Tag Archives: Arthur C. Newby

Indianapolis’ Early Auto Innovation – Part 1

The story of Indianapolis’ early automotive heritage begins a little over 120 years ago. Carl G. Fisher’s major recreational pursuit was bicycling. In the summer of 1890, 16 year-old Fisher and a dozen or so like-minded young cycling enthusiasts formed their own social club, the Zig-Zag Cycle Club. The club rented a large brick house adjoining the Empire Theater on Delaware Street. Members participated in riding events to towns located 20 or 30 miles from Indianapolis and back. At the time, riding a high-wheeler bicycle was an athletic challenge on the rutted roads of the time. Joining Fisher on those rides were James A. Allison and Arthur C. Newby.

Carl Fisher
Carl G. Fisher
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In 1891, the seventeen-year-old Fisher and his two brothers opened a bicycle shop on Pennsylvania Street in downtown Indianapolis. Soon, Carl left his brothers Earle and Rollo in charge of the shop, while he engaged in regional bicycle competitions around the Midwest. One of his closest friends and rivals, Barney Oldfield, later became one of the nation’s most famous race car drivers. Bicycle racing provided Fisher the opportunity to cultivate social and business contacts that he would use in the future.

By the late 1890s, Indianapolis as well as the rest of the country was enjoying the bicycle craze. To some, it seemed as if bicycling rivaled baseball as the national pastime. Arthur C. Newby built a quarter-mile wooden racing oval on Central Avenue just north of Fall Creek in 1898 in time for the League of American Wheelman Convention. The velodrome offered seating in covered grandstands for up to 2,000 fans that paid admissions ranging upward from 25 cents.

Fisher purchased his first automobile, a De Dion Bouton motor tricycle in 1898. This budding interest for autos formed the springboard for converting the bicycle shop into an auto dealership later that year. Fisher and automobiles soon became inextricably intertwined in the history of Indianapolis. Fisher, Oldfield, and Newby barnstormed across the Midwest, appearing at dozens of local, regional, and state automobile races in 1901. On October 1, 1904, Fisher won the five-mile Diamond Cup race in Chicago, Illinois, driving the factory-entered Premier Comet.

Newby and two other individuals founded the predecessor of Diamond Chain Company, just outside of Indianapolis’ original mile square at West and South Streets in 1890. It was one of the first companies to exclusively produce bicycle chain in the U.S. As the bicycle craze died down about 1900, they began to produce multi-link chain for other transportation applications like automobiles. They proudly report that the 1903 Wright brothers’ flyer used Diamond Chain. Newby along with L.S. Dow and Phillip Goetz founded the National Automobile & Electric Company in Indianapolis during 1900.

Prest-O-Lite

An incident in 1904 provided the genesis for Fisher’s first fortune. Near his new auto showroom on North Illinois, Carl met Percy C. Avery, the patent holder for a compressed acetylene gas system for lighting buoys and lighthouses, who was looking for investors. Carl was so impressed with Avery’s demonstration of the system that he enlisted his friend James A. Allison to become partners with him and Avery in forming the Concentrated Acetylene Company.

Allison understood that the greatest obstacle to marketing the system was the explosive nature of the gas. Allison hypothesized a test for the compressed gas cylinder. Allison took it to the West Washington Street bridge spanning the White River. He threw it onto the rocks below, but it did not explode. He collected the device from the rocky shore and returned to Fisher’s dealership, where they agreed to start the company. The product they developed was the Prest-O-Lite system for automotive headlights. The Fisher Automobile Company location served as early Prest-O-Lite corporate offices before moving elsewhere.

In 1905, Fisher joined an American team that ventured to France to compete in the Gordon Bennett Cup races. He was stunned by the European cars’ superiority over the American models. This event started his thinking to improve American automobiles.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Visiting Indianapolis’ automotive sites

Over the years I have developed Indianapolis Auto Tours to visit the city’s numerous automotive sites. I would like to share some of the highlights.

In the afternoon, we could kick-off our celebration at the James A. Allison and Frank H. Wheeler’s mansions along millionaire row on the Marian University campus. Let’s look inside these 100 year-old time capsules of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, automotive, and transportation founders.

Allison Mansion
Allison Mansion

Next, we’ll continue with an Auto Pioneer Burial Site Tour at Crown Hill Cemetery nestled along the Dixie Highway. Auto pioneers Carl G. Fisher and Louis Schwitzer are buried on Strawberry Hill near James Whitcomb Riley, President Benjamin Harrison, and Eli Lilly.

Later, we’ll tour the Stutz Motor Car Company complex on Capitol Avenue to view some automobiles built in the building from 1912 -1935. Building proprietor Turner J. Woodard has autos ranging from a Stutz Bearcat to a Stutz Pak-Age-Car.

On the next morning, we’ll go on an Auto Pioneers Tour visiting some mansions along Meridian Street and Fall Creek Parkway. We then continue along Indianapolis’ Automobile Row on North Capitol and auto manufacturing sites around the belt railroads circling the city.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum

After lunch, we’ll go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum to see Fisher’s custom-built 1905 Premier racer designed for the Vanderbilt Cup Race and the Fisher-era Stoddard-Dayton. Our afternoon will finished up by touring by the Prest-O-Lite and Allison Engineering factories on Main Street in Speedway.

It is interesting how this part of Indianapolis’ business and social heritage started over 120 years ago when Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, and Arthur C. Newby met while being members of the Zig-Zag Cycling Club during the 1890’s bicycle craze. Their friendships went on to form the genesis for ventures like the Fisher Automobile Company, Prest-O-Lite Company, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Lincoln Highway, the Dixie Highway, the development of Miami Beach, Allison Engineering Company, Allison Transmission, Indianapolis Stamping Company (the predecessor of today’s Diamond Chain Company), and National Automobile Company. These men and their ideas have brought employment and enjoyment to tens of thousand’s of individuals through the years.

I invite you to contact me at Indianapolis Auto Tours to customize your visit Indianapolis’ automotive sites.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Powel Crosley Jr.’s early automotive exploits in Indiana

Powel Crosley Jr. was born on September 18, 1886, in Cincinnati, OH, but many of his early automotive exploits took place in Indiana.

Powel Crosley, Jr.

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.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Mileposts in Indiana automotive history-Part Two

In this series of posts, I’m sharing some of my list of Indiana’s mileposts in automotive history. I share this automotive heritage to energize and excite auto enthusiasts to get involved with collectible cars.

1906 American Motors Company of Indianapolis develops the American Underslung car, one of the first examples of low-center-of-gravity engineering.

1906 Maxwell-Briscoe, (predecessor of Chrysler Corporation), builds its plant in New Castle. It is the largest automobile plant in the nation.

1906 National Motor Vehicle Company introduces a six-cylinder model, one of the first in America.

1907-American-Underslung
1907-American-Underslung

1907 Willys-Overland Motors is established by auto dealer John North Willys, who takes over control of Overland Automobile of Indianapolis and moves it in 1909 to the old Pope-Toledo plant in Toledo, Ohio.

1909 Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler pool $250,000 in capital to form the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company and transform an Indianapolis west side farm into a two-and-a-half-mile oval that becomes synonymous with automobile racing. The Speedway is designed as an automotive testing ground for U.S. manufactured automobiles to establish American auto supremacy. After the August motorcycle and auto races, the macadam track is repaved with 3,200,000 ten-pound bricks.

1911 The first Indianapolis 500 Mile race is held May 30. A Marmon Wasp averages 75 miles per hour to win. The Wasp employs streamlining via elongated front and rear sections and adds the innovation of a rearview mirror.

1911 Haynes Automobile Company is the first to equip an open car with a top, a windshield, headlamps and a speedometer as standard equipment.

