George Schebler and the hog trough carburetor

Transcribed from Steve Styer’s educational minute at the March 31, 2016 member meeting.

Today is the story of George Schebler. Now that might not mean anything to you, but it will in a minute. George Schebler was born in 1865 down in Hamburg, Indiana. He went as far in school as his school provided which was 4th grade; just like my dad. That was the end of school. As long as you could read, write, add, subtract, multiply, divide you didn’t need to know anything else. That was it.

George then worked at a farm for a number of years, then decided to become a carpenter. He started building guitars and violins in Indianapolis.

At about that time, the end of that century, the 1890’s, gasoline engines begin to get kind of popular. Stationary and even some cars. The big problem with the engine was they had no accurate way of mixing the fuel and the air. The problem was, as the tank would get lower or the fuel would get lower, the pressure would get less, they’d have to adjust the carburetor, which was really a mixing valve. And when it went to automobiles, they go up the hill, they had to get more fuel. When they went downhill, they had to back off. George said, “If there was some way we could just keep the level of the gas the same in the carburetor we’d be all set.”

He thought back to his days back on the farm when he was responsible for feeding the hogs and the hog trough. The farmer he worked for had a device. They had a cistern of water, a big tank, and hogs take a whole bunch of liquid. For the hog trough, instead of having to go fill it up all the time, the farmer had devised an arm with a barrel on the end in the hog trough. At the other end was a valve. As the hogs would drink the water, the float would go down. That would let more water in the hog trough until it would fill up and it would shut the water off. George says, “Hey, how about if I put that in the carburetor?” George Schebler invented the first float in a carburetor.

It was a good idea. He showed it to Stutz. Stutz thought it was a terrific idea. He put it in his car. It worked great. He said, “There’s a guy over here in Indianapolis by the name of Frank Wheeler that is putting some ideas together. They are going to build something called the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’s kind of car oriented. Why don’t you talk to him about this great device you’ve got?”

So George went to Frank Wheeler. Frank was impressed, spent twenty-five hundred dollars on advertising this revolutionary carburetor. That was in 1902, George Schebler got a patent on his float for the carburetor. In 1904 he joined with Wheeler to form the Wheeler-Schebler carburetor company.

In 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened up. The trophy awarded to the winning driver was called the Wheeler-Schebler trophy. For those that don’t know it, that was the start. From there until 1936 the Wheeler-Schebler trophy was awarded to the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

In 1912, Schebler wanted to go back to the farm. He, like so many inventors, was not a business guy. So, he went to Wheeler and Wheeler bought his interest out in the Wheeler-Schebler carburetor for $1 million. A little different than the Louis Chevrolet story. He sold it for a million bucks, went and bought a farm. He turned a desolate piece of Indiana into a thriving business and did very well.

Wheeler went on buying little companies and forming it up. That Wheeler-Schebler carburetor trophy went on until 1936, at which time it became, and still is, the Borg-Warner trophy. Wheelers’ little company of forming little pieces eventually became Borg-Warner.

So, George Schebler, parted with Wheeler carburetor and Wheeler went on to Borg-Warner. For all of you that have carburetors, essentially every carburetor in the world has a float, and that was from George Schebler from a hog trough in Southern Indiana.

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