Dorman Diesels, 100 years ago this week

The team at Dorman Diesels enjoys taking the same meticulous approach to research and archive material as it does to engine overhaul. We thought it would be interesting to revisit where the company was at one hundred years ago, at the precise point when Europe was emerging from the “war to end all wars”.

Coinciding with the end of the First World War, late 1918 / early 1919 was a pivotal moment for Dorman Diesels as it ventured into the brave new world of motor car propulsion. Their 15.9hp 2,614cc Dorman engine was used in the new Ruston-Hornsby automobile, at a time when the luxury car market was a level playing field, open to newcomers and innovation. From an engineering perspective they were certainly a cut above what was being offered by Henry Ford at the time. It was to be short-lived however, as the vehicles were prohibitively expensive,

By 1918, Dorman Diesels had already been trading in one form or another for forty-eight years and the company had been quick to utilise new innovations in steam power and the large-scale manufacture of machine tools. This development reflected the rapid economic growth that began to occur from 1870 in what has been called the Second Industrial Revolution or Technical Revolution.

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Ruston and Hornsby tourer, built in 1920
By Jon’s pics [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Below is a timeline of key events in the evolution of Dorman Diesels from 1870-1918:

  • 1870 William Henry Dorman started in business.
  • 1875 Mr Dorman went into partnership with Mr. W. Walker and the engineering business moved to Foregate Street. At first the firm was known as Dorman and Walker, but subsequently it was converted into a limited liability company W. H. Dorman and Co.
  • 1897 The company was incorporated to develop and extend the business. For some years the firm specialised in the production of boot and shoe-making machinery and parts, first for the English and American Shoe Machinery Co.
  • 1910 A special printing press was being made by the firm.
  • 1911 William Henry Dorman retired from the business
  • 1911 Walter Haddon and Ivor L. James became joint managing directors.
  • 1912 The company began making internal combustion engines.
  • 1913 The company was recognised as being “Engineers to the (Motor) Trade; contractors to the Admiralty and War Office”. Two years later they were claiming to be “internal combustion engine specialists”
  • 1914 The company offered to cooperate with British firms to make and market any machine or machine tool of German origin. During the First World War they built many thousands of “C.C.” interrupter gear for aircraft under licence from Walter Haddon and George Constantinesco.
  • 1917 Ruston Proctor and Co. Ltd. began building the famous ‘Sopwith Camel’. The Camel was the highest scoring fighter of the First World War and its name originates from the hump over the two machine guns.
  • 1918-1919 Ruston and Hornsby attempted to diversify and one outcome was the Ruston-Hornsby car. Two versions were made, a 15.9 hp with a Dorman 2,614 cc engine and a larger 20hp model with 3,308 cc engine of their own manufacture. The cars were expensive and never reached the anticipated production volumes. About 1,500 were made between 1919 and 1924.
  • 1919 Walter Haddon became chairman and managing director.

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Sopwith Camel, season premiere, airshow 2018
By Airwolfhound [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons