” as well as steering wheels.  At this time their prototype was a “steam powered” truck/automobile.  With the backing of Dr. W.H. Finney and a group of other investors, Ottow and William incorporated their company, the Badger Four Wheel Automobile Company in 1909.  (Ibid.)  However, the steam powered design was not a success and by 1911, Dr. Finney had backed out of the enterprise.  After returning Dr. Finney’s original $1,800 investment to him, William and Ottow reincorporated their company as the Four Wheel Drive Automobile Company.  By signing a contract with the Wisconsin Motor Company for a 45 hp. version of the Type A engine, the two men set about bringing their new four-wheel drive vehicle into production as a gasoline powered vehicle.  This vehicle became the famous FWD Model B truck.  The United States Army was immediately interested in the new Model B four wheel drive truck and signed a contract for a large number of Model Bs to be made for the Army.  However, the Zachow and Besserdich machine shop in Clintonville, Wisconsin, was woefully small for production of the FWD truck in the numbers needed by the United States Army.  Accordingly, Ottow and William purchased a large tract of land nearby the machine shop and in 1913 they built a large new factory at the site.  Nonetheless, with the United States’ entry into the First World War, the increased orders from the U.S. Army for Model B trucks soon outstripped the capacity of even this new factory.  Consequently, FWD was forced to sub-contract production of their Model B truck.  Thus, they licensed the Kissel Motor Car Company, noted above, the Mitchell Motor Car Company of Racine, Wisconsin and the Premier Motor Car Company of Indianapolis, Indiana to make the Model B to help fill the large U.S. Government contract.  Every Model B was fitted with a Wisconsin engine.  Thus, Wisconsin Motor Company grew in direct proportion to growing popularity of the FWD Model B truck.

 

An FWD Model B truck in its World War I garb.

 

The FWD contract was a very important contract for the Wisconsin Motor Company.  However, even before entering into this lucrative relationship with FWD, the Wisconsin Motor Company had been experiencing growing pains.  Growth of the company exceeded the expectations of the two founding officers and eventually the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company “went public.”  Stock in the company was offered to the investing public.

The popularity of the Wisconsin-powered FWD “Clintonville” four-wheel truck did not stop with the end of the First World War in November 1918.  The rising popularity of automobiles had by the 1920s created a huge demand for “good roads.”  Good Road Associations sprang up in local communities all across the nation.  The Good Road Associations spurred state, county and local governments into increasing public expenditures on creation and better maintenance of roads.  The making and the maintenance of these new and improved roads created a new peacetime market for four-wheel drive trucks.  Indeed many of the 15,000 old FWD Model B trucks, made during the war, which were deemed “Army surplus” at the end of the war, were allocated to the various state highway departments around the United States for use in improving roads.  However, there continued to be a strong market for new Model B trucks made into various configurations, e.g. snow plow trucks, or dump trucks.  When the new three (3) ton Model B was introduced in 1924, it was powered by the Wisconsin Type A engine.  Thus, growth of the Wisconsin Motor Company continued throughout the 1920s based in large part on its continuing contractual relationship with FWD.  Additionally, during the 1920s, Wisconsin Motor introduced a line of marine engines called the “Wisconsin Whitecaps” line of engines.  The United States Coast Guard purchased a number of boats, they wished to use for patrolling up and down the coastlines of the United States, looking for “rumrunners” ships trying to enter the United States with illegal “boot legged” alcohol.    A great number of these patrol boats purchased by the Coast Guard were powered by Wisconsin engines.  Other nations, including the nations of South America soon were ordering patrol boats to watch their own coasts.  Thus, advertisement of the “Whitecaps” line was conducted in Spanish as well as in English.  The Consistent Motor was also known as “El Motor Consistente.  However, with the ending of prohibition in 1933, the Whitecaps line of engines was phased out.

However, the end of the 1920s brought a real challenge to all business enterprises in the United States .  The stock market crash in October of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression that followed had a devastating effect on the economy of the United States.  As state and local governments started to cut back their budgets, purchases of new road maintenance equipment vanished.  The FWD Company was placed in an extremely difficult financial position.  In 1932, FWD had terminated it contract with the Wisconsin Motor Company.  The end of this very important contract set the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company reeling financially.  By 1934, the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company fell into receivership.  The company’s main creditor, the First Wisconsin Bank, appointed Harold Todd, one of its own employees, as president of the Wisconsin Motor Company.  However, once secondary creditor’s petitioned the United States District Court to have their rights protected, another neutral person was selected by the Court to be the President of the Company while ion receivership.

