Joseph Reid (1843 - 1917)

Feb 23, 2007 | Posted in Essays, People

Joseph Reid

Joseph Reid

While he became famous for his engines and locomotives, Joseph Reid's life had a beginning typical of the time. He was born in Scotland in 1843 and until the age of 11 attended school when he was apprenticed to a woodworker. His own goal was to become an engineer, so in time, he began work as a machinist.

In 1862 he came to America first as a machinist in Canada, then in some cities in eastern United States. In 1877 hearing about the lumber business he came to Oil City to build locomotives used to haul logs from the woods. Reid had a delivery problem when he was hired to build a fancy locomotive to haul lumber for a Mr. Clapp. The locomotive would have to cross a frozen river to reach Clapp's property. But would the river ice crack under the weight of the locomotive? Clapp ordered tracks to be laid on the ice, but Reid insisted on the erection of heavy poles on opposite sides of the river. A strong cable was strung overhead and the locomotive was secured with heavy bands which moved it along the cable. About a thousand people watched from the shores as the procedure safely delivered the new engine to its owner.

Reid designed engines that helped to improve the oil industry. He patented an oil burner which could use cheap grades of crude oil. He sold the first engine to use natural gas as a fuel. He also designed the Steel Band Wheel Power. His engines gained fame because they could use crude oil, natural gas, or gasoline as fuels, and they were sold world wide.

During his lifetime, Joseph Reid was involved in many projects to help others. He supported the Y.M.C.A. and helped homeless boys and girls. Reid was married twice and is said to have loved children though he had none of his own. His nieces and nephews liked to hear him recite Scottish poetry. He died in 1917 at the age of 73. Sadly, Reid's shops no longer exist. They closed in 1939 and were sold for salvage. Even so, Reid would be proud to know that his engines still hold a significant place in the history of the oil industry.


Babcock, Charles, Venango County Pennsylvania. Her Pioneers and People. Volume II, J.H. Beers & Co., Illinois, 1919
Interview with Miss Margaret Reid of Oil City, 1993.

Reprinted Courtesy of the Venango Museum of Art, Science and Industry