The President Pumping Engine was designed and manufactured between 1868 and 1871 in foundries located along the Philadelphia waterfront, the city then known as the "workshop of the world". The engine designer, John West, was from Cornwall, in Great Britain. He was a member of a famous family of engine designers and mining technologists. Cornish engineers were world renowned at the time for their knowledge and skill in both steam technology and mining applications. They were broadly recruited when engineering problems exceeded the application of simple solutions. This was the case in the Friedensville Mines were water intrusion was so great that they became known as "the wettest mines in the Americas". When The President Engine commenced operation in January 1872, its 675 tons of iron and steel was able to draw 17,000 gallons of water out of the mine from a depth of 300 feet by using steam generated by its 20 boilers to move a piston within a 110 inches in diameter cylinder up and down, which with the assistance of two 30 feet in diameter flywheels, in turn moved two 36 foot long overhead walking beams that plunged two pump rods deep within a shaft to displace the water using underground staged pumps. The engine produced up to 3,000 horsepower and was the largest and most powerful single cylinder rotative steam engine ever constructed anywhere in the world. The engine was scrapped in 1900, except for one of its boilers which survives today in the basement of a shuttered furniture factory in Allentown, PA.
Although the engine no longer exists, the engine house remains in a ruined state. It is the only example in the United States of a Cornish style pumping engine house. A few examples exist elsewhere in the world and in Cornwall, where they form the key iconic element of a UNESCO World Heritage Landscape. The engine house is unique in that it has never served any other purpose and it was an integral part of the engine design. Today, the property owner, Lehigh University is studying the feasibility of repairing this structure with the assistance of grant funding from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program, grants obtained in the both the 2019 AND 2020 cycle, and with a National Trust grant from the Louis J. Appell Jr. Preservation Fund for Central Pennsylvania.
Directly below, the button titled The President Engine, will take you to a report which includes our research into the structure and the preservation case associated with that research. Much credit on this is due to Dr. R. Damian Nance, Distinguished Professor of Geology Emeritus, of Ohio University, who identified this structure as a building of unique character and one which deserved greater attention and preservation. Also below, the button titled President Engine Movie will open up a movie on The President Engine. This animated movie was created in 2021 by Guy Janssen of Schelle, Belgium and it virtually reconstructs The President Engine showing how it fit into the mining landscape, how it operated and an overview of its history. As a viewer, the movie affords a unique opportunity to tour this famous engine which was lost to the physical world over 120 years ago.
Please note, the property which contains the engine house ruins is not open to the public. If you wish to see it, please refer to the Contacts page of this website.