Lansing has a long and interesting history in power lawnmowers. Even so, we have been asked why we have them displayed in a “Transportation” museum; a fair question. First off, the original Lansing-made mower was designed and built by R. E. Olds. Second, the subsequent mowers were designed and made by REO.
The mower history goes back to a patented design by R. E. Olds in 1916 for his Ideal Engine Company, a stationary engine manufacture organized by him in 1906 with roots going back to 1885 with the Maud S Windmill Company. His innovation was a large powered roller that propelled the mower at the same time as it rolled the turf. It was powered by Ideal’s air-cooled hit and miss engine. The product was so successful that the Company was renamed the Ideal Power Lawn Mower Company in 1922. The product evolved over the years until the 1940’s it looked similar to a modern reel-type mower with a vertical air-cooled engine purchased from an outside source.
In 1946 REO Motors got into the mower business just as Ideal was leaving, with personnel from Ideal starting the operations at REO. REO initially produced mowers powered with purchased engines, but in 1949 began manufacturing an engine of their own design. The engines are easily recognized by the unique ‘slant head’ cylinder and drove the mower from the cam shaft, not the crankshaft. REO produced a wide variety of mower styles including reel and rotary gasoline engined, as well as reel and rotary electric powered units. At the peak, REO was the largest builder of power lawnmowers in the world. In addition REO made manual push mowers sold as the Michigan Noiseless. The unique REO engine was also used to power snow blowers and the one-of-a-kind Trollabout, a complete kit to convert your row boat to an inboard powered craft.
In 1954 the mower operation of REO were sold to Lansing’s Motor Wheel Corporation who continued manufacturing and using the REO designed engine until 195? when they switched to purchased engines. In 1955, Motor Wheel began marketing a power mower with a purchased engine under the DuoTherm name, the trade name for their oil-fueled furnaces, space heaters, ranges and water heaters. The REO brand name was continued for several years by Wheel Horse who bought the operation in 1963.
A footnote to the mower history is the Lansing Lawn Mower Company that apparently existed for only a year or two around 1916 and was probably associated with Lansing’s Bates and Edmonds Motor Company, a manufacturer of stationary engines.
In other words, the Lansing mowers are intimately entwined in Lansing’s transportation history. On a less lofty level, the mowers are interesting and most Museum visitors can relate to them while perhaps learning some additional Lansing history.