Bowser and his pumps

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

The Tokheim Corp. is still turning out thousands of gasoline pumps in Fort Wayne every year. But the real granddaddy of the pump industry was S.F. Bowser, Inc., which began operations on Creighton Avenue in 1888.

When Sylvanus Freelove Bowser first dreamed of inventing the pump, little did he realized his invention would one day evolve into the gasoline pump, the machine which has come to symbolize the ridiculousness of our era. He just wanted to find an easier way of drawing water from a well than tugging on a 70-foot strand of frozen rope.

Bowser thought his idea for a pump might have some commercial value, so he and his brother Alexander went into business - and what a business it was. By the 1920s, the company was selling $13 million worth of gas pumps worldwide. Bowser offices were set up in Toronto, London, Berlin, Paris and Rotterdam - but the headquarters remained in Fort Wayne.

The neighborhood near the plant eventually became known as ``Bowserville,'' because of the plant employees living there.

There were low spots along the way, too. The plant was struck by fire in 1894 and again in 1897. An employee financial scandal in 1898 jeopardized the company's solvency. S.F. Bowser also had union troubles, and a bank he established for employees folded with the Depression.

Bowser lost control of the company in the early 1930s, and his life after that was not a happy one. In 1937 he was taken to court over questions of his ability to care for himself. The court ruled in Bowser's favor, but he died about a year later. When he died, his estate, once worth millions, totaled only $11,000.

By the mid-1950s, the Bowser operation here was winding down and it eventually moved to Chicago.

There is still much of the original plant left on Creighton Avenue. Most of the buildings are owned by Wayne Warehouse and Cartage Inc. and are leased to Mobile Aerial Towers. Wayne Warehouse also owns the old Wayne Knitting Mills on Growth Avenue.

--Nov. 7, 1981