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.