Joseph Stevens (senior) was born in Wednesfield in 1856, and became a self employed engineering blacksmith in 1874. His company, called J. Stevens & Company had premises in Cross Street, Wednesfield. He became a highly skilled craftsman who undertook all kinds of metalwork from making horseshoes, parts for a horses harness and bridle, to repairing or making garden tools. He also worked on such diverse things as bicycles, and carried out work for the lock trades. Joseph and his wife Sarah had nine children. All of them in time would be involved in the family business.
Joseph's eldest son Harry joined him in the business, and they moved to premises in Tempest Street near Wolverhampton town centre, where they were soon joined by Joseph's third son Joe junior. Harry soon acquired his fathers engineering skills and began to design all kinds of machines and tools for use in the lock industry. Joseph acquired a small American 'Mitchell' single cylinder, 4 stroke, petrol driven engine for use at the works. It was poorly built and unreliable, but interested Harry greatly.
He decided that he could do better and set about designing and building his own engine. Rough castings were obtained from a company at Derby. These were machined by the two brothers, who built the engine in their spare time. It was completed late in 1897 and became an instant success. It outperformed the 'Mitchell' engine in every way, being reliable and efficient, and delivered about 1¾hp. The carburettor was built from an old mustard tin. Harry and his father were quick to realise that a large market existed for reliable petrol engines for use in industry. They decided to manufacture engines and set up the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company in 1899.
This was to have far reaching consequences for Wolverhampton, thanks to Harry, who was the mechanical genius of the family. Clyno would eventually move here to produce motorcycles and cars, Sunbeam would start to produce motorcycles of its own, based on one of Harry's designs, and of course A.J.S. was founded in 1909.
One wonders if Wolverhampton would have been such a large vehicle manufacturing centre without Harry starting it all. He is certainly one of the unsung heroes of the City.
The following sections describe the company's motorcycle manufacturing history beginning with the manufacture of petrol engines. The other products produced by the company are described in different sections of the museum.
I would like to thank the late Geoff Stevens for all of his help and encouragement in producing this section.