American Locomotive Company

From Academic Kids

The American Locomotive Company, shortened to ALCO (or Alco) was a builder of railroad locomotives in the United States.

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Alco logo

Early History

The company was created in 1901 from the merger of several smaller locomotive manufacturers:

The new company was headquartered in Schenectady and eventually closed all other locomotive manufacturing plants.

1904 saw the purchase of the Locomotive and Machine Company of Montreal, Canada; this company was eventually renamed the Montreal Locomotive Works and continued to manufacture ALCO designs after the parent company ceased production. The next year, 1905, ALCO purchased the second largest locomotive manufacturer in the US behind Baldwin Locomotive Works; ALCO at that time purchased Rogers Locomotive Works of Paterson, New Jersey.

Steam locomotives

ALCO was the second-largest steam locomotive builder in the United States, producing over 75,000 locomotives. Among these were a large number of well-known locomotives. Railroads that favored ALCO products included the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, the New York Central Railroad, the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific. ALCO was known for its steam locomotives of which the 4-6-4 Hudson and the 4-8-4 Niagara built for the New York Central and the 4-6-6-4 (Challenger) built for the Union Pacific Railroad were fine examples. ALCO built many of the biggest locomotives ever constructed, including Union Pacific's Big Boy (4-8-8-4).

Though the dual-service 4-8-4 steam locomotive had shown great promise, 1948 saw the last steam locomotives erected in Schenectady. These were the 9400-series Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad 2-8-4 "Berkshires".

ALCO automobiles

The company diversified into the automobile business in 1906, producing French Berliet designs under license. Two years later, the Berliet license was abandoned, and the company began to produce its own designs instead. ALCO cars won the Vanderbilt Cup in both 1908 and 1910, but they had less success in sales, abandoning automobile manufacture in 1913. The ALCO automobile story is chiefly notable for starting the automobile career of Walter P. Chrysler, the plant manager, who left for Buick in 1911 and subsequently founded the Chrysler automobile giant.

Diesel locomotives

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An ALCO S-1 on the job at the MidContinent Railway Museum, North Freedom, WI.

(For a list of ALCO diesel locomotive models, see List of ALCO diesel locomotives.)

Although it was strongly committed to the steam locomotive, ALCO produced the first commercially successful diesel-electric locomotive in 1924 in a consortium with General Electric (electrical equipment) and Ingersoll-Rand (diesel engine). This locomotive was sold to the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and subsequent locomotives were built for a number of railroads including the Long Island Rail Road and the Chicago and Northwestern Railway.

The company bought an engine manufacturer, McIntosh & Seymour Diesel Engine Company, in 1929 and henceforth produced its own diesel engines, although electrical equipment was always from GE. ALCO was in the 1930s the pre-eminent diesel locomotive builder in the United States, but the General Motors Electro-Motive Division took over that position with aggressive marketing, a ready supply of development capital from its parent company, and the intervention of the war years, when ALCO was allocated the construction of diesel switching locomotives and its proven steam designs, whereas EMD was allocated the construction of mainline or road diesels. This gave EMD a lead that could not be overcome. Also a factor was that Alco's diesel locomotives were competing with its own steam locomotive products, while EMD had no such overlap.

By 1948, ALCO possessed 40% of the diesel locomotive market. PA and FA road units, as well as the ubiquitous S class 660 and 1000 horsepower (490 and 750 kW) switchers and RS-1, RS-2 and RS-3 road switchers, represented Alco very well in those years of motive power transition. Much of their success in this period can be tied to their pioneering RS locomotives, representing the first modern road-switcher, a configuration which has long outlasted ALCO. Its traditional partner, General Electric, was represented in the electrical gear of every locomotive. The complete conversion to diesels, however, did not mean that Alco was to maintain this production standing.

Nevertheless, the company held the number 2 position in the market until General Electric, dissatisfied with the results of its partnership with ALCO, entered the road diesel locomotive market itself in 1956. GE quickly took the number 2 position, and eventually eclipsed even GM in overall production. Despite continual innovation in its designs (the first AC-DC transmission among others), ALCO gradually succumbed to its competition, in which its former ally, General Electric, was becoming an important element. A new line of "Century" locomotives including the C628 (the first AC-DC transmission), the C430 and the C636, the first 3600 horsepower (2.7 MW) locomotive, failed to keep the enterprise going. Third place in the market proved to be an impossible position; ALCO products had neither the market position or reputation for reliability of GM-EMD's products nor the financing muscle and customer support determination of GE, and profits were not forthcoming. ALCO ceased locomotive production in 1969, closed its Schenectady locomotive plant, and sold its designs to the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada.

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Although its fling with automobiles was unsuccessful, ALCO diversified into other areas with greater success. During the Second World War ALCO built tanks, guns and shells for the war effort in addition to locomotive production; this continued for the Korean War. After the war, ALCO entered the oil production equipment and nuclear powerplant markets, the latter also starting the company's involvement in the heat exchanger business.

1955 saw the company renamed to Alco Products, Inc because locomotives were no longer its predominant product.

Purchase and division

The company was purchased in 1964 by the Worthington Corporation, which merged with the Studebaker corporation in 1967 to form Studebaker-Worthington, Inc. (SWI), Alco remaining a wholly-owned subsidiary. Former divisions of Alco became semi-independent subsidiaries in 1968.

After the termination of locomotive production in 1969, the locomotive designs (but not the engine development rights) were sold to the Montreal Locomotive Works, who continued their manufacture. The diesel engine business was sold to White Motor Corporation in 1970, who formed them into White Industrial Power. In 1977 White Industrial Power was sold to the British General Electric Company (GEC) who renamed the unit Alco Power, Inc. The business was subsequently sold to the Fairbanks-Morse corporation, who continue to manufacture Alco-designed engines in addition to their own design.

The heat exchanger business continued as Alco Products, Inc., passing through a number of owners. This portion of the business still survives under that name and is now owned by NITRAM Energy.


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