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Armitage-Herschell Company, the Herschell-Spillman Company and Herschell-Spillman Engines

The Herschell-Spillman Company office and factory buildings, circa 1905, with a Thomas Flyer touring car made in near by Buffalo, New York parked in  front of the office. 

The Armitage-Herschell Company was a partnership that began in 1872 between James Armitage of North Tonawanda, N.Y. and Allan Herschell, an immigrant from Scotland who was a trained machinist. By the early 1890’s, they were manufacturing steam engines, boilers, electric elevators, dynamos, swings and feed cutters.

Allan Herschell visited New York City about 1880 and while there, saw a new and very popular amusement ride called the carousel consisting of a rotating round platform, with carved wooden horses mounted on it. It was powered by a steam engine connected to a series of gears.

                

Seen above in enlargements are only two of the many factory buildings the firm utilized along with the office building. Note the full-sized carousel horse atop the roof peak in the first and second images.

Upon returning to North Tonawanda, Herschel suggested to his partner Armitage that they could manufacture  one of these devices. The pair decided that, since they were already fabricating steam engines and gearing and had a foundry for metal castings, they would produce a few of these carousels to see if it might be turned into a profitable endeavor. Within two years of building their first example in 1883, their carousels became very popular and led to a 50 percent expansion of the business.

The company continued to produce them until 1899, when it then went into bankruptcy, due primarily to an overexposure in land speculation. James Armitage then went into politics and Allan Herschell took on the Spillman brothers as new partners. They continued to build carousels at the newly formed Herschell-Spillman Company.

               

Early advertisements (L to R, above) showing the castings the Armitage-Herschell Company produced, a steam engine with boiler and acetylene generators used for early gas lighting. 

A portable steam-powered “Riding Gallery” advertisement from the late 1890’s. All photos above courtesy of Dennis Read Jr.

The Herschell-Spillman Company also manufactured Razzle Dazzle Striking Machines and miniature railways for amusement parks. The former item is the now familiar carnival attraction in which a customer tries to ring a gong placed at the top of a tall column by striking a target at the bottom with a large mallet. With the coming of the gasoline engine, they formed a separate division which manufactured automobile engines for makers of assembled cars.

Allan Herschell retired from the Herschell-Spillman Company in 1913, after a long and successful career in the amusement industry. After three years of leisure, he decided to return to the business He purchased a building in North Tonawanda and hired a crew of machinists, painters, electricians and carvers, opening in 1916.

He was then competing with his former partners, the Spillmans, at the Herschell-Spillman Company. Allan Herschell’s re-entry into the amusement ride business spurred the Herschell-Spillman Company to officially change its name to Spillman Engineering. Both companies would continue a fierce rivalry for the following four decades and along the way, upgraded features of the carousel numerous times.

                

L to R (above) : A 1905 advertisement showing a four-cylinder engine, the 1904 Herschell-Spillman 18 horsepower touring, the first of four cars which were built in 1901 and the last a prototype in 1907, and a trade advertisement showing the 45-55 horsepower six-cylinder engine.  

The early engines that are seen above shared features also used on many of the Thomas-Flyer and Pierce-Arrow powerplants of the time. Since all three companies were within a few miles of each other, there must certainly have been some cross-pollinating going on with the comings and goings of engineers and designers between the three companies.

The part of the Herschell-Spillman Company that produced engines would continue to do business after car production ceased in 1907, but it is not clear to us at this point if Herschell or the Spillman family owned the company. In 1919, the name of this division was changed to the Herschell Spillman Motor Company.

                

L to R (above) : A large 1015 cubic inch six-cylinder as built for the Ahrens-Fox fire engine company, a trade ad from 1914 and the V-8 built in the mid to late teens.

Over the years that the engines were built by the firm (1901-1924), as many as 60 auto and truck and fire engine makers worldwide would choose these power plants for their vehicles. The company also introduced its own V-8 engine in the teens that went on to be used in high-quality cars such as the Peerless, the Daniels and others. In later years, they produced a wide array of four and six cylinder engines of all types, as well as engines for Ahrens-Fox and other fire truck makers. During WWI, Liberty engines were built at the factory under license.

The following is from research by Doug Bathke at the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum“Much of the engine work was done in the company’s Sweeney Street facilities. Multiple factories and work houses on both sides of a city block of the street bustled with activity, as the company had the capacity to make between 60,000 and 100,000 engines per year. Additional work was done in the company’s Oliver Street facilities. Advertisements from the era show that the company was a major employer, looking to hire up to 200 mechanics at one time.”

                  

L to R (above): The Sweeney Street engine plant, a Herschell-Spillman engine on display at the Trew Motor Co., a Peerless dealer in Washington, D.C.

