Society for the Preservation of Steam Engines

The history of Kemna *)

Julius Kemna was born in 1837 at Wuppertal as a farmers son. He qualified himself into engineering and started its own workshop in Breslau (nowadays Poland). In 1867 he commenced to make small agricultural machines. As soon as 1870 he took on an agency from the English steam plough firm of John Fowler. Kemna sold the engines and when needed he hired a crew of men to the purchaser to operate the engines and to maintain them. 

Some time later Kemna started to produce steam traction engines himself, still to the English design, soon followed by steam ploughs, which made Germany the only nation outside the British that produced steam ploughs. In a census taken in 1925, there were no less than 1600 steam plough sets located in Germany! In addition, Kemna also made threshing and crop cutting equipment under the trade name 'Wratislawia'. 

Soon the factory expanded and slowly a type of steam ploughs and steam traction engines were developed that did not exactly match the British design. Most of the design of British engines had a single cylinder or two cylinders of the compound type where the steam coming from the high-pressure cylinder is fed into the larger low-pressure cylinder.  

In 1908 the first set of steam ploughs with two high-pressure cylinders and a super heater was built by Kemna. Later, from 1912 onwards, the famous steam ploughs were built that were used for the reclamation and cultivation of moors and peat-lands. From these engines that were still used after World War II, only 2 sets remain carrying the numbers 337/338 and 412/413 and they can be seen in German musea (Sinsheim and Berlin). Nice to know is that Fowler started to experiment with super heaters as well, but limited by German patents it never became a great success.

At the time of World War I the German army had a great need for strong steam traction engines to pull guns and heavy equipment to the frontline. Kemna could not deliver the required number of engines and so other manufacturers were required. These engines were classified as type EM (= Einheits Machine) and apart from Kemna they were built by MAN, Hartmann, Krauss and Haubold. Lanz did build larger numbers for the army but not from the EM type. However, the smoking chimneys of the steam traction engines were not exactly an advantage at the frontline making them an easy target and before the end of World War I a lot of steam traction engines were replaced by traction engines with combustion engines. 

After the war a large amount of EM engines were taken as war reparations and they landed all over Europe and even in Great-Britain. Until World War II Kemna maintained and made spare parts for steam traction engines and steam ploughs, but meanwhile road construction became their main business, equipped with Deutz engines. In 1945 the factory was fully destroyed by a bombardment of the Allies. After World War II the enterprise continued in Pinneburg near Hamburg as a road construction firm and they are still in business. In front of their headquarters an original Kemna steam roller stands on a plinth, in remembrance op the firms past.

How many Kemnas still remain? Not a lot, not more than some tens. There are three engines in Great Britain of which two on the Isle of Man. In Germany exists a restored specimen owned by the agricultural museum in Alt Schwerin, while another engine is currently being restored. And of course our own engine coming from Latvia. It is not unlikely that more engines exist in the Baltic states, which might emerge sooner or later .


kemnas.jpg (68237 bytes)

This picture was taken on May 11th, 1919 somewhere in Nurnberg and shows 29 engines of the EM type ! What has happened with these engines is unclear, probably they were sold inside as well as outside Germany


This advertisement, dated 1919 as well, shows that Kemna had steam traction engines for sale that originally were produced for the army (Heeresverwaltung) and that one could make a test-drive !


*) This article is mainly based on a article  in Steaming. Vol 41, No 3 of 1998 written by Michael Grundling and Derek Rayner.

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