1912 Stutz Motor Car Company is founded by Harry C. Stutz, who merges his Stutz Auto Parts with Ideal Motor Car.

1912-Stutz-Model-A Roadster
1912-Stutz-Model-A Roadster

1912 The Davis car is the first to have a center-control gearshift and the Bendix self-starter.

1912 The Stutz Bearcat is introduced with a design patterned on the White Squadron racing cars that won victories in 1913. Stutz also produces family cars, while the Bearcat provides lively competition for the Mercer made at Trenton, New Jersey.

1913 On July 1, the Lincoln Highway Association is created with Henry B. Joy (president, Packard Motor Company) as president and Carl G. Fisher as vice president. The Lincoln Highway is conceived as America’s first transcontinental highway.

1913 Premier and Studebaker concurrently introduce a six-cylinder engine featuring mono bloc engine casting.

1914 The Haynes is one of the first autos to offer the Vulcan Electric Gear Shift as standard equipment.

1914-Haynes-Model-28-Touring-Car
1914-Haynes-Model-28-Touring-Car

Mileposts in Indiana automotive history -Part One

To learn more about Indiana’s automotive innovation, I invite you to pick up a copy of Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana click here.

Made in Indiana 1913

Over one hundred years ago, Indiana made a name for itself in the automotive industry. In spring 1913, Indiana ranked second among the states in the manufacturing of automobiles. More than 40 manufacturers of pleasure cars and commercial vehicles marketed their products with a total value exceeding $50,000,000. Plus, Indiana manufacturers won the first two Indianapolis 500 mile races in 1911 and 1912.

But the story of early success begins a few years prior. Indiana’s plentiful supply of lumber lured several industries into its borders, including the makers of carriages and wagons during the mid to late 1800’s. The automobile industry in this time frame was a natural offspring of carriage manufacturers, which could provide not just parts but skilled labor as well.

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer
Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

Elwood Haynes demonstrated one of America’s first gasoline automobiles along the outskirts of Kokomo, Indiana, on July 4, 1894. Nearly 20 years later Indiana was one of the leading automotive manufacturing states.

Instrumental to Indiana’s auto growth were Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison, who met in Indianapolis during the bicycle craze of the early 1890’s. They went on to form the Prest-O-Lite Company to develop headlight systems. Their bicycling companion Arthur C. Newby was one of the founders of the Diamond Chain Company and the National Motor Vehicle Company. In 1909, these individuals along with Frank H. Wheeler founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to establish American automobile supremacy.

These are a sampling of the innovative Hoosier auto pioneers who contributed to the growth of Indiana’s auto industry.

The April 1913 American Motorist states “For though competition is as keen in Indiana as elsewhere, the attitude of the business man in the automobile industry in that State shows a spirit which is both refreshing and significant. The men of Indiana take a big and broad view that the market is large enough to take all of their products and pay good prices for them and that they can sell the output of their factories without crushing one another.”

American Motorist further noted “The fraternal spirit of the automobile men is crystallized in the Indiana Automobile Manufacturers Association. Like the Tribes of old, the men of Indiana annually marshal their forces and carry the banner of the Hoosier State through the villages and towns near their State.”

In 1912, during the IAMA’s Four-States Tour, 28 member vehicles participated in a 16-day trip through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. In this way, the participants reached the eyes and ears of about 5,000,000 people. These tours were non-competitive events operated under a gentleman’s agreement, which agreement was kept in letter and spirit.

Made In Indiana
Said the man form California
To his friend from Bangor, Maine:
“Have you heard the latest slogan?
Have you caught the sweet refrain?”
Said the man from Bangor,
Yes, Sir,”
And they warbled forth this glee:
“If it’s made in Indiana,
Oh, it’s good enough for me!”
–W.M. Herschell, in the American Motorist, April 1913

I believe that Indiana’s skilled laborers, entrepreneurial Hoosier individuals, and the IAMA fostered a spirit of cooperation and collaboration that allowed the member companies to grow and prosper in the competitive automotive market of the early 1900’s.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.