Perilous Drives

Charles H. Black of Indianapolis was one of the early automotive pioneers. He probably was also one of the first Americans to actually drive an automobile, a German-made Benz in 1891.

Black 10-passenger Wagonette
Black 10-passenger Wagonette

This historic journey in Indianapolis resulted in another automotive first, according to an account related by Black’s mechanic. During this six-block drive, Black crashed into a surrey when the horses became frightened – the first automobile accident. At the next turn, the car drove into the Occidental Hotel shop window, thereby, creating the second automobile accident. The third happened when the auto destroyed another shop window a few feet away.

Acting in accordance with the suggestions from the police, Black and his passengers drove back to his carriage factory, ending one of the first automobile journeys in America.


Joseph J. and Nellie Cole in first car
Joseph J. and Nellie Cole in first car

In 1908, Joseph J. Cole entered the newly established automobile manufacturing field in Indianapolis. He was so excited about the prospect of driving his first automobile that he forgot that one important accessory was missing – the brakes. He spend most of the afternoon on this initial test drive driving around and around Monument Circle in downtown until the car ran out of gas, providing the necessary means to stop the car. He then had the car towed back to his shop.


Carl G. Fisher w 1913 Packard Runabout
Carl G. Fisher w 1913 Packard Runabout

A story about Carl G. Fisher, one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Lincoln Highway, illustrates the lack of adequate facilities for traveling any distance in the early days of the automobile. Around 1912, Fisher and a few friends were driving in unfamiliar territory nine miles outside the city limits of Indianapolis. Night fell along with a torrent of rain. In an open – top car, Fisher and his friends were drenched is seconds and miserably lost. There were no street lights to guide them in the pitch black night or road signs marking the way.

They did, however, feel comfortable that they had guessed the way back home until they came to a three-way fork in the road. No one was sure which fork to take, but someone thought he saw a sign at the top of a pole. Fisher lost the competition as to who would have to climb the pole to read the sign. So, he shinnied up the pole and attempted to light a match so that he could read the sign. One match after another was extinguished by the rain. Finally, one lit so that Fisher could read the sign-“Chew Battle-Ax Plug.”

This experience may have been one reason that Fisher became one of the automotive pioneers responsible for making night travel and long distance drives a reality. Fisher was instrumental in developing head lights and building modern highway systems.

For more information on Indiana rides & drives follow this link.

Leave a Reply