The Motor Works - Part 3     (added July 2014)

Company fortunes continue to rise in new home



A 1909 Freeman article concluded with words that echoed through the ensuing years of the company’s history and are true today.


“The employees are intensely interested in their work and proud of the part each plays in the production of the finished motors that are daily set on the testing block practically in sight of the whole force from the man who machined the valve gears, ground the cylinders or milled the crank case.


”Talk to an employee of the company today. You will hear that same interest and pride. Harry Horning was able to inspire an “espirit de corps” that has been sustained for more than a century.



Michael J. Goc explained that in 1910 the company introduced additional engines to Models A and H. There was a Model A4U, a Model I, and a Model J. Three more models were introduced in 1911. The problem was that a typical order was not for a large number of motors, so the company shipped a few engines here and a few there.


But that changed during the first year in the new plant. A Dec 22, 1910 Freeman article reported on a large order placed by a “large motor boat concern.” The company found Waukesha motors to be the most reliable and placed orders that totaled $16,000 per month.


1910 was also the year that Harry Horning took time out from his busy schedule to get married. In May he was engaged to Elsie M. Muir of Waukesha and by June they were married. The wedding took place at the home of Muir’s parents at 309 Lake St.


Local historian Rocky Schaefer wrote an interesting article for the Waukesha Engine Historical Society website. His story told of what happened to the old Waukesha Motor building.


Schaefer believes that Samper Perkins’ friendship with a young man named Thomas L. Fawick convinced Fawick to move his auto company into the vacated Waukesha Motor building.


“And so it was, in December 1909, the Silent Sioux Automobile Co. moved into the old woolen mill store and warehouse on North St. and the city of Waukesha had become the home of an automobile plant!”


“But alas, the Silent Sioux venture on North St. in Waukesha did not last long. Try as they may, the Waukesha businessmen’s club could not convince Fawick and associates to keep their automobile plant in Waukesha. In the Spring of 2010, Fawick and associates moved the Silent Sioux Automobile Co. to National Ave. in West Allis, WI for a short period of time before returning to Sioux Falls.” (Iowa).


Rocky Schaefer concluded: “Only a few Silent Sioux/Fawick Flyers were ever built, all with the Waukesha Model A engines with at least one of the autos being built in Waukesha.”



In 1911, the company reported a profit of $20,000. Previous profits had been invested back into the company, but this profit was distributed as a dividend to stockholders.


The company continued to research new technology to produce better engines and to develop new uses for its motors. One such interesting application was in a highly experimental sugar cane harvesting machine. The 15- square-foot behemoth was conceived by the Piatt Cane Harvester Co. of Berkeley, Calif. It was built by the Archie Ladewig Co. of Waukesha and used a 40- horsepower Waukesha motor. It took three men to operate, but it did the work of a small army of sugar cane workers.



Breakout years Four new engines were unveiled in these years, engines that were produced for more than 10 years. They were a 42-horsepower Model L and Model M, a 51-horsepower Model P, and a 35- horsepower Model R. A Milwaukee truck maker, the Sternberg Motor Truck (later Sterling) continued using Waukesha engines until 1951. Another large company, Ingersol Rand, purchased a large amount of motors and helped develop the use of Waukesha motors in air compressors.


Photo from the John Schoenknecht collection at the Waukesha County Museum
An illustration from the 1913 Industrial Review showed a 4 1/2 x 6 3/4 Model M motor for tractors. It developed high power at low speed and weighed 855 pounds. The motors burned gasoline, high or low grade, lowgrade distillate and kerosene.The patented mechanical governor was used on this engine.

By February 1912, the company had 100 men at work and a rush of orders.


A Freeman article of Feb. 2, 1912, mentioned that the company had developed a specially designed sensitive speed governor that controlled the valve that admitted fuel into the carburetor. This was used in large motors for trucks and was a great improvement. The company also introduced an electric starting mechanism to some models.


The World War I years

When World War I broke out in Europe, the demand for American agricultural products increased. Demand increased for Waukesha engines for use in tractors as the big steel machines replaced horses. According to Michael Goc, the largest tractor engine customers of Waukesha Motor were the Rock Island Plow Co. in Illinois and the Huber Manufacturing in Marion, Ohio. The April 3, 1915, edition of the magazine Scientific American featured an extensive article about the proliferation of tractors. Eight of the ten illustrated vehicles used Waukesha engines.


Three tractor companies were established in Waukesha and all used Waukesha engines. The Waite Co., the Nilson Co. and the Paramount Farm Tractor Co. all opened shops here. The Waite and Paramount machines were built in conjunction with the Federal Bridge Co. in Waukesha.


Waukesha motors also were used in the growing truck industry. The Dec. 24, 1914, Freeman reported: “Waukesha had its first look at a bona fide war motortruck last Friday, when two heavy and ponderous looking machines, exhibiting a speed unusual in motor trucks; fitted with a metal cab for the driver and tarpaulin arches over the body, pounded their way through Waukesha’s main streets.” The two test trucks were the first of 25 that had been ordered by “a foreign government now engaged in war in Europe.”


Photo from the John Schoenknecht collection at the Waukesha County Museum

Waukesha Motor Co., St. Paul Avenue, 1915.


