Indiana cars, companies, & communities lead the way on the automotive landscape.
Indiana played a significant part in the development of the automobile in America. More than 400 automobiles, trucks, and cyclecars with various names can claim Indiana production or assemblage, which accounts for more than eight percent of the approximate 5,000 vehicle names produced in the United States. In 1909, Indiana was the second largest producer (13.1 percent) of the nation’s automobiles after Michigan (51.1 percent). David L. Lewis notes in The Automobile in American Culture that until 1905, Indianapolis contained more auto plants than any city in Michigan.
“In light of history, it now seems possible that Indianapolis missed passing Detroit and becoming the world’s automotive center merely because it failed to advance the spark at the correct moment,” writes Carl B. Glasscock in Motor History of America: The story of the men who made it. Many believe that under different circumstances, Indiana would have risen to prominence as America’s automotive capital.
Historians record that the automobile industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s was the natural offspring of carriage and bicycle manufacturers. These companies could provide both the needed parts and skilled labor. Indiana had a good share of these manufacturers who made the transition.
A growth spurt between 1910 and 1920 separated the nation’s automakers into two groups-the auto giants with mass-production and the craftsmen. Most of Indiana’s automakers chose to remain craftsmen, purchased automotive parts, and assembled them by hand. As a result, these companies were small, and many became known for producing high-class and high-priced cars. Nearly every one of the Indiana cars that became well-known was in this category, including Duesenberg, Cord, Stutz, and Cole, and they appealed to the upper end of the consumer market.
Until about 1920, there seemed to be enough demand for both the mass-produced and the high-quality cars. However, a series of economic factors at this time helped contribute to the decline of Hoosier automaking. For example, the economic recession in the early 1920s added more financial burdens on the population, which became increasingly interested in the less-expensive autos that were mass-produced. Hoosier manufacturers were ill-prepared for this kind of competition. Most wanted to remain craftsmen choosing to concentrate on medium- and high-priced vehicles instead of diversifying. Plus, the Hoosier financial community generally proved of little assistance to its local automobile industry.
The Great Depression of the 1930s finished off many manufacturers. A notable exception was Studebaker in South Bend. The company continued Indiana production until December 1963.
I invite you to peruse these sections looking at the Indiana cars, companies, & communities that led the way on the American automotive landscape.