John Lauson Mfg. Co.

Excerpt from Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors

By: C.H. Wendel

Few boys of fourteen years are forced to assume a man’s tasks, but thus it was with John Lauson. His father and four other brothers had come from Germany and settled near New Holstein where they opened a repair shop. Upon his father’s death in 1882, John stepped into the business with his uncles. In 1884, at age 16, John assumed a full partnership with his uncle, George Lauson, and J.H. Optenburg in a new firm and a new shop, specializing in building boilers, tanks, smokestacks, and the like. Traction engines were also repaired. For a time this firm build a complete steam traction engine, the “Uncle Sam”, bit only about 25 were made. 

John Lauson bought out Optenburg’s interest in 1891. By now steam boilers and their repair took up the major part of the business. 

About 1895, John’s brother, Henry Lauson joined the company. Henry had been working for a gas engine company in Chicago and was very interested in them. The two Lauson brothers, along with H.N. Edens, got busy and built the first Lauson engine in 1898 –  a rather crude 4-horsepower outfit, but they liked their success and decided to go further. 

In 1904, Lauson came out with their “Frost King” engines. They were immensely popular all over the United States and in many foreign countries.

Just as happened with many gas engine builders, Lauson got into the tractor business. Beginning in 1915, Lauson stayed in the market for many years, facing stiff competiton, but winning out with their quality products. During the last years of production, an alliance with Nichols & Shepard Company bolstered sales. Severe crop failures and the Great Depression forced the company into bankruptcy. It was liquidated on May 15, 1935. After being reorganized, engine production was resumed, and in 1941, Lauson Company was sold to Hart-Cater Company, Peroria, Illinois – they in turn sold the Lauson division to Tecumseh Products Company in 1956.


John Lauson Company announced its entry into the tractor business with a 15-25 and a 20-35, in December, 1915. External appearance was the same for both, but the 15-25 used a four-cylinder 4 x 6 inch Erd motor; the 20-35 used an Erd four-cylinder 4 3/4 x 6 inch engine. In 1918, the 15-25 began using a 4 1/2 x 6 inch Beaver engine.
The 15-30 Lauson appeared in 1920, and was available in a road model or a conventional field design. The basic difference was that the Road Tractor used heavy cast iron rear wheels for added traction. The extra iron gave the road model a weight of 9,500 pounds, compared to 6,000 pounds on the standard outfit. Both models sold for $2,150. Lauson offered the “Full-Jewelled” tractors in 1919, and this designation was used again in 1920. This particular machine was a rice-field special.
A 12-25 Lauson model appeared in 1921. It used a Midwest four-cylinder 4 1/8 x 5 1/4 engine. In Nebraska Test No. 75, it indicated 20.91 drawbar horsepower, and 37.38 horsepower at the belt pulley. The 15-30 had been tested at Nebraska in 1920, and it turned out 26.5 drawbar and 32.5 brake horsepower. In 1923, the 12-25 sold for $1,295.
The last Lauson model was a six-cylinder 4 1/2 x 6 inch outfit with a 25-45 horsepower rating. Six-cylinder tractors ran exceptionally smooth, and this one was no exception. All in all, the 25-45 was probably the best of the Lauson tractors. The industry giants had winnowed out hundreds of tractor builders, but Lauson stayed right in the game on the basis of clear-cut superiority over most tractors on the market. The Great Depression and the tragic dust storms and crop failures of the early 1930’s finally brought an end to the Lauson tractor business.
In the late 1920’s, Lauson came out with a 20-40 model designed especially for the thresherman. It used a 4 3/4 x 6 inch engine similar to the older 15-30 model, but the speed was increased to 1200 RPM. The unique canopy was a characteristic feature of Lauson tractors for several years. Nichols & Shepard Company sold Lauson tractors for a few years after they quit building their own outfit. A 20-35 tractor was offered at the same time as the 20-40, but the biggest difference between the two was a 1040 RPM crankshaft speed on the 20-35, compared to the 1200 RPM used in the 20-40.