Steam Power

I’ve been doing some research on Salem manufacturers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for an upcoming fundraising event at the Salem Athenaeum with a steampunk theme (lots more on this later) and am a bit overwhelmed:  there were so many.  America was certainly a country of makers a century ago; now it seems like we’re mostly sellers. Anyway, since I’m taking the steam in steampunk literally I have found myself focusing on all sort of machinery makers in general and the Locke Regulator Company of Salem in particular.  This company, founded by two New Hampshire brothers, Nathaniel and Alpheus Locke, who came down to Salem to make their fortune, grew from a back-of-the-barn operation in the 1870s and 80s to big business after its incorporation in 1902.  The large Locke factory, pictured on the first piece of “industrial ephemera” below (from 1910), was located on the banks of the North River in Salem, now the site of a junkyard and a car wash.  According to the claims of the last advertisement below, by 1913 the Company was the largest Manufacturers of Steam Vehicle Parts & Fittings in America.

The Company experimented with automobile manufacture in the first decade of the twentieth century (that’s another dynamic industry at this time; it seems like every town or city of a certain size had several small automobile makers within its midst), building a little “runabout” called the Puritan, but I think they must have soon realized that their future was in parts.

a 1902 Puritan steamer from the Early American Automobiles website; Locke shears from the same year.

The Locke Regulator Company appears to have been a family business, both before and after its incorporation and period of dynamic growth.  Alpheus retired from the business  in the 1890s, but Nathaniel continued on, with his brother-in-law, son, and son-in-law all working for the company at one time or anotherTheir factory was in North Salem, as were their residences, primarily on or in the vicinity of Dearborn Street, very close to the threatened homestead of another prominent family that I wrote about in my previous post.  The Ropes family and the various Lockes were neighbors, and perhaps friends.  At the turn of the last century, Nathaniel and his wife Sophronia were living on one side of Dearborn Street, in a “new” house built for them in 1874, while their son Albert was living almost just across the street, in an even newer (and bigger) house built for his family in 1896.

Dearborn Street just before World War One; the Albert N. Locke House yesterday.

13 responses to “Steam Power

  • Thoughts on Design

    Goodness, the last house is our neighbor! Now I’m wondering which house was the Nathaniel Locke house.


  • markd60

    Did you know, that the purpose of a nuclear reactor is to make steam to run turbines that generate electricity? It’s still steam today.

  • daseger

    Great comment, Mark; you’re absolutely right–the age of steam is not over.

  • Nelson Dionne

    I have photos of the Locke’s and interior photos of their plant, their products and many Salem News articles. Locke, and other Salem manufacturers specialized in steam control devices. At one time, they had their own foundry. A General Alarm fire destroyed the complex ( then known as Owen’s Shoe) on a super cold night in 1963. It took weeks for the ruins to finally have all the ice melt. A Burger Chef replaced it for several years until HMA took it over .

    • Brian Dawson

      Wow! What a great thread. I am the current owner of the Nathaniel and Saphronia Locke home at 30 Dearborn Street in Salem. I would be very eager to get any material copies available, expecially the picture card above of Dearborn Street and the photographs of the Locke plant. I have yet to see anything beyond the etching on the origanal recipts like the one above (for which I own two).

      I also have located two pictures (one of Nathaniel and one of Saphronia) along with short Bio’s from early in the 20th century I would be happy to share. Naturally, I have pictures of my home as well if you are interested. It was on the Christmas in Salem tour two years ago.

      • daseger

        Brian, thanks so much for stopping by; I remember your house from the tour–it’s beautiful. I am working on an exhibit of the Locke plant for the Salem Athenaeum in March–part of our big steampunk event–and I will be assembling a lot of materials so I can give you copies. The Dearborn street shot is a simple postcard–doesn’t look too good as a copy but you can often find them at flea market sales and on ebay.

  • Carla Wolff

    I was wondering if you could send me some photos of the interior of the Locke plant. My Grandfather was an engineer there from the late 1800’s on. I would like to include them in the geneolgy project I am doing. Thanks!

  • andrew K Jolliffe

    I have found your blog very interesting. I am in the process of buying a 1902 4 seater Puritan steam car and plan to restore it. It is currently dismantled and I am looking for pictures or plans of the engine and boiler so that I can make it as close to the original as possible. If and when we get it going I will send you a picture.

    If you ever get the chance you should visit england to see the old cars in action. Each year in november there is a run to commemorate the first run from London to Brighton without the need for a man with a red flag walking in front. It is only open to cars built before 1905 and yet there are 500 cars taking part

  • Donald R. Hoke, Ph.D.

    The Virtual Steam Car Museum has some Locke Regulator Material. Best wishes!

    Don Hoke
    The Virtual Steam Car Museum.

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