Early in the course of the depression, the Wisconsin Motor Company had been forced into reducing its workforce.  However, even as employees were being laid off, some limited hiring occurred.  One person hired in 1929 was nineteen year-old Russell Young.  Russell Young lived with his family at 18th Street and McKinley Avenue (1807 McKinley) in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.  Russell used to say that he “walked into the company just as so many employees were walking out of the company.”  Russell was originally hired to sweep the snow off the assembly line.  Eventually, he obtained work as an assembly line worker and then became an assembly line supervisor.  Later Russell Young was transferred to the research department within the company.  Exciting new things were happening in the research department.

 

In 1929, the Wisconsin Motor Company embarked on production of air-cooled engines. These were the engines for which the Wisconsin Company would become famous.

 

In 1929 the Wisconsin Motor Company embarked the path of on designing and building an air-cooled engine.  In 1930, the Company went into production with its first entire line of air-cooled engines (the Model A 1½ engine [2.4 hp.], the Model A 2 engine [3.0 hp.], the Model A 3 engine [5.0 hp.], the Model A 4 engine [5.7 hp.], and the Model A 5 engine [6.0 hp.]).  (Information from the website of the Antique Small Engine Collectores Club.)  All of these air-cooled engines designed by Wisconsin were single cylinder “L head” type engines with a flywheel magneto and an air vane governor.  (Ibid.)  In 1932, Russell Young assisted in the building of the second prototype of a new and improved series of air-cooled engines in the research department.  Progress on the air-cooled engines was hampered by the financial difficulties of the company.  Nonetheless, in 1933, the Wisconsin Motor Company introduced its second, but shortened, line of air-cooled engines including the Model AD engine (3.7 hp.), the Model AE engine (4.2 hp.) and the Model AES engine (6.5 hp.).  (Ibid.)  All of these single cylinder engines featured the “outboard magnetos” rather than the flywheel magnetos featured on the previous 1930 line of  Wisconsin engines.  The next year in 1934, the line of Wisconsin air-cooled engines was supplemented with the first four-cylinder air-cooled engine made by Wisconsin—the Model AC4 engine (16 hp.).  (Ibid.)  The Model AC4 was an “in-line” four cylinder engine.  (The cylinders were lined up in the engine block, one behind the other.

By the autumn of 1933, the very bottom of the depression had been reached and thanks to the New Deal the economy was slowly making its way back from the pit of the economic depression.  Russell Young was still employed at the Wisconsin Motor Company and that fall started a family when he married Mildred Schmacher.  Russell and Mildred would eventually have a family which would consist of three children: a son Ray born in 1934, a daughter, Kathleen, born in 1939 and a son, Michael born in 1951.  Russell and Mildred continued to live at the house at 1807 McKinley with his parents until after the birth of Kathleen.  In 1940 Russell and Mildred and their family moved around the corner into their own house at 1243 18th Street.

The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company was a secondary beneficiary to the construction projects of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the other New Deal programs.  These government-financed construction projects required all types of farm, industrial and construction equipment.  The manufacturers of this farm, industrial and construction equipment turned to Wisconsin Motor to supply the engines for large quantity of equipment needed.  This secondary benefit received from the government financed programs helped Wisconsin Motor get through the worst part of the Depression.  Thus, a ripple effect was established whereby the government contracts with a few companies caused ordering by those few companies from their suppliers.  These business to business (B. to B.) suppliers would, in turn, order more raw materials and parts from their suppliers.  Slowly, the United States economy began to recover.

As the United States economy continued its recovery, the Wisconsin Motor Company emerged from receivership in 1935.  Soon the consuming public entered The Company realized that there was a growing demand among average North American families for internal combustion engines suited to a variety of everyday tasks.  Accordingly in 1935, the Company introduced three more new air-cooled models to their line of engines—the Model AF engine (5.4 hp.), the Model AG engine (6.1 hp.) and the Model AH engine (8 hp.).  (Ibid.)  These are the size of engines that might have been used for powering small feed grinders and/or burr mills, powering vacuuming systems for automated milking systems and or powering home electric generating systems on average farms across the continent.  In 1936, two more small air-cooled engines were added to the Wisconsin line—the Model AA engine (1.8 hp.) and the Model AB engine (3.0 hp.).  These smaller engines were obviously intended for smaller household duties like operating water well pumps in the absence of windmills and operating automatic wringer-type clothes washers in houses located in small towns as well as in rural America.

