Tom Jensen's genius for designing and making steam engines was evident at an early age. In 1911 at the age of 10, he fashioned his first engine using steel cans, after becoming enamored with the horse drawn steam threshers that visited the family farm in his native Denmark. Twelve years later, while completing schooling for his Mechanical Engineering Degree, Tom built a 175 pound monster steam engine, complete with a hand made generator, which today, we know as 'Old Number 1'.
This engine was so well designed and executed that it won a Silver Medal at the 1923 Denmark State Fair. Today, almost 80 years later 'Old # 1' still runs like new. Tom did not know at the time that this engine would prove to be the seed from which, nine years later, in Jeannette Pennsylvania, the Jensen Steam Engines of today would grow.
'Old # 1'
Like millions before him, Tom came to America in search of a better life and the promise of a career in his chosen field of Mechanical Engineering. The Great Depression quickly put a damper on this young Engineer's plans for a 'real job'. We know today that this was a blessing in disguise for future steam enthusiasts and kids... for to keep busy and stay focused until he found a job, Tom made up six samples of a miniature, 12 pound brass steam engine turning a little generator to light a flashlight bulb. He took these samples to Kauffman's Department Store in downtown Pittsburgh to be reviewed by their toy buyer. As luck would have it, another buyer from the famous F.A.O. Schwarz Toy Store happened by, saw the samples and the rest is history. When the initial order of 50 engines arrived in New York City, other retailers quickly took notice... Macy's and then the well known Spiegel Catalog Company became dealers, selling literally thousands of the engines. In later years, Sears Roebuck, Penney's and Montgomery Ward's would all feature Jensen Steam Engines in their catalogs.
The start of World War II brought the toy industry to a sudden stop. This was especially true at Jensen, because our engines used, as they still do today, valuable brass, nickel, stainless steel and cast iron, which were restricted war materials. This shut down, however, was not to last long. While the Lionel Train Co. raised chickens for the war effort and Erector sets gave way to munitions, the U.S. Army declared Jensen Mfg. Co. to be a 'War Essential Industry' and issued an exemption from the manufacturing ban. The Army's Chemical Warfare Department had discovered that the mighty Jensen 'Toy' Steam Engine was powerful enough to turn an air pump that tested for the presence of poisonous gases. Thus Tom was off and running, working 7 days a week to produce his engines, by the thousands, for the war effort.
Tom Jensen enjoyed life for 92 years, spending the last 61 years of his life working in his little Jeannette Steam Shop, inventing, creating, crafting and perfecting the highly specialized tooling and dies used in the manufacture of his Jensen Steam Engines. In 1992, President George Bush wrote to Mr. Jensen, thanking him for his '...unique contribution to America'. Mrs. Jensen, who recently passed away, had this treasured letter on display for all to see. Tom left a legacy of not just his tooling and the all important blueprint drawings for each and every part, but also a son, Tom, Jr. and a grandson, John, both of whom are also Mechanical Engineers, to carry on this unique family tradition.
Randy Hathaway - October 25, 2013
I have a model #10 , tag says style #10 Jensen steam engine with the solid round generator housing. My father gave it to me in about 1972. It was his when he was a boy , around 1951 or so. It worked for me then but cant seem to get enough preasure to run on its oun. whistle still blows but wont generate power. Can I still buy parts. I know its very rare, do u know the value? Still in very nice condion. Is missing the stack or chimney , none funtionol as you know. Please respond at above Email. Sincerely Rand Hathaway
►reply: Sorry for my late reply... Did you find more info yet? There is also a good forum of steam enthusiasts or you can try here.
Sandy Baumbach - July 4, 2012
I recently found a style no. 5 steam engine and the model # 100 work shop in my attic that my husband must have bought years ago. He is now in a nursing home and can't communcate with anyone. Thanks to your web site I was able to find a picture. Where can I find a estimate of its worth. Thanks Sandy
►reply: It depends on state and if it's complete or not (boxed, etc.). On eBay I see the work shop 100 go for around USD 50 (no box) to USD 200 (boxed). The engine no. 5 between 100 and 250 USD (state and working order is really important). Hope this helps a bit.
Dee Dee - July 31, 2011
Jerry, I work for Jensen Steam engines. I am the customer service and pack, shipping, assemble. I have 26 years with the company. My husband has been there for 41 years. You can call me at 1-800-525-5245 and we can discuss what engine you have or you can take a picture of it from all angles and send it to 700 Arlington Ave. Jeannette, PA. 15644
►reply: Thanks for this info!
Jerry - May 2, 2011
I am not sure which Jensen I have. It looks like the 65, but has a short stack, the whistle is next to the stack, the fill plug/valve is in the middle and on a 9 1/4 x 10 1/4 blue metal base. It is not electric. It works great and is impressing everyone who see's it work. I don't care what it's worth, I just want to know which model it is and how old it is!
Jeff Hansen - February 28, 2011
I have owned a Jensen 20R for the past 40 years , It is in fair condition, and it works great, curious on the value? Plywood base, includes the steam engine fly wheel, missing the smoke stack.
►reply: Hi Jeff, you can try and ask members of the model steam forum for this particular engine.