Tag Archives: Louis Strang

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.