So successful and popular were these air-cooled engines, that in 1937 the Wisconsin Motor Company ceased production of all water-cooled engines to concentrate exclusively on the production of its air-cooled engines.  In 1938 two more large air-cooled engines were added to the line of engines the Wisconsin Motor Company offered to the public—the Model AM4 engine (28.0 hp.) and the Model AP4 engine (31.0 hp.).  Both of these engines were “in-line” four-cylinder engines belonging to the same family as the AC4 only delivering more horsepower than the earlier engine.

Despite the fact that the Wisconsin Motor Company had emerged from receivership, times were still hard for the company.  In the late 1930s, the State of Wisconsin passed legislation which prohibited banks from owning other corporations.  Pursuant to this new law, First Wisconsin Bank was now required to sell its interest in the Wisconsin Motor Company.  Many people were speculating as to what would happen to the Company.  One such person was Art Brown.  As noted above, Art Brown’s involvement with Wisconsin Motor dated from the time that he was racing cars powered by Wisconsin engines.  Art Brown had later accepted a position with the Company as a supervisor where he had become acquainted with Russell Young.  They had become friends.  Now in 1937, Art Brown made a comment to his friend and fellow employee, Russell Young, that the entire Company could be purchased for $500.000.00.  While Art Brown did not have access to this much money, he did invest heavily in the Company.  In the end, controlling interest in the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company was purchased by the Continental Engine Company of Muskegan, Michigan.  Following the merger with Continental, Wisconsin Motor continued to produce engines under its own name as a division of the Continental Company.  Harold A. Todd became president of Wisconsin Motor in1937 and would remain president until 1967.  Art Brown became one of the vice-presidents of the new division.

 

In 1940, the Wisconsin Motor Company introduced its most famous V-4 series of air-cooled engines.

 

In 1940, Wisconsinintroduced, what was to prove to be the company’s most popular series of air-cooled engines, the Model V-series engines.  The V-series engine was a four-cylinder engine.  However, the cylinders in the Model V-series engines were arranged in the engine block in a configuration of two “banks” with two cylinders in each bank.  These two banks were located either side of the “V” shaped engine block.  This configuration of engine block allowed for a more compactly designed engine, than was possible with the “in-line” style of engine design.  Originally, there were three models in the V-series—the Model VD4 engine (16.0 hp.), the Model VE4D engine (21.5 hp.) and the Model VF4D engine (25.0 hp.).  However, production of the Model VD4 engine was ceased soon after the engine was introduced, leaving only two models in the V-series of engines.  From the beginning, the new four cylinder air-cooled engine proved to be a sales success.  Production of the Model VE4D and the Model VF4D, would continue without any real changes in design for next three decades.  Demand for the V-series engines, especially the Model VE4D. seemed to be boundless.

 

The top selling engine manufactured by the Wisconsin Motor Company was the classic VE-4 air-cooled engine.

 

The Wisconsin Motor Company would sign sales contracts with numerous farm equipment companies to supply Model VE4D engines to power all sorts of farm machinery.  The Model VE4D engine seemed to spring up everywhere in the 1940s.  A mere sampling of the companies that contracted with the Wisconsin Motor Company include: J.I. Case Company, which used the Model VE4D on their Model A-6 combine and their Model NCM balers (see the article called “The Case NCM baler and a Family’s Crucial Year” in the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley magazine) the Massey-Harris Company used the Model VE4D on their forage equipment and the Clipper combine.  (See the article called “Massey-Harris Farming: The Clipper Combine” in the July/August 2004 issues of Belt Pulley magazine.) The Gehl Bros. Manufacturing Company installed the Model VE4D on its forage choppers and other power forage equipment.  Even the Rosenthal Corn Husker Company turned to the Model VE4D engine to power their pull-type “Cornbine” during the very limited production run of that attempt to modernize the corn husking method of ripe corn harvesting.  (See the article called “The Rosenthal Corn Husking Company [Part IV]: the Cornbine” in the November/December 2001 issue of Belt Pulley magazine, p.12.)

