Providence Steam Engine Company

Sole Builders of the Improved Greene Engine. Stationary and Marine Boilers, Sheet-iron Work, Etc., Rathbone Gardner, President; Wm. B. Waterman, Treasurer; T. W. Phillips, Secretary and Gen’l Manager; Nos. 373 to 379 South Main Street, Providence, Rhode Island.

From the Providence Directory, 1889
The company was founded by John Babcock Jr. and Robert H. Thurston, son of professor Robert L. Thurston, in 1834. In 1837 the company built the engine for the Boston and New York Transportation company steamboat John W. Richmond. Noble Tuckerman Greene joined the company in 1838 and the company name was changed to Thurston, Greene, & Company. Steam engines built prior to 1841 were equipped with slide valves. In 1841 Greene designed an engine that used the “drop cut-off” or “detachable valve-gear” licensed from the inventor Frederick E. Sickels, patent No, 4,202. Engines built between 1841 and 1855 were automatic cut-off engines and were built based on the Sickles patent. In 1848 when Corliss introduced his stationary steam engine the company sued Corliss for infringing on the Sickles Patent. Corliss counter sued and spent over $106,000 in legal costs, and finally won because of a minor omission in the Sickels patent. Greene was restrained from building his own engine. In 1854 H.W. Gardiner joined the company. In 1855 the Improved Greene Engine was introduced. The grid-iron admission valves were designed by young Robert Henry Thurston immediately after he graduated from Brown University. When the patent expired in 1869 Providence Steam Engine Company built Greene engines again, building a total of 317. Thurston left the company in 1863 and to raise capital the company was incorporated as the Providence Steam Engine Company. In 1886 the company was granted patent No. 335,933 for their Mechanism for Regulating Steam-Engines. On March 28, 1899 the company merged with the Rice & Sargent Company to form the Providence Engineering Works.

In 1863 they built all of the machinery for the Pawtuxent, and side-wheel, double-ender. In 1865 they built a Dickerson designed steam engine with a 48 inch bore, 10 foot stroke, and Sickel’s cuttoff valves for the gunboat Algonquin. They built the 2,000,000 gallon per day Nagle Pumping Engine for the Providence Water Works in 1876. In the same year they built boilers for the Navy ships Kearsarge, Omaha, and Richmond. In 1897 they built sea coast 8 inch disappearing gun carriages.

[1]”PROVIDENCE STEAM ENGINE COMPANY, Sole Builders of the Improved Greene Engine.  Stationary and Marine Boilers, Sheet-iron Work, Etc., Rathbone Gardner, President; Wm. B. Waterman, Treasurer; T. W. Phillips, Secretary and Gen’l Manager; Nos. 373 to 379 South Main Street.  —  The steam-engine is, in this era, the most perfect piece of mechanism on the face of the earth.  Skill and science have both been utilized to the utmost, and yet among the multitude of manufacturers it is well to pause and endeavor to weigh the comparative merits of the various styles and select upon a critical basis of merit.  Some of the concerns engaged in this line, whose advertisements have been sown broadcast, have been unable to maintain the market their ambitions would fill.  The reason is apparent, when their new-fangled engines break down, speedily need repairs, or prove inadequate to the work demanded of them.  There are some old-established houses in this country that have achieved a solid reputation for the superiority of their engines, and fully live up to it.  As an illustration in point right here in Providence, we would refer to the Providence Steam-engine Company, whose engines may be said to be hourly running to the extent of many thousand horse-power in every State in the Union.  This is one of the largest and most important concerns of the kind in the country.  It dates back to 1821, when it was founded by Mr. R. L. Thurston, and subsequently the firm became Thurston & Greene.  The present company was incorporated in 1863, under the laws of the State of Rhode Island, with a capital of $300,000, and is now officered as follows, viz.:  President, Rathbone Gardner; treasurer, Wm. B. Waterman; secretary, T. W. Phillips.  The works cover 25,000 square feet, the equpment is perfect and complete, and steady employment is given to two hundred skilled hands.  The company has 225 feet of wharfage on the river, adjacent to the works, with a derrick ninety feet high and all conveniences for unloading vessels and the prompt shipment of supplies.  The specialty of this company is the improved Greene engine of which they are the sole builders.  These engines have the automatic cutoff with flat slide valves, both steam and exhaust; steam closing mechanism, safety stop on regulator, and the only liberating valve gear without spring, catch or wedge, thus removing all strain upon the governor while tripping the valves.  The best of material only is employed, and every part is fashioned and put together with the greatest accuracy and care.  The management are close students of the progress made in mechanical and steam engineering and have included in these engines every improvement that conduces to economy in running and increased horsepower.  Every engine is severely tested before shipment, and is guaranteed to give satisfaction; while the prices are at bed-rock, and quality considered, are the cheapest quoted by any engine-works in the land. Among users in Providence may be named the Richmond Paper Company, Arnold & McGowan, Horace A. Kimball, Valley Worsted Mills, Providence Worsted Mills, Wanskuck Mills, American Multiple Fabric Company, Callender, McAuslan & Troup Company, Ladd Watch Case Company, Bugbee & Brownell, Horace Remington & Sons, J. P. Campbell & Co., etc.; while they are in appreciative use in many of the most important concerns in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Louisville, Wilmington, Del., New Haven, Conn., Springfield, Mass., Troy, N.Y., Paterson, N. J., New London, Conn., Lynn, Mass., Washington D.C., Baltimore, Md., Richmond, Va., Charleston, S. C., Evansville, Ind., Bangor, Me., Rochester, N. Y., Lawrence, Mass., Pawtucket, R.I., and other industrial centers throughout the country.  This company also manufacture bolt-forging machines, high-speed engines, stationary and marine boilers, machine tools, marine engine and boiler repairs.  This company executed many heavy and important contracts for the government from 1861 to 1865, while the management have ever manifested a determination to maintain their splendid engines in the van of the market.  The president,  Mr. Gardner, is the present district attorney of Providence and a leading member of the Rhode Island Bar.  The treasurer, Mr. Waterman, is also a director of the Staten Cotton Company and the First National Bank, and eminently fitted as the custodian of the company’s finances; while the secretary, Mr. Phillips, is an accomplished and popular official, and the entire management is possessed of sterling enterprise and alert to meet the most exacting requirements of the public.”

The Museum has one of two running Improved Greene engines. The other running Improved Greene engine is at the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association.


4,202 Mode of Connecting Steam-Cylinders with Steam-Chests, 1845, licensed from Frederick E. Sickels
389,146 Valve-Gear for Steam-Engines, September 4, 1888
422,769 Liberating Valve-Gear for Steam-Engines, March 4, 1890
424,605 Exhaust Valve for Engines, April 1, 1890
425,219 Exhaust Valve Gear for Engines, April 8, 1890
439,349 Slide-Valve for Steam-Engines, October 28, 1890
444,699 Safety Valve Gear for Steam Engines, January 13, 1891
495,221 Steam-Piston Packing, April 11, 1893

1) Industries and Wealth of the Principal Points in Rhode Island, being the city of Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket, Newport, Narragansett Pier, Bristol & Westerly. New York: A. F. Parsons Publishing Co., 1892, p. 103: