Indiana’s place in automotive history

Indiana once vied for Michigan’s title as the automotive titan of the United States. It was at a time when the names of automobiles like Duesenberg, Stutz and Cord brought worldwide acclaim to the Hoosier state. Indiana’s contributions to automotive history have been numerous. Tilt steering, cruise control and hydraulic brakes are just three examples of the innovations created by Indiana automotive pioneers. Yet the innovators themselves have become nearly forgotten–overlooked as we take their inventions increasing for granted as part of the standard equipment on today’s models.

Indiana’s automotive innovation began with Elwood Haynes’ kitchen experiment on an internal combustion engine in the fall of 1893. Haynes’ research and development led to the demonstration of his “Pioneer” automobile along Pumpkivine Pike, outside Kokomo, on July 4, 1894. Haynes and two passengers traveled at a speed of seven miles an hour and drove about one and one-half miles further into the country. He then turned the auto around, and ran the four miles into town without making a single stop.

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer
Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

“I remember as the “little machine” made its way along the streets we were met by a “bevy” of girls mounted on wheels.,” Haynes noted. “I shall never forget the expression on their faces as they wheeled aside, separating like a flock of swans and gazing wonder-eyed at the uncouth and utterly unexpected “little machine.”

In 1898 the Haynes-Apperson Company was incorporated and auto production was on its way in Indiana.

By the late 1800s Indiana’s plentiful supply of lumber had also lured several industries into its borders, including the makers of carriages and wagons. The automobile industry in the early 1900s was a natural offspring of carriage manufacturers, which could provide not just parts but the skilled labor as well. Five Indiana manufacturers entered commercial automobile production in the late 1890s.

1902 Studebaker Stanhope
1902 Studebaker Stanhope

By 1900, The Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company was one of the few firms in the country with annual production exceeding 100 units. In the 1900s, 74 different models were introduced by Indiana manufacturers. These models range from A to Z, with names like Auburn, Cole, InterState, Lambert, Marmon, Maxwell, National, Overland, Premier, Richmond, Studebaker, Waverly, and Zimmerman.

The growth spurt between 1910 and 1920 separated the nation’s auto makers into two groups–the “mass-produced auto giants” and the “craftsmen.” Most of Indiana’s auto makers chose to be “craftsmen” and purchased automotive parts and assembled them by hand. Thus, 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 were in this category, includ¬ing names like Duesenberg, Cord, Stutz and Cole, appealing to the upper end of the consumer market.

Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Twenty Grand Duesenberg

The teens saw the introduction of another 69 Indiana models. Included in this group are Elcar, Empire, Jack Rabbit, Lexington, McIntyre, McFarlan, Monroe, Parry, ReVere, and Stutz.

Until about 1920, there seemed to enough demand for both the “mass-produced” and “high-quality” cars. However, a series of eco¬nomic factors at this time helped contribute to the decline of Hoosier auto making. Price slashing and an expansion-crazed environment trapped Indiana manufacturers in a philosophical battle with the Michigan titans. Hoosiers were ill-prepared for this kind of competition, and most wanted to remain craftsmen choosing to concen¬trate on “higher priced” vehicles instead of diversifying. Plus, the economic recession in the early 1920s added more financial burdens on the population, which became increasingly interested in the “mass-produced auto.”

Michigan had the financial backers willing to commit financial resources to give the state’s auto manufacturing the boost it needed. The Hoosier financial community generally proved to be of little assistance to its own local automobile industry.

Indiana in the twenties saw this decline to 22 models introduced. Among these were Blackhawk, Cord, Duesenberg, Elgin, Erskine, H.C.S., Lafayette, and Roosevelt.

1963-Avanti-Front
1963 Avanti
Copyright © 1962 Studebaker Corporation

Studebaker was the lone Hoosier survivor of the depression, continuing production for another 30 years, ending in December 1963.

Commercial production of the automobile in America began a little over 120 years ago, and America’s lifestyle has never been the same. Indiana automakers have made many contributions to that history. So, the next time you drive your car, you might wonder where you’d be without Indiana’s continuing automotive innovation and contributions.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

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