1936 AND 1946 WITTE DIESELECTRICS
Witte, pronounced “Witty,” is a storied name, in both the diesel and gas engine realms. The origins of the Missouri based company start in 1870, when August Witte emigrated from Germany and set up the Witte Iron Works in Kansas City, Missouri. It was a small establishment at first but grew quickly due to Witte’s German work ethic and experience in metalworking. Son Edward Witte, who had emigrated with his parents as a toddler, was apprenticed in the factory to learn the various skills from the bottom up. He is reported to have gone East to study more before coming back in time to take over the business from his retiring father in 1886.
ONE OF THE MORE POPULAR USES FOR SMALL STATIONARY ENGINES WAS AS RURAL ELECTRIC PLANTS ON FARMS, NON-ELECTRIFIED BUSINESSES AND HOMES.
Edward Witte (1869-1958) had studied steam engine technology and the new-fangled internal combustion engine. At the time Edward took over from August, he had a gas engine prototype running and by 1894, the company had begun manufacturing gasoline engines. This continued at an increased pace and the company became known nationally as the Witte Engine Works.
Witte’s engine business grew and he became a master at mail order sales, selling direct or through authorized distributors all around the world. Reportedly, Witte began the development of a diesel engine in 1923 and a production diesel was introduced in 1934, a 5hp single cylinder horizontal that went on sale in 1935. Based loosely on their 6hp Model K gas engine, it had an external rocker gear and was mounted on a cast-iron base that also served as a fuel tank.
In the ‘30s, the electrification of rural America was far from complete but all Americans wanted the joys electricity could bring. To cover that gap, a variety of manufacturers developed small generating plants. One of the more popular uses for small stationary engines was as rural electric plants on farms, non-electrified businesses and homes. One of Witte’s first applications for the new diesels were for these small generators and they were popular because of their fuel efficiency. Witte advertising states that Witte generators were used to power the “Little America III” base during Admiral Byrd’s ‘39 explorations of the Antarctic.
In 1935, Witte offered 3 and 5 kw (3,000 and 5,000 watts respectively) “Diesel-Lite” AC or DC generators. Their ads touted electricity production at less than one penny per kilowatt. Powering them were 5hp (at 850 rpm), 85ci (4.25 x 6-in bore and stroke) and 10hp (at 720 rpm) 157ci (5 x 8-in. bore and stroke) horizontal diesels. By 1936, the name had been changed to “Dieselectric” and the ‘37 price books listed the 3kw AC model at $800 and the 7.5kw AC unit (the DC was 10kw) at $1100. That wasn’t chump change: converting to ‘17 bucks, that’s $13,600 and $18,699 respectively. Some models had integral thermosiphon radiators and some required the installer to add a cooling system. These engines were available without the generator for use as power units.
In 1937, Witte introduced some all new vertical diesel engines with a 3.5 x 4.5-inch bore and stroke (43.3 ci). Initially, the output was 3 hp at 1200 rpm and a direct-drive generator produced 1600 watts AC or DC early on and later could make 3 kw. In 1937, these cost around $600 and had a built-on radiator. Later came a larger 4.25 x 5.25 bore and stroke (75.5 ci) engine that made 9 hp and powered a 7.5kw generator. Belt drive units of the same capacities were also made. Powerplant versions of the vertical engine were made as well as a marine propulsion variant with a special mounting base and marine transmission.
During World War II, Witte developed some inline engines, a 36hp four and a six. Little is known about these engines and it isn’t clear if they even saw production. Witte built 12,500 engines, most of which were used in Dieselectric units. In 1944, United States Steel purchased Witte and operated them as a separate entity in their Oilfi eld Supply Division. In 1947, Witte introduced the B and C series horizontal engines, which were based on the older designs but with enclosed valvetrains and other improvements.
In the 1950s, Witte specialized more and more on oilfi eld operations and developed natural gas fueled versions of their engines. They introduced two new horizontally opposed 2-cylinder engines, the Models 100 and 120 in the ‘60s. In 1967, Oilfi eld Supply sold the diesel and Dieselectric part of the business to Lister (later to be known as Lister-Petter) and the natural gas engine lines were marketed under the name “Oilwell” or “Oilwell-Witte.”
In 1991, Arrow Engine Company acquired the Oilwell-Witte line as well as much of the remaining old parts stocks. Arrow built a small number of Witte engines from stock parts and since then has been one of the few remaining sources for vintage Witte diesel engine parts.DW
ARROW ENGINE COMPANY
TRI-STATE GAS ENGINE AND TRACTOR ASSOCIATION