Taking a ride in the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile

The Cole Motor Car Company is one example of an automobile manufacturer that evolved from Indiana’s carriage industry.

The Cole story starts with founder Joseph Jarrett Cole, who started working in the carriage business in about 1888. He served as a salesman and corporate executive for carriage makers Parry Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis and the Moon Brothers Carriage Company of St. Louis for about 16 years.

Joseph J. Cole and Nellie Cole with the first Cole
Joseph J. Cole and Nellie Cole with the first Cole

In November 1904, Cole purchased a one-half interest for $25,000 in the Gates-Osborne Carriage Company of Indianapolis. He became president and changed the name to The Cole Carriage Company on December 4, 1905. The company was known for its full line of vehicles.

Cole began to think seriously about building an automobile in early 1908 and secured the permission of the other board members to build a model for the company to manufacture. At about the same time, the company employed Charles S. Crawford, a graduate engineer from Washington University, to assist Cole in developing the automobile.

Legend has it that Joseph J. Cole was so excited about the prospect of driving the first car of his design that he forgot to include one important accessory—the brakes.

He spent most of the afternoon on his initial test run driving around and around Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis until the car ran out of gas, providing the necessary means to stop the car.

Soon, the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile was ready for the board’s inspection on October 9, 1908. The car was designed for the road conditions of the day.

A second model was completed and shown to the directors on June 1, 1909. Because of their favorable impression of this second car, board members voted to incorporate as The Cole Motor Car Company on June 22, 1909. This conventional second model was known as the Cole Model 30. The company sold 112 units of the Model 30 by the end of 1909. In 1910, an additional 783 were sold and another 1,316 in 1911.

By the end of the company’s drive through history, Cole contributed several innovations to the automotive industry.

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