Indiana’s plentiful supply of lumber lured several industries into its borders, including the makers of carriages and wagons during the mid to late 1800s. The automobile industry in the early 1900s was the a natural offspring of carriage manufacturers, which could provide not just parts but skilled labor as well.
The growth spurt between 1910 and 1920 separated the nation’s auto makers into two groups-the mass-produced auto giants and the craftsmen. Most of Indiana’s auto makers chose to be craftsmen and purchased automotive parts and assembled them by hand. As a result, these companies were small, and many became known for producing high-class and high-priced cars. Nearly every one of the Indiana cars that became well-known were in this category, including names like Duesenberg, Cord, Stutz and Cole, and appealed to the upper end of the consumer market.
Until about 1920, there seemed to be enough demand for both the mass-produced and high-quality cars. However, a series of economic factors at this time helped to contribute to the decline of Hoosier auto making. Price slashing and an expansion-crazed environment trapped Indiana manufacturers in a philosophical battle with the Michigan titans. Hoosiers were ill-prepared for this kind of competition, and most wanted to remain craftsmen choosing to concentrate on higher priced vehicles instead of diversifying. Plus, the economic recession during this time added more financial burdens on the population, which became increasingly interested in the mass-produced auto. Michigan had the financial backers willing to commit financial resources to give the state’s auto manufacturing the boost it needed. The Hoosier financial community generally proved to be of little assistance to its own local automobile industry.
Studebaker was the lone survivor of the depression, continuing production until late 1963.
However, the 1980s through the 2000s introduced a revival, evident in the introduction of the Mishawaka-produced Hummers, the Lafayette-produced Subarus, the Princeton-produced Toyotas, and the Greensburg-produced Hondas.
Hoosiers are proud of their automotive culture. There are several auto museums around the state celebrating this heritage.
Indiana once vied for Michigan’s title as the automotive titan of the United States. It was at a time when the names of automobiles like Duesenberg, Stutz and Cord brought worldwide acclaim to the Hoosier state. Indiana’s contributions to automotive history have been numerous. Tilt steering, cruise control and hydraulic brakes are just three examples of the innovations created by Indiana automotive pioneers. Yet the innovators themselves have become nearly forgotten–overlooked as we take their inventions increasing for granted as part of the standard equipment on today’s models.
Indiana’s automotive innovation began with Elwood Haynes’ kitchen experiment on an internal combustion engine in the fall of 1893. Haynes’ research and development led to the demonstration of his “Pioneer” automobile along Pumpkivine Pike, outside Kokomo, on July 4, 1894. Haynes and two passengers traveled at a speed of seven miles an hour and drove about one and one-half miles further into the country. He then turned the auto around, and ran the four miles into town without making a single stop.
“I remember as the “little machine” made its way along the streets we were met by a “bevy” of girls mounted on wheels.,” Haynes noted. “I shall never forget the expression on their faces as they wheeled aside, separating like a flock of swans and gazing wonder-eyed at the uncouth and utterly unexpected “little machine.”
In 1898 the Haynes-Apperson Company was incorporated and auto production was on its way in Indiana.
By the late 1800s Indiana’s plentiful supply of lumber had also lured several industries into its borders, including the makers of carriages and wagons. The automobile industry in the early 1900s was a natural offspring of carriage manufacturers, which could provide not just parts but the skilled labor as well. Five Indiana manufacturers entered commercial automobile production in the late 1890s.
By 1900, The Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company was one of the few firms in the country with annual production exceeding 100 units. In the 1900s, 74 different models were introduced by Indiana manufacturers. These models range from A to Z, with names like Auburn, Cole, InterState, Lambert, Marmon, Maxwell, National, Overland, Premier, Richmond, Studebaker, Waverly, and Zimmerman.
The growth spurt between 1910 and 1920 separated the nation’s auto makers into two groups–the “mass-produced auto giants” and the “craftsmen.” Most of Indiana’s auto makers chose to be “craftsmen” and purchased automotive parts and assembled them by hand. Thus, these companies were small, and many became known for producing high-class and high-priced cars. Nearly every one of the Indiana cars that became well-known were in this category, includ¬ing names like Duesenberg, Cord, Stutz and Cole, appealing to the upper end of the consumer market.
