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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Rotary engine designed by Fay Farwell.
ROTARY ENGINE. Dubuque might have become the capital of airplane motor production if the work done by Fay Oliver FARWELL had been pursued. (1) Working for the ADAMS COMPANY (Encyclopedia Dubuque), Farwell around 1893 designed a rotary engine, an early type of internal-combustion engine, in which the crankshaft remained stationary and the entire cylinder block rotated around it. (2) Used in automobiles, the engine was amazing. In 1906, Adams-Farwell cars were able to reach speeds of 75 miles per hour. (3) In the October edition of "Aero Digest," in 1910, the conclusion was that Farwell's design was the original pattern from which airplane were later copied. (4)
Photo courtesy: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

ADAMS-FARWELL AUTOMOBILES were using Farwell's motor in 1903 when one of the cars was shown at an automobile show in Chicago. M. Sequin of Paris saw the car and after returning to France built the gnome engine following the design. (5) J. W. Smith of Chicago saw the same engine and developed America's first radial engine for aircraft. He took his invention to England where it was used in the Bristol and 9BC aircraft. (6)

In 1910 the Adams Company acknowledged that their engine had been the model for the airplane engines. In its advertising, the company stated:

         The motor is the well-known revolving type also built
         for aeronautic use, and it enjoys the distinction of
         being the lightest power plant per horsepower in
         existence...It is a significant fact that our motors
         are being copied very closely by a half dozen well-
         known European manufacturers, and the most important
         aeronautic records are being held by motors of this
         type. (7)

In 1910 a newspaper article gave a possible reason why the city allowed the automobile industry to slip its grasp. The article suggested that while automobiles were a "craze" elsewhere, it was only recently that they were popular here. (8) It was expected that in 1910, forty cars would be sold which was twice the number as the previous year. (9) Cost of the automobiles did not help sale. An Adams-Farwell could cost thousands of dollars while Henry Ford sold his for around $800. (10)

In 1911 Ray and Jay Farwell, Fay's sons, actually demonstrated the potential of his invention outside of cars. In a regatta in Dubuque, the boys attached an eighty-horsepower engine of their father's design to a boat. (11)



1. "Dubuque Lost Chance for Plane Leadership," Telegraph Herald, Nov. 9, 1941, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=rllFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=2rsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2241,6655580&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

2. Kittle, M. D. "Iron, Cars and Gears: A Quick History of The Adams Company," Telegraph Herald, Sept. 30, 2004, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ap1dAAAAIBAJ&sjid=zlwNAAAAIBAJ&pg=5149,6473449&dq=adams-farwell+motor&hl=en

3. Hinkley, Jim. "Requiem for an Industry," Kingman Daily Miner, May 5, 2007. Online: http://www.kingmandailyminer.com/main.asp?SectionID=4&SubSectionID=4&ArticleID=12005

4. "Dubuque Lost Chance..."

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid

10. "Hunt Dubuque-Made Auto," Telegraph Herald, June 24, 1945, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YCdiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OXYNAAAAIBAJ&pg=3106,2979600&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

11. "New Boat Entered in Races," Telegraph Herald, June 29, 1911, p. 3. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=NvZCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8qsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4946,2130902&dq=adams-farwell+motor&hl=en