The Wisconsin Motor Company out-sourced their demand for carburetors and magnetos for this new V-4 series engines.  Not wanting to be caught in short supply for carburetors for their engines, the Company turned to both Bendix-Stromberg Company of South Bend, Indiana (maker of the famous Stromberg carburetor) and to the Zenith Motor Company of San Francisco, California for carburetors.  Likewise the Wisconsin Motor Company signed outsourcing contracts with Fairbanks, Morris & Company of Beloit, Wisconsin and the WICO Company of Springfield, Massachusetts to supply magnetos for the new VE-4 engines.  Thus throughout the entire production run of the V-4 series engines Zenith or Stromberg carburetors would appear on the V-series engines together with WICO and/or Fairbanks- Morse magnetos indiscriminatately without any pattern—depending only on which suppliers order had been received at Wisconsin Milwaukee plant when the particular engine was made.  By contracting with two suppliers of carburetors and magnetos at the same time, the Wisconsin Company was assured of a constant supply of both carburetors and magnetos.

When the United States entered the Second World War, Wisconsin Motor signed contracts to supply many air-cooled engines to the military for a variety of different applications. During the war, the V-Series air-cooled engines proved themselves under a variety of difficult conditions.  In addition to the V-4 Series of engines, Wisconsin Motor developed the new Citation Model TFT engine.  During the war the citation engine was produced for a number of military applications including powering military electrical generators around the world.

Manufacturers of construction equipment found that the Wisconsin V-Series fit a number of their small cement mixers, pumps and other construction equipment.  Thus, it was entirely natural that following the war, when these companies went back to peacetime manufacture of this equipment, they sought Wisconsinengines to power this equipment.

Following World War II, Wisconsin Motor signed a number of contracts with a variety of farm equipment companies to supply the Model VE4D engine to power all sorts of farm equipment.  Overnight the Model VE4D engine seemed to spring up everywhere in the olate 1940s.  A mere sampling of the companies that contracted with Wisconsin Motor for the Model VE$D engine includes: the J. I. Case Company which used the Model VE4D engine on their Model a-6 combine and on their Model NCM baler (see the article on the Case NCM baler in the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley and also at this website); and the Massey-Harris Farm Equipment Company which used the Model VE4D engine on their Clipper Combine (see the article on the Clipper combine contained in the July/August 2004 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine and also see the immediately preceding article at this website.  Gehl Bros. Company also installed the Model VE4D engine on its forage choppers and other power forage equipment.  Even the Rosenthal Cornhusker Company turned to the Model VE4D engine to power its pull-type “Cornbine” during the very limited production run of that attempt to modernize corn husking by making it a field operation.  (See the article on Rosenthal’s Cornbine in the November/December 2001 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine and also on this website.)

In the postwar era, the fortunes of both Wisconsin Motor and the Young family continued to be intricately woven together.  In March of 1955, Russell’s son Ray entered employment with Wisconsin Motor.  He worked in the research and development ares of the company together with his father.

In 1966, Ryan Aeronautics purchased the Continental Engine Company of Muskegon, Michigan, including the Wisconsin Motor Division.  Harold A. Todd retired from the presidency of the Wisconsin division of Continental Engine in 1967.  He was succeeded by Phil A. Norton, who served as president of the division until 1969.  Ray Young continued to be employed at Wisconsin Motor until 1968 when he was laid off amid cut backs in employment that followed the buyout by Ryan.  Ray then went to work for Engines Service of Milwaukee.  Engines Service is a distributor of engine parts and today is an authorized dealer for Wisconsinengines and engine parts.  In 1969, the Memphis-headquartered Teledyne Corpoartion purchased Ryan Aeronautics.  Teledyne appointed A.A. Erlinger to head the Continental/Wisconin engine division of the corporation.  That same year, production of the famous Model VE4D air-cooled engine was terminated.  The larger Model VF4D engine remained in production as a part of the Wisconsin line of gasoline and diesel engines which ranged from 3 horsepower (hp.) engines up to 65 hp. Engines.  However, in 1976, even production of the Model VF4D was terminated.

While Ray Young was working at Engines Service, his father, Russell Young continued to be employed at Wisconsin motor until his retirement in 1975.  Two yeqr later in 1977. Russell passed away.

