Louis Schwitzer-Winner of the first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909

Louis Schwitzer performance pioneer had a hand
in many Indianapolis automotive firms.
by Michael J. Kollins
Reprinted with permission from Wheels, Winter/Spring 1998
Journal of the National Automotive History Collection
Published at Detroit Public Library
On August 19, 1909, a crowd of 15,000 persons gathered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the inaugural weekend of racing.

The winner of the first five mile race turned out to be an automotive engineer, not a professional racing car driver.

His car was a stripped down Stoddard Dayton touring car powered by a four cylinder engine of 212 cubic inch displacement. It traveled at an average speed of 57.4 miles per hour for five miles on the macadam track. The driver’s name was Louis Schwitzer, nicknamed “Louie”. Who was this unknown racer?

Louis Schwitzer was born in Silesia in northwest Austria in 1881. He graduated from the Imperial Artillery Academy in Vienna, and earned master’s degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering from the Universities of Darmstadt and Karshuhe. He left Austria at the turn of the century, arriving in America with only eighteen dollars in his pocket. His first job was with the Holtzer Cabot Company in Boston where he designed the initial magnetic hoist for United States battleships, and worked on such projects as the generators for the trans-Atlantic cables.

Louie entered the automobile industry as an engineer for Pierce Arrow working on one of the first six cylinder engines made in America. He then joined the Canada Cycle and Motor Company as chief engineer, designing the Russell motor car. This experience was very valuable to Louie since at that time the engineer designed the entire vehicle. It was there he met Howard C. Marmon.

Louie raced again in 1910 and 1911, but his greatest accomplishment was not in racing. It was in the design of the famous “Marmon Yellow Jacket” engine which powered the winning Marmon racing car driven by Ray Harroun in winning the first Indy 500 in 1911. Later, Louie joined the Atlas Engine Works as chief engineer. No longer a driver, Louie opted to join the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Technical Committee in 1912, serving as its chairman from 1919 through 1945.

Louis Schwitzer

Louis Schwitzer on the IMS Technical Committee
Also in 1912, Louie joined the Empire Motor Car Company, leaving in 1914 to join the United States Army Motor Transport Corps and was deeply involved in the design of class ‘B’ military trucks and the 150 240 mm gun mounts. In fact, Louie remained active in Ordnance affairs for the rest of his life.

After World War I, Louie felt he could serve the automotive industry better by improving upon existing cooling systems. He started his own business in a one room factory late in 1918 to manufacture automotive cooling fans. When asked by an interviewer why he chose a cooling fan as his first product, he calmly replied, “Because I know more about them than anyone”. As Louie’s company grew, he also was called upon to provide long lasting water pumps. Another innovation saw him replace troublesome gland packing seals that needed constant adjusting, with seals having cartridge-type faces operating against machined surfaces of the impellers. These seals opened new markets in industrial equipment, food processing, and the chemical industries.

During the 1920’s, Schwitzer built probably the first high production super charger for gasoline and diesel engines in America. The experience gained in gear production from the oil pump business was easily transferred to ‘positive displacement’ (rotor) type superchargers which used drive gears to time the revolving two or three lobe rotors. Most notable was the manufacture and application of two rotor Schwitzer superchargers on each of the four Packard A 2500 M engines on Garwood’s Miss America “X” that produced an increase of over 820 horsepower above that of the naturally aspirated A 2500 engines. Gar Wood modestly claimed 1,820 horsepower for each engine.

Schwitzer water pumps, oil pumps and cooling fans later could be found on almost every United States combat vehicle, PT boats, rescue boats and submarines.

After World War II, Schwitzer replaced the more wasteful gear driven superchargers with “turbo chargers” in which the impeller wheel was driven by a turbine wheel using spent exhaust gases. Schwitzer’s low cost, efficient turbochargers were introduced on the Cummins diesel powered racing car which won the pole position for the 1952 Indianapolis 500. Today, turbochargers are considered standard equipment on almost all diesel powered engines. Schwitzer continued in the development of crankshaft dampers before World War II, which are now literally on every heavy duty engine.

Louie Schwitzer retired from the Schwitzer Corporation (now Schwitzer Incorporated), in 1964 at age 83, and died three years later at his Indianapolis home. Louie was a member
of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and served as the Indiana Section Chairman during 1930 1931. Because of his numerous accomplishments, the SAE Indiana Section annually awards the designer of the most innovative racing car at the Indianapolis 500 the “Louis Schwitzer Award.”

Publishers note: Nordyke & Marmon Co., Empire Motor Car Co., and Schwitzer Corporation were all Indianapolis based firms. Thus, Indianapolis and Indiana enjoyed Louis Schwitzer’s many accomplishments from the first days of the Speedway throughout his life.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any books with information about Louis Schwitzer.

Back to: Pioneers – a look at the people involved in Indiana automotive history


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