Leafing Through History

Steve Kastorff

 Geneseo and Henry County have been home for many businesses.  The Canning Factory, The Geneseo Creamery, The Eagle Stove Works, and The Piston Factory were just a few of those early industries of Geneseo.

   Another early business that was in the Maple City was the Hornecker Motor Manufacturing Company.  Hornecker Motor Manufacturing Company operated in Geneseo from 1907 through 1910.  The factory was constructed at the corner of Exchange and Russell Streets north of the Geneseo train depot.  A story in the November 29, 1907 issue of the Bureau County Tribune stated, “The Hornecker Motor Cycle factory will locate in Geneseo.  The arrangements were completed last week.  A building 50 x 100 feet will be built at once.  The motor cycle made by the company is called the Torpedo.”  More information about the opening of the new factory appeared in The Horseless Age: The Automobile Trade Magazine, Volume 21 No. 6 February 5, 1908.  This article stated, “The Hornecker Motor Manufacturing Company last week moved into its new building in Geneseo, Ill from Whiting, Ind.”

    George Hornecker was the man responsible for bringing the Hornecker Motor Manufacturing Company to Geneseo.  Hornecker was born in Geneseo, the son of George and Catherine Hornecker.  He was the fifth of their nine children born to the German farming family.  During his childhood, Hornecker was put to work on the family farm.  While working on the farm and spending time in Geneseo, Hornecker met Reverend Herman Philip Willie’s daughter, Clara.  In 1891, the Reverend and his family moved to Whiting, Indiana to serve at the First Lutheran Church in that community.  A short time later Hornecker would move from Geneseo to Whiting, following Clara, and take a job at the Standard Oil Refinery.

   In March of 1897, Clara and George were married and Hornecker turned his attention to becoming a successful businessman in Whiting.  He opened has own hardware store, which by 1904 had developed into one of the area’s most popular department stores. 

   With his career path heading upward Hornecker decided to change careers in 1905 and sold his department store.  By 1906, Hornecker opened the Hornecker Motor Manufacturing Company.  This business operated in a 30 x 113 feet building in Whiting.  The company sold Rambler Automobiles, operated a garage to service all types of motor vehicles, and began to build the “Torpedo” motorcycle.  One of the new ideas that was added to the Torpedo was that the motorcycle had a throttle control on the handle grips.

   To prove the Torpedo’s design, Hornecker and his partners entered the motorcycle in many races throughout the Midwest including the 300-mile run for the 1906 Chicago American Silver Cup.  The Torpedo did not finish in first.  However it did finish in 12th place allowing it to be entered in the Chicago Examiner Cup Race.  While once again the Torpedo did not end the race with the fastest time, it did earn the Examiner Cup by accumulating the most points.  The Cup was proudly brought back to the factory and put on display for all who visited the Whiting business to see.  By winning the race the company also saw an increase in sales of the Torpedo.

   The good times came to an end when Clara became ill and the financial stresses from the medical care and the cost of raising their children caused changes for the Hornecker Motor Company.  With need for help in caring for Clara and raising his young family, Hornecker decided to close the Whiting factory and move back to Geneseo.  The move back to the Maple City would give Hornecker the help he needed, as his was family still living in Geneseo.  The move was highlighted in the July 7, 1908 issue of the Hammond Times newspaper.  In an article titled; “Alderman Resigns Job George Hornecker of Whiting Will Go Into Business At Geneseo, Ill” it was stated; “George Hornecker of the second ward handed in his resignation last night at a meeting of the city council, to take effect on August 1.  Councilman Hornecker has moved his family to Geneseo, Ill and established himself in business there.  Mr. Hornecker will leave for Geneseo in a few weeks.  His successor has not yet been appointed, this being deferred until the August meeting of the Council.  Mr. Hornecker was elected for the first time to the Whiting Council in 1904 after which he served a completed term of two years. In 1906 he was elected for a term of four years and has now served about half of it.”

   After moving the manufacturing of the Torpedo to Geneseo the motorcycle continued to be on of the Midwest’s most purchased motorcycle.   However, by 1910 Hornecker’s financial situation caused him to close the Geneseo Factory and move his family to the Chicago area.  Hornecker ended his career as a manager for the Bent Brothers Hardware Store.  Today, while George Hornecker is not a famous name, the Torpedo motorcycle is very collectable.  Mike Wolfe of American Pickers continues to search across the nation for a Torpedo.

   A special thanks goes out to the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society for the research and information about the life of George Hornecker in Whiting, Indiana.

Photograph of the Torpedo Motorcycle that was made in Geneseo.
George Hornecker