In the early 1990s, a strike occurred at the Continental/Wisconsin manufacturing facility on Burnham Street in Milwaukee.  In response to this strike, Teledyne Corporation closewd the factory and moved all engine manufacturing operations to Dyer, Tennessee.  Shortlythereafter, Teledyne sold its Continental/Wisconsin division to Nosco Company of Cleveland, Ohio.  In December of 1999, Wisconsin Motor Was sold by Nosco to Jack Shafer, who reorganized the entity into the Company L.L.C. Currently Robert Riley serves as the manager of Wisconsin Motor.  Today the company makes about 6,000 engines per month at its Dyer facility.  Although this is a substantial reduction from the peak, when the company was producing 100,000 engines per month, the famous “Wisconsin” name still appears on engines which continue to be employed in a number of application around the world.

Wisconsinengines continue to be sold through a network of dealerships.  In the past, this network included a number of company-owned stores.  One of these stores was called Total Power and was located in the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin.  Manager of this particular store, for about 10 years, was Dan Martin, who currently works for Walter Power Systems and who supplied much information for this article.  Ray Young continues to work for Engines Service.  Engine Service continues to sell remanufactured parts for Wisconsin engines.  Thus the Young family continues a connection which began in 1929 with the famous Wisconsin name.

Restoration of Wisconsinengines, even the relatively modern Model V-4 series of air-cooled engines, is becoming a worthwhile project for many collectors.  Indeed, the website of the Antique Small Engine Collectors Club has a separte page just for Wisconsinengines.  The activities of this club and restoration projects of its members and many other hobbyists will, no doubt, keep the heritage of the Wisconsin Motor Companyalive for generations to come.

14 thoughts on “The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin”

  1. Just read the article on the history of Wisconsin. Loved it and am looking for more information on the marine engines. You mention the WhitCap but do not talk about the previous line of marinized Auto engines . I speak of the AM, PM and JRM series.

    Can you point me in a direction to find more information on these engines, years they were built and any specs. I have 2 model AM 389 cid marinized model A engines and am in charge of a model JRM in a period race boat.

    Thank you,

    Lew

    1. Noticed error in article about Wisconsin engines. Talking of Wisconsin selling engines to Marion Steam Shovel Co. Article said Marion changed to Marion Power Shovel Co in the 1920’s. My father started working foe Marion Steam Shovel Co in the early 1940’s. Between then and May 13,1950 the name became Marion Power Shovel Co.

      1. I would love to talk with you over the telephone, in regards to the article on the Wisconsin Motor Company and their relationship with the Marion Power Shovel Company. As you know, these articles that I wrote for Belt Pulley magazine back in the 1990s are now on-line and can be revised at any time. I have already gone back and tried to go back and revise the name of the Marion Power Shovel Company, pursuant to your comment.

        Additionally, sine the Belt Pulley magazine I would like to collect information on your father and the Marion Steam Shovel, itself, in hopes of writing an article on the Marion Company. Accordingly, my telephone numbers are (571) 501-1994 and (703) 671-6241.

        Sincerely yours,

        Brian Wayne Wells

  2. I have a 1955 Wisconsin air cooled heavy duty engines. I can’t find information on how much one sold for in 1955 and how much I can get for it today. Can you help? Thanks

  3. As a past employee of Wisconsin Motor I am quite interested in it’s history. I helped set up the Dyer plant and trained people there. I heard Wisconsin Motor in Dyer, TN. was closed.

  4. I have a mod. TJD s/n 5235248 spec 363367.
    Would like to know the yr. Is it the 18.2hp.
    Any info. would help.
    Thank/You
    Tom McBath

  5. My Dad worked there. Retired in about 1987. Wasn’t there a huge work reduction with layoffs during the 80’s? I didn’t even know the company still existed.

  6. I have 2 Wisconsin model H 6 cyl 4″x5″ water cooled motors from about 1927-1929 and need any specs or manuals available.
    Roland

  7. Nice article. Lots of typos though. I thought I would correct the name on the last paragraph, it is Wolter Power Systems in Brookfield, WI.

  8. Are parts still available (esp. caby kit) for Wisconsin Motor Y-107-B, Serial No. 7036174, Part No. XD187R-N.
    It has a Zenith Carby Made in USA.
    Thanks

  9. Bonjour J ai un Wisconsin AB et supert heureux tres bon moteur comme tout moteur Wisconsin je suis un adepte.. mais je me demande le modèle AB avec connection en forme de y sur bougie est quel année Car sa debute en 1936 jusqua 1949..?

  10. I am looking for information on a Wisconsin TYPE SU 4×5 serial No 8056 engine . it is in our 1924 LAFRANCE fire truck I am having water pump problems and need info we really want to fix it looking for repair info and if there is any replacement parts

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