In 1902, the Studebaker brothers decided to enter the horseless-carriage business. Their first car was a stylish light Studebaker electric runabout.
The 1902 Studebaker electric was built like their buggy lines. It had leather fenders, bar-lever steering, chain drive, and a leather dashboard.
The 1902 advertisement for this car claimed, “No Expert Chauffeur Needed,” and “Reliable Brake Control.”
By 1906, they offered one of the first closed electric carriages in the United States. The electric coupe sold for $2,000 and would do about 35 miles on one charging of the batteries. Note the wooden wheels, chain drive, and running boards instead of steps.
Studebaker’s craftsmanship in carriage building stood them in good stead when this unusual vehicle was designed. It was considered, and rightfully so, one of the true quality automobiles of its time.
That’s how Studebaker entered the auto business in 1902.
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.
In 1896 there were but five gasoline automobiles in the United States; the Duryea, Ford, Haynes, Lambert, and an imported Benz. All five were purely experimental machines, although considerable effort was made to sell duplicates of the Duryea and Haynes. There was absolutely no market and it was not until March 24, 1898, that the first bonafide sale was consummated. Alexander Winton, who ranked with the pioneers, Duryea, Ford and Haynes, from the view point of experimentation, sold a one-cylinder Winton automobile to Robert Allison, of Port Carbon, PA; received payment for it and shipped the car to Allison April 1, 1898.
The Waverley Company, of Indianapolis, built its first electric carriage in 1897.
note: the first Studebaker automobiles were electric 1902.
The National Road, built early in the nineteenth century, from Cumberland, MD, through PA, OH, IN and IL, was the first and only attempt of the Federal Government to stand sponsor for a highway project. The road was approximately 1,000 miles long and was used extensively until the day when railroads paralleled it. It fell into disuse and disrepair, and about 1840 was abandoned as one entire road. From the time it was built until the present, parts of it have been in constant use. In 1910, when interest in long permanent roads for automobiles use was kindled, the route of the old National Road was rediscovered, and since then it has been repaired and still is in use today.
The first super speedway to be built in the United States was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, over which annually a 500 mile contest was staged. The moving spirits of the track were Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby, and Frank H. Wheeler. The Indianapolis course was built of brick and was constructed for a theoretical speed of 61 miles per hour. The theoretical speed limit is point where the car begins to skid. On the brick turns at Indianapolis, the slewing and slipping of the driving wheels begin after a speed of 61 miles an hour was attained. That, however, is not the practical and actual limit of speed that could be attained on the track. The 2.5 mile oval is capable of accommodating a much higher rate as has been shown in the races since 1911 and in numerous public and private trials.
If your Indiana car club is looking for a program for March 2017, I strongly recommend a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit. Visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit before the closing date of March 26, 2017.
I believe the folks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum have done an incredible job of telling the story of Indiana-built automobiles. They have gathered 35 cars from an 1896 Reeves Motocycle to a 1963 Studebaker Avanti. Plus, nine race cars from a 1905 Premier to the 1950 Cummins Diesel Special are included.
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 introduced by Indiana automotive pioneers. Yet the innovators themselves have become nearly forgotten–overlooked as we take their inventions increasingly for granted as part of the standard equipment on today’s models.
Over 40 Indiana towns and cities can claim some sort of connection to our early automotive history. More than 400 firms – large and small – operated statewide between 1894 and 1963.
The earliest car on display at the museum is a Reeves Motocycle built in Columbus, Indiana, which used a two-cycle, two-cylinder Sintz gasoline engine with a variable speed transmission produced by Reeves.
As many of you know Indianapolis was one of the largest producers of automobiles in the nation. Some of these autos are well represented from the 1899 Waverley Electric to the 1933 Duesenberg Model J Berline. Other Indianapolis autos on display are various models of American Underslung, Cole, Marmon, Pathfinder, Premier, and Stutz.
Other makes built in other Indiana towns and cities are represented with cars like Apperson, Auburn, Cord, Davis, Haynes, Lexington, McFarlan, Monroe, Richmond, and Studebaker.
I invite your Indiana car club to come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and check out these Indiana-built cars today. This may be the only chance you’ll see such a wide array of Indiana-built cars at one location.
For more information on Indiana-built automobiles, follow this link.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s “Speakers Series” will kick off in the facility’s new multi-purpose meeting room tomorrow, February 16th @ 4:15 – 6:15 pm.
As many of you know, I am the kick-off speaker for the “Speakers Series” in conjunction with their exhibition, Indiana Automobiles: Precision Over Production. This exhibition has more than 35 historic, Indiana-built passenger cars, and several iconic race cars honoring Indiana’s automotive history.
My popular presentation “Mileposts in Indiana Automotive History” and other presentations will inform members and guests. Mileposts in Indiana Automotive History shares some of the legends, facts and figures that reflect Indiana’s role in America’s automotive heritage, when marques such as Duesenberg, Stutz and Studebaker propelled the state into a position where the number of Indiana auto manufacturers rivaled Detroit.
Check out my Monday blog posts at Cruise-IN.com documenting some the cars in the exhibit.
See you at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s “Speakers Series” tomorrow, February 16th.