Tag Archives: Carl G. Fisher

Schedule an Indianapolis Auto Tour

If you are an auto enthusiast looking to do something that is truly unique in Indianapolis, then scheduling an Indianapolis Auto Tour fits the bill.

Stutz Motor Car Company
The Stutz Motor Car Company

Did you know that at one time Indianapolis had more automobile manufacturers than Detroit?

Fortunately, Indianapolis still has over 30 manufacturing buildings and homes from this era to document this heritage. Did you know Indianapolis’ auto heritage is much more than auto racing.

Dennis E. Horvath is a “genuine car nut,” who enthusiastically shares his obsession for autos and touring. With a 20-year background sharing auto history, many have said that “Dennis brings the story of Indianapolis’ automotive heritage to life.”

Have Dennis travel along with you and learn about the Indianapolis auto leaders who had a significant impact on the American transportation experience. For example, find out about how Louis Chevrolet became the first builder to win two Indianapolis 500’s with cars built in Indianapolis. Hear about the Duesenberg brothers building their prestigious luxury cars and race cars on Washington Street. Learn about Carl G. Fisher, one of America’s forgotten promoters, starting as a bicyclist in the 1890’s and going on to promote auto racing and develop transcontinental highways and leisure destinations. Discover tidbits about Harry C. Stutz who accomplished an amazing feat with his first Stutz automobile that finished 11th in the 1911 Indianapolis 500-mile race.

These and many more unique stories allow you connect to our transportation heritage. It extends from our everyday car, to luxury cars, and modern highway systems. Indianapolis Auto Tours transport you back to the era when autos were more about the journey than the destination.

Testimonial
For anyone with even a passing interest in the auto industry, Indianapolis Auto Tours, conducted by Dennis Horvath, provides a fascinating look at how pervasive the industry once was in the city of Indianapolis. There are a surprising number of buildings still standing that help tell the story of the auto industry’s early days in Indy. Buildings that once housed legendary marques, such as Marmon, Stutz, Duesenberg, and numerous others still have a physical presence in the city, but many people unknowingly drive right past them every day. Dennis relates fascinating stories about not only the companies, but also the leading industry personalities who once occupied those buildings whose success in the formative years of the auto industry ensured their rightful place in history.
Ted Woerner,
Co-Owner, Miles Ahead

Click here to Plan Your Visit.

Carl G. Fisher’s thoughts on marketing electric automobiles in June 1909

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

The following is a letter from Carl G. Fisher, president of the Fisher Automobile Company in Indianapolis, regarding his thoughts on marketing electric automobiles in June 18, 1909.

Heretofore, I have refrained from handling the Electric Automobile for the reason that I considered the manufacturers of this type of car had not made sufficient advance in construction.

1909 Baker Eelctric
1909 Baker Eelctric

After investigating the general situation carefully, I find the Baker Motor Vehicle Co. has adopted as their unit of action the purchase of the obtainable material regardless of cost and the employment of skilled workmen who with intelligent precision follow the lines of design laid down by their mechanical and electric engineers. Their ten years of experience in the manufacture of these electric carriages, together with constant development has produced a more perfect harmony of construction than can be found elsewhere.

Supplementing this the Baker motor is equipped with Imported Annular Ball Bearings, that eliminate mechanical friction to the minimum point. In every revolving part of every Baker Electric will be found anti-friction bearings, of the most approved type, expensive, as it relates to the cost to produce, but giving results that develop the wide difference in quality between this and other makes.

This nicety of construction and adjustment saves power to propel the car and the consumption of current from the batteries is less, consequently, the mileage is more, the speed is greater, and the life of the battery plates longer – hence the cost of maintenance is less and the result in service and satisfaction beyond anything before attained in an Electric Carriage.

I have proven beyond a question of doubt the superiority of the Baker Electric and do not hesitate to recommend it.

To a purchaser of the Baker Electric the Fisher Automobile Co. will garage the car for $25 per month; this includes a thorough inspection, charging, washing, cleaning, polishing, calling for and delivering once each per day. To those who prefer keeping their car at home, we will for one year give you two thorough inspections per month free.

A demonstration at your home does not obligate you in any way.

Very truly yours,
Carl G. Fisher

I find Carl Fisher’s comments interesting in evaluating cars for resale. This demonstrates his comprehensive thought process in whatever he was involved in. I value this letter from one of Indiana’s auto pioneers. I think you’ll enjoy it also.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers, follow this link.

Speedway a “Model” city

Speedway was laid out as a “model” city in July 1912. It was planned by Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, owners of the Globe Realty Company, and Lem H. Trotter, their real estate partner.

The partners conceived Speedway to be a horseless manufacturing city adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The city was to be as nearly fireproof as modern skills could make it. The industrial buildings were to be of concrete, steel, and tile, to avoid the use of inflammable material wherever possible. The streets were to be broad, paved thoroughfares named after pioneers in the automobile industry, such as Fisher, Allison, Winton, Cord, Auburn, and kindred titles.

