Steamrollers Paved the Way to America
Opposite page: In front of the Cooke Locomotive factory in Paterson, N.J., is one of the prototype William C. Oastler steamrollers produced in 1899. These machines featured steam-jacketed cylinders and specially patented drawbars and spring scrapers. While the roller featured does not show a water tank beneath the boiler, Oastler rollers could be equipped with such tanks by special order. This view is taken from the Oastler Steam Road Roller catalog of that year. (Photo courtesy Derek Rayner.)
In the following article, regular contributor Robert Rhode
and Raymond Drake relate the tale of Englishman Thomas Wright and
his sons, Edward T. and Frederick W., all of who were to have some
considerable influence on various aspects of steamrollers in both
the United States and Britain.
Having made recent contact with Virginia
D'Antonio and Tom Wright, two of Thomas Wright's great
grandchildren, we have received considerable amount of family
information, records and photos.
According to these materials, Thomas Wright was born in
Lincolnshire, England, in 1838 and by the early 1860s was employed
as an engineer. Thomas' eldest son, Edward, was born in 1865. By
1870, Thomas was working for Taskers at Andover, Lincolnshire. In
1873, he moved on yet again and was a manager at the Aveling &
Porter works in Rochester, Kent, and Edward later became an
apprentice engineer there as well.
Virginia and Tom have both said family tradition indicates
Thomas invented the split conical front roller - used by Aveling in
1871 - although this has not yet been confirmed from research
within the United Kingdom.
In February 1889, Edward immigrated to Harrisburg, Pa., where he
was joined by his fiancé that summer. The couple later married in
Harrisburg where steamrollers were first built. Coincidentally,
Edward also worked as a draughtsman. It seems likely he was
employed by the Harrisburg Car Co., given his background in the
In July of that same year, Thomas also emigrated from Rochester,
with a daughter and three sons. Between 1890 and 1891, the extended
Wright family moved to Springfield, Ohio, and while Virginia and
Tom are unsure about Thomas' employment at that time, they are well
aware of what Edward was doing - he had gained employment with the
firm of O.S. Kelly Co. and was designing steamrollers.
The first of these new machines rolled out from the Kelly works
in 1892. Ten years later Kelly-Springfield Roller Co. broke away
from O.S. Kelly and, in 1916, Buffalo Steam Roller Co. of Buffalo,
N.Y., merged with Kelly-Springfield to create Buffalo Springfield
Co. These two firms had courted one another prior to the merger:
Beginning as early as January 1913, rollers with Buffalo parts were
in production at the Springfield facilities.
Oliver Smith Kelly was a pre-eminent figure in American steam
history. Striking it rich in the California gold mines, he had
ample capital to risk in establishing a series of industrial
enterprises to further his interests. The Kelly name would thus
come to be associated with traction engines, threshing machines,
road rollers, piano components, trucks and tires.
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