The teens saw the introduction of another 69 Indiana models. Included in this group are Elcar, Empire, Jack Rabbit, Lexington, McIntyre, McFarlan, Monroe, Parry, ReVere, and Stutz.
Until about 1920, there seemed to enough demand for both the “mass-produced” and “high-quality” cars. However, a series of eco¬nomic factors at this time helped contribute to the decline of Hoosier auto making. Price slashing and an expansion-crazed environment trapped Indiana manufacturers in a philosophical battle with the Michigan titans. Hoosiers were ill-prepared for this kind of competition, and most wanted to remain craftsmen choosing to concen¬trate on “higher priced” vehicles instead of diversifying. Plus, the economic recession in the early 1920s added more financial burdens on the population, which became increasingly interested in the “mass-produced auto.”
Michigan had the financial backers willing to commit financial resources to give the state’s auto manufacturing the boost it needed. The Hoosier financial community generally proved to be of little assistance to its own local automobile industry.
Indiana in the twenties saw this decline to 22 models introduced. Among these were Blackhawk, Cord, Duesenberg, Elgin, Erskine, H.C.S., Lafayette, and Roosevelt.
Studebaker was the lone Hoosier survivor of the depression, continuing production for another 30 years, ending in December 1963.
Commercial production of the automobile in America began a little over 120 years ago, and America’s lifestyle has never been the same. Indiana automakers have made many contributions to that history. So, the next time you drive your car, you might wonder where you’d be without Indiana’s continuing automotive innovation and contributions.
For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.
As you know, my mission is “Celebrating Indiana Car Culture.” I am happy to announce that in honor of Indiana’s Bicentennial Celebration, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is presenting a one-of-a-kind exhibition titled “Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production,” starting on December 6, 2016 thru March 26, 2017
The exhibit is a celebration of legendary Hoosier-built automobiles, such as Cole, Duesenberg, Marmon, Premier, Studebaker and Stutz. More than 35 historic, Indiana-built passenger cars will be on exhibit, some of which will be making their first appearance on display.
In addition to the Hoosier-built passenger cars, a few of the most famous Indiana-built race cars will be shown, including IMS co-founder Carl Fisher’s 1905 Premier and the legendary Marmon Wasp that carried Ray Harroun to victory in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
“This exhibit is intended to focus on Indiana’s early, widespread automotive industry, which spurred the development of acres of farmland into the world’s largest sporting facility. Lessons learned at ‘The Greatest Race Course in the World’ made their way into these outstanding passenger cars, which enhanced performance and safety,” said Betsy Smith, executive director of the non-profit Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation that operates the museum located on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grounds.
I invite you to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum to sample “Celebrating Indiana Car Culture.”
For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.
Here is some interesting Indianapolis auto manufacturing news reported in The Automobile, dated November 18, 1909.
George Schebler of the Wheeler Schebler Carburetor Company, recently completed a 12-cylinder motor, and having placed it in a chassis suitable design, started on a jaunt overland. The motor, which is of the water-cooled V type, performs extremely well, and the compactness of the power plant is one of the wonders of Indianapolis.
Wheeler Schebler, makers of the Schebler carburetor, are now melting down two car loads of ingot copper per month, not counting other ingredients as lead, tin, and spelter, in the production of carburetors, and not a few shipments are being made in carload lots (approximating 5,000) to individual companies. The plant is in full swing, and ground will soon be broken for a new addition, which will add 59,750 square feet of floor space, of which 8,000 square feet will be in the new foundry. The power plant, using producer gas and gas engines, will have a 250 h.p. engine in the new acquisition.
The Diamond Chain Company, besides the regular line of sprocket chains as used in automobile work, if handling a wide line of chains, and, contrary to the usual expectation, chain work is increasing with such rapid strides that the company is hard pressed in the matter of handling all the trade it is offered. New additions of machinery are being made as rapidly as possible, and many improvements are being added. The electrical equipment of the plant includes complete charging equipment of the latest and best design to handle electric vehicles.
David M. Parry, of the Parry Auto Company, is banking on the permanence of the automobile, and among other interests is making every preparation to manufacture cars on a large basis. The Parry cars, of which there are two models (roadster and touring car), are being pushed out with the idea that the serial number 5,000 will show up on the production dial before the end of the 1909-1910 period. Besides the large plant now available, the company is adding more floor space by way of new buildings.
