Powel Crosley Jr. was born on September 18, 1886, in Cincinnati, OH, but many of his early automotive exploits took place in Indiana.
In 1900, the age of the automobile was dawning across America. Powel became interested in cars and sketched his own design of an automobile, which he demonstrated late that summer.
In 1907, he incorporated the Marathon Motor Car Company housed in rented factory space in Connersville, IN. The Marathon Six was an assembled car with all of the components purchased from outside sources. By early fall he finished the prototype and landed six advance orders. Then the Panic of 1907 started in October, and investment capital dried up across the country. Marathon went under due to lack of funds.
In 1908, Indianapolis seemed poised to establish itself as a center of the automobile industry. Carl Graham Fisher, owner/operator of the Fisher Automobile Company, hired Powel as a floor hand at his dealership on North Illinois Street. While working for Fisher, Powel crossed paths with everyone who was anyone in Indianapolis, including most of the big names in the city’s auto industry like racers Barney Oldfield and Johnny Aitken and industrialist James A. Allison, Fisher’s Prest-O-Lite partner.
In summer 1909, Powel talked himself into a job as assistant sales manager at David M. Parry’s new Parry Automobile Company. It was Powel’s job to visit dealers and inspect operations, help them generate excitement, and promote sales.
In February 1909, Fisher and Allison, along with partners Arthur C. Newby of National Motor Vehicle Co., and Frank H. Wheeler of Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company, bought 320 acres northwest of Indianapolis to develop the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Powel began spending a lot of time there promoting the Parry Automobile Company and talking with anyone and everyone who would listen – drivers, mechanics, and the press. “He never shut up,” one observer said. Powel’s hopes heightened – maybe he could leverage his way back into manufacturing his own automobile.
Powel soon moved on to a sales position with Newby’s National Motor Vehicle Co. Within a few weeks he was working with Aitken and the rest of the company’s racing team publicizing the cars. Later, he was working for the Inter-State Automobile Company in Muncie, IN, while there he watched the 1911 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Powel and his brother Lewis developed the Crosley automobile in 1939, but that’s a story for another time.
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