A Brief Lauson History

Lauson Beginnings


The John Lauson Manufacturing Company had its roots in an implement repair business that John Lauson’s father started with a group of investors in 1882. Upon his fathers untimely death, John Lauson, then 14 years old, went to work in place of his father. The business flourished and young Johns abilities increased to the point where, two years after he had joined the business, he was made a full partner. In 1891, John bought out his partners and renamed the company the John Lauson Manufacturing Company. At that time, most of the work being performed was in the repair of steam powered equipment.

John Lauson photo courtesy of New Holstein Historical Society, Photo Archives

The John Lauson Company


In the mid 1890’s however, John’s brother Henry joined the firm and with Henry’s experience from previous employment in the construction of internal combustion engines, John decided to begin building engines; their first, fired by hot tube ignition, was completed in 1898. The John Lauson Manufacturing Company went on to build many flywheel “hit-and-miss” engines; notably, their frost-king series of engines was especially well received. By the time of John Lauson’s death in the mid 1920’s; the John Lauson Manufacturing Company had become a well known and well respected company in the field of internal combustion engine design and construction.

The Lauson Corporation


By 1929, the Lauson family had sold their interests in the company and company name was subsiquently changed to: “The Lauson Corporation”.

Around this time, Lauson must have noticed the increasing demand for engines, smaller than the large flywheel engines that they were currently producing. They must have also noticed the inroads that several other engine manufactures such as Briggs and Stratton were making in fulfilling this demand with the production of small light weight, air cooled engines. This probably spurred Lauson to try their hand in small engine production also. The result of this decision was the design and manufacture of the Lauson Model Type VA, which you see here; first brought to market in 1929. I doubt that Lauson considered the production of this Model Type VA as such a pivotal decision for the company at the time it was first produced; but none the less, it was a critical decision for Lauson to produce this engine and the engines that were to follow it. In the succeeding years, demand for large heavy flywheel engines would quickly diminish, while demand for small engines would escalate. Lausons decision to enter the small engine market, in reality, probably came later than it should have; and had Lauson postponed this decision much longer, they might have been driven out of business by their competition before they had the opportunity to produce and market some of the highest quality small engines that were built in the 1930s through the 1950s.

By the early 1930's, the company was developing several models of small 4-cycle, air-cooled engines and was producing a line of tractors. The stock market crash of 1929 resulted in many farmers being unable to repay their tractor loans. This coupled with the loss of tractor sales and the development costs of the new engines resulted in the company falling into receivership.

The Lauson Company


In 1935 the company was sold to the Marshall and Illsley Bank and the People’s Bank of New Holstein; this sale resulted in a reorganization of the company and the company name was changed to: “The Lauson Company”.

After this reorganization the company prospered and this prosperity allowed Lauson to design and begin construction of a complete new line of small engines; the basic design of which was to be used by Lauson in many different forms for all their cast iron engines through into the mid 1950's when they begain producing aluminum block engines. This new design was first brought to market in around 1937.

The Hart Carter Years


In 1941, Hart-Carter bought the Lauson Company but made virtually no changes. The company continued to exist and function under the same management, management structure, and with the same company policies in place. The infusion of capital from Hart-Carter however, allowed Lauson to upgrade their manufacturing facilities and ramp up production just in time for the war effort.

Lauson produced many engines during the war and continued to produce engines after the war and upgraded their entire engine line starting in the late 1940's through into the early 1950's. These were the "golden" years for Lauson in building small engines, and many different models were built. In 1954, Lauson announced their first commercially available alloy block engine, a vertical shaft engine built to power rotary push mowers.

Lauson as Tecumseh - a part of the Tecumseh Power Division


In January, 1956; Lauson was purchased by Tecumseh and was reorganized as part of the Tecumseh Power Division. Unlike the Hart-Carter purchase in 1941 however, Tecumseh dismantled the Lauson Manufacturing Company corporate infrastructure and replaced it and Lauson Upper Management with new Tecumseh policies, practices, and personnel. By 1958, Tecumseh had retired most of the Lauson Manufacturing Company products and replaced them with their own updated products, though many of these new products were still labeled “Lauson”. The Tecumseh Power Division used the Lauson trademark to transition public awareness from the well known Lauson trademark to the new Tecumseh trademark and gradually the old Lauson name faded away until it became a forgotten memory.

Lauson: A collector's perspective


With the above narrative, I’ve provided you with as accurate a discussion of Lauson as I can provide. As a Lauson collector however, I have a few thoughts and opinions I’d care to share with you regarding Lauson. These are my opinions, opinions with which you are free to agree or dispute.

We should realize that the world was a different world in the first half of the 20th century than it is today, and businesses reacted to problems and conducted business differently than they do today. Lauson (the John Lauson company, the Lauson Corporation, and the Lauson Manufacturing Company as described above) designed and manufactured their products during this first half of the 20th century. During the later half of the 20th century corporations changed their manufacturing model and it appears that often, product quality was sacrificed for a more attractive consumer price and a more profitable “bottom line”. Undoubtedly, pressure to do so came in many forms and from many sources. Lauson however, had ceased to exist by the time this corporate philosophy came into practice.

The Lauson companies described above conducted business in a time when corporations proudly affixed their name to their products. Lauson consistently built their engines with the best known engineering standards, the best materials, the best manufacturing practices, and the highest quality that they could bring to bear on their products. They designed and constructed their engines with the expectation that they would provide many years of dependable service for their owners and the usable lifetime or their products would be indefinite. They did not design and build engines as a perishable commodity with a pre-determined life-span as is the practice today.

Though Lauson, had it’s ups and downs as described above, the quality of their products never seems to have been sacrificed through Lauson’s recognizable existence; though at several times they might have had good cause to do so. I suspect that this, as an engine collector, is what draws me to Lauson and holds my interest in their products.

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