“The recession of the early 1920’s put a damper on business, and by 1924 the Herschell-Spillman Motor Company went bankrupt. Remington Rand bought the Sweeney Street property a year later, with Allan Herschell and Ed Spillman eventually going their separate ways, competing in the carousel business.”

16 responses to “Armitage-Herschell Company, the Herschell-Spillman Company and Herschell-Spillman Engines

  1. That was a great story! I was under the impression that most amusement rides were manufactured in either Sweden or maybe Germany . To have had a domestic manufacturer , priceless !!!!!!!!!

  2. Very interesting story indeed! Stories like this make that names start to live. I read it with pleasure. No doubts about the Thomas by the way, a nice 1905 example!

  3. Thanks David! I have noticed, over the years that a lot of small output local factories which built automobiles used H-S engines. They tended to be the more expensive cars of the time. I’ve been waiting for this information.

  4. Great article. I saw the HS V8 in the article and read the whole thing.

    Attached is a link to my brother’s 1915 Standard Eight built in Butler PA that used the HS V8. The V8 was built in Pittsburgh. Originally the factory was the Pittsburgh Model Engin Company, the HS, then purchased by Standard Steel to manufacture the engine for their cars up thorugh 1924.

    We have not found much information on the design of the engine since the work was done in Pittsburgh and not HS home office.

  5. Thanks for the Herschell-Spillman story. I’d like to add that duPont Motors used the Herschell Spillman Model 90 engine for at least 45 or so of their Model C line in 1923-24. It was an L-head, 3-1/2″ bore x 5″ stroke and produced 65 HP. I’d be curious to know what other makes of cars or trucks used that same engine of H-S last years.
    Stan Smith

  6. Very intriguing David! Thank you very much for posting this H-S history! So sorry I missed Doug Bathke’s H-S Carousel Museum Exhibit on H-S Engines back in 2010! Existing Herschell-Spillman engine manufacturing history seems to be very sparse though this company was a major designer and maker of quality automobile engines. I have a 1913 Moyer, Model D Touring Car manufactured by H.A. Moyer of Syracuse, NY. It is the only Moyer car extant with the Herschell-Spillman 6-cylinder T-Head engine cast in triplet, open valve, 4″ bore x 5″ stroke, 38.8 h.p. Moyer used these engines as an option for about a year, sometime in 1912 to 1913, to his 4-cylinder models which used the Wisconsin, Model B, T-Head engine, 28 h.p. In mid 1913, Moyer discontinued use of both the Wisconsin and H-S engines in his cars, and used his own Moyer designed 4 & 6 cylinder T-Head engines. The only other car I’ve seen with the same H-S engine, is a 1913 Coey Flyer owned by a car collector in Pennsylvania.
    – Gary Smith

  7. The short-lived Corinthian M1/Junior built in Philadelphia between 1922 and 1923 was powered by a HS 4-cylinder engine.

    The Monitor built in Columbus, OH between 1915 and 1922 also used a HS engine. HS sued the company for contracting for 1,000 engines, but paying for less than 50.

  8. Thought I`d throw in my 2 cents as I am affiliated with the Herschell Carousel Museum. We have very little info on the motor manufacturing division but we do know the Peerless Auto Co. engineers worked with H. S. engineers to develop the V8 in 1915 and we have photos of H. S. V8 engines on test stands in our North Tonawanda, New york, Sweeny St. test house ( which still stands today) from about 1915 or 1916. We are always seeking more info and/or memorabilia connected to our once prolific engine manufacturing company.

    • I have some interesting information on the association between Peerless & Hirshell-Spillman that I would like to share with you. RHL

  9. I’m Allan Herschell’s great-granddaughter and a Spillman through his wife Ida, the sister of the Spillman brothers.. Thank you for your lovely website and including info on the Spillman Engineering Company. Many people know of Great-grandpa from his carousels, but little of the engines and cars. He and the Spillmans were true engineers and entrepreneurs.

    By the way, I was driving around outside Lockport, NY one day with my brother, and he pointed to a wooded area….he said “Rumor has it there is a Spillman car rusting away in there somewhere”!!

    • Hi Karen! Great to see your post and that there are descendants of the Herschell and Spillman Families. Do you have any personal historical artifacts concerning the engines?
      – Gary Smith, H.A. Moyer Registry

    • Karen,

      Hi! I would like to email you. You may find my contact information at the National Carousel Association’s website. I’m can be found there as a director and census chairman.

      Thanks,

      Patrick Wentzel
      National Carousel Association Census Chairman/NCA Director

  10. Model engine company engines were used in the 1911 Quincy tractor and the later Allwork tractors both built by Electrec wheel company of Quincy ILL. I have restored some of these engines and found them quite well built for there time

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