Louis Schwitzer’s contributions to excellence in engineering continues today.

Louis Schwitzer
Louis Schwitzer
Used with permission of the
National Automotive History Collection
at Detroit Public Library

In his honor, the Indiana Section of SAE International and BorgWarner present the BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award each year for innovation and engineering excellence in race car design at the Indianapolis 500.

The Schwitzer saga started on August 19, 1909, when 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, Schwitzer, 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. It traveled at an average speed of 57.4 miles per hour for five miles on the macadam track. The driver was nicknamed “Louie”.

Born in Austria, Louie had the advantage of a formal education in mechanical and design engineering. He left Austria at the turn of the century, arriving in America with only $18 in his pocket.

Louie entered the automobile industry as an engineer for Pierce Arrow, working on one of the first six-cylinder engines made in America. A chance meeting with industrialist Howard C. Marmon brought an invitation to Indianapolis.

Louie found the “action” he sought in Indianapolis with his new job as design engineer at Nordyke and Marmon. He helped design 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, Schwitzer 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.

Also in 1912, Louie joined the Empire Motor Car Company, leaving in 1914 to join the United States Army Motor Transport Corps. He 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”.

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. The first application was on a Stutz Bearcat.

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.

Louie Schwitzer retired from the Schwitzer Corporation (now Schwitzer Incorporated), in 1964 at age 83. He died three years later at his Indianapolis home. In recognition of this true automotive pioneer, the Indiana Section SAE annually presents the BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award for innovation and engineering excellence in race car design.

This year on Friday, May 20th, the Indiana Section of SAE International and BorgWarner present the BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award at the Indianapolis 500.

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.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

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