Antique well pumps can been seen all over the country, near farmhouses and still working, or in antique shops as reminders of the past. These pumps were an important part of daily life and were once as common as the kitchen faucet is today. While old pumps may look alike, there were several different kinds made by many manufacturers.
Collectors love them for their unique designs and the bit of whimsy they add to homes and gardens.
Types of Pumps
There were several different types of pumps.
The Simple Hand Pump
The earliest of the antique pump designs was the simple hand pump. This type of pump had a lever and could only be hand pumped. Each lever stroke produced a flowing gush of water through the cylinder of the pump and out the pump's spout.
Double Cylinder Pump
The double cylinder pump was a more efficient method of pumping the water from the well. The two cylinders of the pump extended into the well water. When the lever was pumped, the water was brought through the cylinder to the spout. While one cylinder was emptying out its water, the other cylinder was refilling. The double cylinders brought twice as much water to the surface with each pump of the lever, making less work.
By using the power of the breeze that blew constantly across the open farmlands, the windmill pump replaced the action of the pump lever. Windmill pumps made life easier for the farmers that had them because the strenuous task of pumping well water was eliminated.
Farmers used a force pump when they had to bring water to a distant area of their farm. The water stream was elevated and pressure was created in the pump cylinder. Special parts called a packing gland and a sucker rod were built into the cylinder to create the necessary pressure to expel the water where it was needed.
Well Pump Manufacturers
Manufacturers of early well pumps were usually small, regional companies. It was common for each area to have several pump manufacturers that produced many styles and types of pumps. Due to the vast number of well pump combinations, the small local companies were able to stop the large companies from selling well pumps as they came into the regional areas. Instead the larger companies, such as International Harvester Company and Deere & Company, manufactured and sold pump accessories such as well water pumping engines and pump jacks.
Several of the early companies included:
- Aermoter Company
- Enterprise Wind Mill Company
- Fairbanks, Morse and Company
- Red Jacket Manufacturing Company
- Dempster Manufacturing Company
- A.Y. McDonald Company
- F. E. Meyers Company
Many people of the time believed that drinking from cast iron was not healthy. This belief lead to different degrees of quality and unusual styles and designs of some antique water pumps. There were cylinders that were ornately designed and lined with brass and porcelain. Leather cups were used to prevent any leakage and to seal the cylinders to prevent the water from touching the cast iron.
Where to Find Antique Pumps
Collectors can find antique pumps locally at thrift shops, garage and farm sales, and antique stores. The largest selection by far, however, will be on the Internet. There is not a site specializing in antique pumps per se but you can often find them among the antiques on the following sites.
My Tractor Forum
My Tractor Forum is a site for old tractors and farm tools and they have an off-topic area where you can post questions about other farm items such as well pumps.
Country Life is another site that specializes in information about homesteading and other aspects of country living. The members are a wonderful resource for anyone looking for information about well pumps and other vintage tools.
Ebay has everything, including well pumps. Look for sellers that are based in the United States and that have excellent feedback and reputations.
Ruby Lane is an online antique mall. There are hundreds of different items for sale and from time to time a well pump can be found among the thousands of items offered.
Like Ruby Lane, Tias is an online antique mall that carries a little bit of everything.
Tips for Buying Old Well Pumps
Before you go looking for an antique pump you should know why you want it. Do you want a working pump that you can use or just something for display and decoration? You will, of course, pay more for a working pump than one that doesn't work and it can be difficult to find parts to repair a nonworking pump. These tips will help:
- Look for pumps in working condition; they will be worth more in the long run.
- Unusual pumps will ultimately be worth more than the common pumps.
- Paint that is intact will help protect a pump from the elements.
- If you are buying your pump online ask questions and make sure you understand the seller's return policies and guarantees.
- Always read feedback about the seller if it is available.
Collecting Antique Well Pumps
There are collectors today who search antique shops and farm shows hoping to find authentic antique pumps to use as decorative accents in their gardens. Often these beautiful iron relics are found standing proudly amongst flowers and shrubs, retired from their years of hard work. Others are mounted in fountains as water flows from their spouts through the use of modern electrical pumps. Many are restored to their original natural beauty. Others are painted colors to match the decor of their surroundings, and some remain as they were found, rusted from years in the elements. Regardless of how they look, each one brings visions of days gone by as we think of the important role antique well pumps had many years ago.