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The First Motor Pumping Engine Built in New England

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

The first motor pumping engine built in New England was built in 1909 by the Blue Ribbon Auto and Carriage Company and is seen on this real photo postcard.

In the summer of 1907, Albert Webb completed the third motor pumping engine built in America in his automobile garage in Joplin, Missouri. Webb exhibited his motor pumping engine in many cities and towns. In 1909 he took one of his pioneering motor pumping engines on a tour from New York City to Los Angeles. The success of Webb’s machine inspired several other firms to try building a motor pumping engine. Some of these closely resembled Webb’s design. Among these was the single motor pumping engine built by the Blue Ribbon Auto and Carriage Company in mid-1909. This was the first motor pumping engine built in New England.

The Blue Ribbon Auto and Carriage Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, had its roots in building horse-drawn carriages and selling horse related supplies. The firm was founded by Edward Godfrey (1863-1947). He apprenticed at a number of carriage builders. In 1900 he formed his own firm, the Blue Ribbon Horse and Carriage Company. As the automotive age progressed, Blue Ribbon expanded its product line to include automobile bodies, hearses and ambulances. The firm sold horse supplies until about 1907. Then in October 1908, the company dropped the word “Horse” from its name and added “Auto” in its place to reflect its evolving product line.

Blue Ribbon also became a sales agent for several lines of automobiles including Columbia, Winton, Cadillac and Franklin. Blue Ribbon operated a service garage, performed auto repair work and sold gasoline and oil. The firm also became a subcontractor for the Locomobile Company of America, which was one of the leading automobile makers of that time. Locomobile’s factory and corporate headquarters were in Bridgeport. At its peak, Blue Ribbon employed about a dozen salesmen, 80 men in the repair department and had more than 100 employees overall operating from it three-story factory/shop and office building.

Some of the damage from the 1908 fire in Greenwich, Connecticut,

is shown on this real photo postcard. In July 1908 Greenwich, Connecticut, suffered a near conflagration. Greenwich firefighters called for help from Port Chester, East Port Chester, Stamford, Rye, Glennville and Mianus. In the aftermath of the fire, the department started making upgrades. Among the upgrades was new a Locomobile motor chemical fire engine, which arrived in Greenwich in May 1909.

The 1908 Greenwich fire apparently also influenced firefighters in the neighboring community of Mianus. The Mianus Ladder and Hose Company was a relatively new company formed in April 1903. In 1908 it was operating with a horse-drawn ladder truck and a jumper hose reel. In January 1909 the company started considering the purchase of a motor pumping engine. Later that winter the company contracted with the Blue Ribbon Auto and Carriage Company for a motor pumping engine. On August 1, 1909, it was delivered.

This motor pumping engine was built on a Matheson touring car chassis. It had 50-hp six-cylinder engine with chain drive. The Matheson was a good choice for conversion to a fire engine. It was comparable in size and power to the Thomas Flyer touring cars that were being used by Webb. The Matheson Motor Car Company was founded in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1903. Later that year Matheson acquired the assets of the Holyoke Automobile Company, and relocated production to Holyoke, Massachusetts. In 1906 the firm moved production to the borough of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, near Wilkes-Barre.

Matheson automobiles were among the more expensive American luxury cars in 1909. The 50-hp touring car, like the one used by Blue Ribbon, cost between $4500 and $5500. Other Matheson cars cost as much as $6500. This was at a time when the average American worker earned less than $600 per year.

This image of the Blue Ribbon motor pumping engine is from the Carriage Monthly.

The Blue Ribbon motor pumping engine had rotary pump that was rated at 600 or 650 gpm. The maker of the pump is unknown. The pump was located under the seat. The discharges were behind the seat just over the hose bed, right beneath the air dome for the pump. The 13-inch deep hose box could hold 1000 feet of 2½-inch hose. The pumper was reported to be capable of carrying 12 men while going 50 to 60 miles per hour. The machine looked very much like an early Webb motor pumping engine and apparently was as fast as one too.

It does not appear that Blue Ribbon built any other motor pumping engines. However, Blue Ribbon maintained a close relationship with Locomobile through the teens and early 1920s and for a while derived the bulk of its business from contract work for Locomobile. In 1917 the company was reorganized into the Blue Ribbon Body Company. The new name reflected the firm’s concentration on building auto bodies. Blue Ribbon continued operating until 1930. Its former factory still stands today at the corner of Holland Street and Fairfield Avenue.


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