In order to meet the growing demand, the board passed resolutions that doubled the size of the plant in 1915, and then redoubled it in 1916. There were soon 1,000 employees turning out motors. Other industries in Waukesha, especially the foundries, increased their business as the Waukesha Motor Co. grew. In fact, an ad in the May 3, 1917, Freeman stated “The Waukesha Motor Company is the largest industry in Waukesha and takes nearly the entire output of the Spring City Foundry Company, the Waukesha Foundry Company and the Werra Aluminum Foundry Company.”


Photo from the Waukesha County Museum
President Woodrow Wilson and Harry Horning discuss the new motor Horning designed for the Liberty Truck, 11 days after Wilson asked Horning to design the motor in 1917.
An interesting sidelight to this occasion was published in the Waukesha Motor News Bulletin on July 10, 1936. It was recently found by Rocky Schaefer and uploaded to the Waukesha Engine Historical Society website: “The Best Engine in the World!” “This week (July 10, 1936) an interesting incident occurred in the Sales Department which once again justifies our pride in this company. In Washington, during 1917, there was this buck private assigned to Quartermaster’s Department as an auto mechanic ... just another of the thousands of boys who were serving their country during those days.At the same time there were a couple of dollar-a-year men from Waukesha who were working in secret on the design of a ‘better than anything yet’ engine and motor truck for Uncle Sam’s transport service. Fate brought the buck private to headquarters one day where he was assigned to drive the first Liberty Truck to the White House, and show it to President Wilson. On the same occasion, those two one-dollar-a-year men, Harold Horning and Jim Fisher, were on hand for it was Horning who had headed up the secret activities and it was Fisher who worked night and day on the design and brought into being the Class ‘B’ Liberty truck engine.They were there.” “During this past week, C. E.VanBuskirk of Freeport, Illinois came in to buy an engine for an arc welder. He was replacing an old engine which had worn out and drove to Waukesha to get, as he put it,‘the best engine in the world – one built by Horning and Fisher.’ It was paid for with crisp new hundred dollar bills with the remark; ‘I’m putting my bonus (WWI bonus) to work!’ It was then that Mr.Van- Buskirk commented that he noticed the photo in the company lobby that showed Harry Horning explaining the WWI Liberty truck to President Wilson and that he (VanBuskirk) was the doughboy driver.”


A special school at Waukesha Motors, under the direction of a Mr. Frost of the engineering department, was established in 1917. This school trained the young men in the morning and improved their work on the line.


According to the June 1, 1916, Freeman, when the price of gasoline increased dramatically, Waukesha Motor arranged to test its motors using natural gas (called “illuminated gas” in the Freeman). A new pipeline was constructed between the Waukesha Gas Co. and the Motor Works. The company expected to use 2,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas per month. But the arrangement went sour. In the 1920s a court case between the two parties dragged on for years. Attorneys for the Motor Works claimed that the supply of gas was inadequate and poor during the war years. The Waukesha Gas and Electric Co. claimed that it was owed more money.


Appointed by Wilson

In his Freeman column, Gib Koenig wrote about one of the most famous events of 1917.


“In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed a War Industries Board and placed Horning in charge of standardizing its truck program. His chief job was to design a standard engine for the class B Liberty truck, a transport vehicle. Horning was more than ready. Eleven days after his specifications received Wilson’s approval, the first Waukesha engine was delivered in Washington.”


But in his book “Facing Forward,” Michael Goc explained that after testing, the truck was declared to be not suitable for action in France and was to be redesigned. (Horning had been in charge of the group that designed only the motor.) Production of the truck began in May 1918 in facilities around the country, but by the time the war ended in November 1918, only 2,500 trucks had been delivered.


Horning and his wife rented an apartment in Washington so he could continue his work there, but eventually he resigned and returned to Waukesha with the understanding that should the government need his help he would be available.


Despite the war ending quickly, the Waukesha Motor Co. was profitable. It had also gained a reputation throughout the country for its excellent products, and was home to a huge new facility.


A side effect of the war was the proliferation of women in the workforce. Waukesha Motor promised that every returning soldier would find a job, but also promised not to fire any women who had proven proficient. Two hundred women were employed by the company and a special restroom was constructed for them.


Photo from the John Schoenknecht collection at the Waukesha County Museum
Tractors made with Waukesha Motors were lined up in this photo from the 1914 Industrial Review








Horning was appointed to another important commission by the Society of Automotive Engineers. He was a member of the National Screw Thread Commission. He attended a convention in Brest, France. The aim was to standardize the use of threads in nuts and bolts to one standard.


A one-week strike by members of the Machinists Union took place in September 1919. The union was asking for pay of $5 to $6 per day rather than pay by piece work. The striking machinists published a circular which read in part, “The time has come when the workers of the world will no longer supinely submit to the dictation of a few men, like wards under a guardian, but must assert the dignity of labor by having something to say in their own interests.”


In the Dec. 10 issue of the Freeman, the company sponsored a full-page ad that urged voters to approve a bond issue that allowed for the paving of roads. While the company received no direct benefit from the bond issue, it advertised that building highways by bonds was the most economical way to go.


At the end of the year, 600 employees of the company formed a large social club, the Waukesha Motor Works Club. They rented four rooms downtown and furnished them with a library and reading room. A piano was carried up the stairs by some of the heftier men of the club. The men wanted to create a welcoming place for the married and single men to gather.


(John Schoenknecht can be reached at

This article was originally published in the Thursday, January 23, 2014 issue of The Freeman Waukesha County's newspaper.


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