Nordyke & Marmon, in their well equipped plant, are making their own cylinders, aluminum castings, brass, bronze and in fine everything of moment. The new models are well in hand; cars are being put our at a rapid rate, and the quality of the work being done is up to the well-known standard of the company. The engineering office is practically through with 1910 designing, and the able “staff” is now in a position to carefully check up on every detail of the work as it comes through.
Fred W. Spacke Machine Company, parts maker, is doing a vast amount of work for automobile makers throughout the country, and the representative of The Automobile called he was entertained in a most interesting way, having had the pleasure of seeing more kinds of grinders doing accurate work than is usually found under one roof. F.W. Spacke, himself a tool designer of wide reputation, recently perfected a grinder which will grind (all over) such irregular shapes as cams for integral camshafts, thus saving much time doing the work far more accurately than seems to be possible in any other way.
For twelve auto makers in Indianapolis, apparently, the only limit to building automobiles in this city next season will be the ability to get sufficient parts. Present estimates base next year’s production of local factories at 25,000 cars. Another new company has just been added to the list, making 12 concerns in the city now making automobiles. A new company is the Star Motor Car Company, which has an authorized capitalization of $100,000, of which $75,000 is paid in. A plant will be built at once and a line of runabouts and touring cars to at about $1,000 will be made, together with delivery wagons and trucks. In addition to this, there will be two other practically new local companies in the field during the 1910 season. These are the Cole Motor Car Company, and the Empire Motor Car Company.
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Do think we have weather challenges today? Let me tell you about the 1913 Indianapolis Auto Show and weather challenges 102 years ago.
Indianapolis auto shows were open air affairs beginning in 1907, because of the lack of any building of sufficient size to accommodate a large show. Soon, over 60 dealers and garages throughout the district hosted thousands of visitors at these shows.
The successes of these early shows led the Indianapolis Auto Trade Association (IATA) to plan the March 24, 1912, tent show on three streets around University Park. However, a blizzard blitzed this show. The Indianapolis News reported: “A gang of workmen was busy nearly all day removing the snow from the top of the tent and succeeded in preventing it from breaking through anywhere.”
The next year’s event was inside, at the Coliseum and Coliseum Annex at the State Fair Grounds, March 24-29. No snow, but a torrential downpour started on Easter Sunday, March 23. By mid-week many parts of Indianapolis were stranded by the swollen White River and its tributaries. With the crippling of street car and other transportation systems, Indianapolis auto manufacturers came to the rescue.
Every factory and garage and many private owners placed their cars at the disposal of the police and other departments. New cars, test cars, factory trucks, and anything that would run was pressed into service in the flooded districts where it was sometimes too swift for boats. These vehicles carried the imperiled families to places of refuge.
For instance, the personal touring car of Henderson Motor Car Co. Vice President R. P. Henderson was placed at the disposal of authorities on the north side making trips carrying flood victims to high ground. One of the first trucks placed in service was “Old Bolivar,” the first Henderson touring car built, that was serving as the factory pickup truck. The truck transported a boat and officers to the flood area across the Fall Creek Bridge.
By Tuesday, March 25, the continuing rains caused the White River and other streams to rise cutting off access to the fair grounds, making it necessary to discontinue the show until Friday, March 28. On Friday the show was further discontinued until Sunday at 1 pm. The directors of the IATA decided that the Sunday receipts of the show would be donated to the flood sufferers relief fund. Freewill offerings to the fund were also accepted at the doors, and the IATA also scheduled two benefit theatrical performances at the reopening. The total amount taken in for the fund during the Sunday show approached $1000.
On Sunday, IATA estimated that at least 4,000 people inspected the cars on display. Indiana manufacturers, including Auburn, Cole, Empire, Haynes, Cole, Henderson, Marion, Marmon, McFarlan, Motor Car Manufacturing Co., National, Studebaker, Premier, and Waverley Electric, were part of the 36 firms exhibiting a total of 200 cars.
The show continued through the end of the week. The Coliseum ground floor featured pleasure car exhibits, and the promenade around the structure had more cars and motorcycles. The Coliseum Annex housed accessories and trucks. Warmer weather, bigger crowds, and better transportation facilities combined to make the later days of the show successful. A joyful carnival crowd greeted closing night on Saturday, April 5.
Hopefully, we won’t have any more weather challenges for this year’s iteration of the Indianapolis Auto Show.
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