Indiana Cars jacket

Indiana Cars: Dedicated to those early pioneers of Indiana’s automotive history

Indiana once vied for Michigan’s title as the automotive titan of the United States. It was a time when the names of automobiles like Haynes, Auburn, Studebaker, Duesenberg, Stutz, and Cord brought worldwide acclaim to the Hoosier state. Innovation and activity were particularly rich in Indiana during the early 1900s, and the state’s contributions to automotive history throughout the decades have been numerous. Tilt steering, cruise control, and hydraulic brakes are just three examples of the innovations introduced by Indiana automotive pioneers. Yet the innovators themselves have become nearly forgotten-overlooked as we take their inventions increasingly for granted as part of the standard equipment on today’s models.

Innovators like Fred and August Duesenberg, Elwood Haynes, and Howard C. Marmon worked during a time that Indiana dared to rival Michigan. They were among the pioneering Hoosiers found in more than 40 Indiana cities and towns in which automobiles were manufactured or assembled.

More than 400 automobiles, trucks, and cyclecars with various names can claim Indiana production or assemblage, which accounts for more than 8 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 o 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.

The 1980s and 1990s saw a revival in Indiana auto production with the introduction of the autos and sport utility vehicles at Subaru lsuzu Automotive, Inc. in Lafayette; sport utility vehicles and full-size pickups at GM Truck Group in Fort Wayne; and off-road and military vehicles at AM General Corporation in Mishawaka. Toyota’s North American
Truck Plant in Princeton also ramped up to produce full-size pickups and sport utility vehicles.

That is only part of the equation of Indiana’s impact on the automotive industry. Indiana is a leading producer of automotive components, electronics, and parts. If you drive an American-produced automobile, there is an excellent chance that a good part of it is made in Indiana. For instance, all Chrysler auto transmissions are made in Kokomo.

Indiana employment accounts for a large share of the American auto parts workers.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics rank Indiana third in the number of employees in its transportation-equipment industry. Only Michigan and Ohio employ more. Indiana also ranks number one in the production of truck and bus bodies, and second in making carburetors, pistons, piston rings, and valves. Manufacturers include Bosch Braking

Systems, Cummins Engine Company, Delphi Automotive, and New Venture Gear. The
“Big Three”-GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler-also continue to invest in Indiana.

Indiana’s automotive history is indeed rich and extensive. The authors of this book, however, have chosen to dedicate it particularly to those early pioneers of Indiana’s automotive history. Throughout the following pages, you will find stories of innovation and perseverance as you review the events that shaped the state’s automotive history.

An auto prayer from the 1912 Wisconsin Motorist
Teach us to drive through life without skidding into other people’s business.

Preserve our brake linings that we may stop before we are ditched.

Help us to find the knocks in our own motors and

harken not so much to clashing of other men’s gears.

1912 Cole

This Cole model provided plenty of space for the family. (c. 1912)
Photo courtesy of Leroy D. Cole

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