The new city was to be attractive to skilled mechanics with comfortable and modern homes. The partners hoped these workers would be an asset for their planned manufacturing center. They builders desired to attract to Speedway substantial concerns in the automotive industry and hoped the prospective plants would draw over 10,000 workers in a few years.

Fisher and Allison’s Prest-O-Lite Company was the first to build five buildings on the north plat near 16th and Main Streets.

allison-marker

The lots on the west side of Main Street were originally specified for stores and offices. In late 1915, Allison became the sole owner of the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company and moved operations to a small shop on the west side of Main Street. The morning after America declared war on Germany in 1917, Allison instructed his chief engineer to find out how to get war orders going. Thus, the Allison Experimental Company was founded. Allison Experimental Company Plant 1 was built on the south side of 13th and Main Street in 1917 to produce Liberty aircraft engines and other war material.

Other factories followed and the residential streets began to fill up. In 1926, the town was incorporated and experienced explosive growth during World War II when the company, then known as Allison Division of General Motors, became a large manufacturer of military aircraft engines.

Dallara Indy Car Factory
Dallara Indy Car Factory

Speedway is experiencing renewal along Main Street in this new century. Some of these new buildings are the Dallara Indy Car Factory, Speedway Indoor Karting facility, and the A. J. Foyt Racing shops. Thus, the town is returning to its racing roots.

I invite you to come and see what’s happening in Speedway, the model city.

For more information on Indiana’s auto pioneers, follow this link.

Indianapolis’ Early Auto Innovation – Part 2

Late in 1908, Carl and one of his real estate associates, Lem Trotter, were returning home on a drive from Dayton, Ohio, to Indianapolis. Their anticipated short drive soon became difficult. The car overheated twice and just inside the Indiana border the vehicle blew the third tire of the day. Fisher remarked to Trotter about how unreliable American cars were and that the nation needed a suitable test track. Trotter challenged Fisher: “You’ve been talking about a racetrack ever since you got back from Europe. If you think it will make money, why don’t you build it yourself?” Fisher encouraged Trotter to find a suitable site for such a track.

Trotter located a 320-acre parcel known as the Pressley farm, located about five miles west of downtown Indianapolis along Crawfordsville Pike. Fisher immediately enlisted his business partner Allison, who shared Fisher’s excitement for the venture. They approached mutual friends and racing associates: Arthur C. Newby, and carburetor manufacturer Frank H. Wheeler to join them. They filed incorporation papers under the name of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company, capitalized at $250,000, on February 8, 1909. They immediately began planning for the 1909 racing season.

Louis Strang with IMS model 1909
Louis Strang with IMS model 1909

For more on the happenings at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway peruse my blogs during April and May each year.

July 3, 1912, marked the founding of the town of Speedway Indiana. On this date, deeds were transferred for the 240-acre site to Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison, owners of the Globe Realty Company, and Lem Trotter, their real estate partner.

The partners conceived the town of Speedway to be a horseless manufacturing city adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway served by two railroads and modern thoroughfares. The city was designed to be attractive to skilled workers to provide steady employment for the nearby factories.

The realty company laid out the residential section on a grid of streets between 16th and 10th streets and between Main and Winton. The east side of Main Street was platted for factories.

Carl G. Fisher drives the Stoddard Dayton pace car 1909
Carl G. Fisher drives the Stoddard Dayton pace car 1909

Fisher and Allison’s Prest-O-Lite Company was the first to build five buildings on the north plat near 16th Street. The charging building was located at the far end of the property to preclude damage to other properties from possible gas explosions. This facility opened in May 12, 1913. Swartz Electric Company, makers of automobile batteries and electric appliances, opened its plant about the same time. The Electric Steel Company completed facilities in 1915. The lots on the west side of Main Street were specified for stores and offices.

Shortly after the introduction of the electric starting and lighting system by Cadillac in 1912, Fisher and Allison soon realized that this system would soon dominate the automotive market. Fortunately, they found a company interested in purchasing their Prest-O-Lite holdings. Union Carbide realized that the containers produced by Fisher and Allison had dozens of other marketable uses. In addition, the company had discovered other applications for the gasses, from welding to medical purposes. Union Carbide offered the partners roughly $9 million in a combination of cash and stock for their business in 1917.

Following the 1915 500 mile race, Fisher and Allison became concerned that European teams would not participate in International races during World War I and decided to develop their own racing team. They commissioned five racers and formed the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company in September 1915. Eddie Rickenbaker encouraged them to form the two-car Prest-O-Lite Team at the same time.

In 1916, Allison became the sole owner of the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company and moved operations to a small shop on the corner of the Prest-O-Lite lot. Of the 26 cars entered in the 1916 race, seven were from the Speedway Team and Prest-O-Lite Team companies. As a high-end machine shop, the Speedway Team Company soon began developing automotive parts for other racing teams.

That’s how Indianapolis’ auto innovation grew in the early 1910’s.

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

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.