One hundred years ago, Indiana made a name for itself in the automotive industry, In spring 1913, Indiana ranked second among the states in the manufacturing of automobiles. More than 40 manufacturers of pleasure cars and commercial vehicles marketed their products with a total value exceeding $50,000,000. Plus, Indiana manufacturers won the first two Indianapolis 500 mile races in 1911 and 1912.
But the story of early success begins a few years prior. Indiana’s plentiful supply of lumber lured several industries into its borders, including the makers of carriages and wagons during the mid to late 1800’s. The automobile industry in this time frame was a natural offspring of carriage manufacturers, which could provide not just parts but skilled labor as well.
Elwood Haynes with his 1894 Pioneer
Elwood Haynes demonstrated one of America’s first gasoline automobiles along the outskirts of Kokomo, Indiana, on July 4, 1894. Nearly 20 years later Indiana was one of the leading automotive manufacturing states.
Instrumental to Indiana’s auto growth were Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison, who met in Indianapolis during the bicycle craze of the early 1890’s. They went on to form the Prest-O-Lite Company to develop headlight systems. Their bicycling companion Arthur C. Newby was one of the founders of the Diamond Chain Company and the National Motor Vehicle Company. In 1909, these individuals along with Frank H. Wheeler founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to establish American automobile supremacy.
These are a sampling of the innovative Hoosier auto pioneers who contributed to the growth of Indiana’s auto industry.
The April 1913 American Motorist states “For though competition is as keen in Indiana as elsewhere, the attitude of the business man in the automobile industry in that State shows a spirit which is both refreshing and significant. The men of Indiana take a big and broad view that the market is large enough to take all of their products and pay good prices for them and that they can sell the output of their factories without crushing one another.”
American Motorist further notes “The fraternal spirit of the automobile men is crystallized in the Indiana Automobile Manufacturers Association. Like the Tribes of old, the men of Indiana annually marshal their forces and carry the banner of the Hoosier State through the villages and towns near their State.”
In 1912, during the IAMA’s Four-States Tour, 28 member vehicles participated in a 16-day trip through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. In this way, the participants reached the eyes and ears of about 5,000,000 people. These tours were non-competitive events operated under a gentleman’s agreement, which agreement was kept in letter and spirit.
Said the man form California
To his friend from Bangor, Maine:
“Have you heard the latest slogan?
Have you caught the sweet refrain?”
Said the man from Bangor,
And they warbled forth this glee:
“If it’s made in Indiana,
Oh, it’s good enough for me!”
–W.M. Herschell, in the American Motorist, April 1913
I believe that Indiana’s skilled laborers, entrepreneurial Hoosier individuals, and the IAMA fostered a spirit of cooperation and collaboration that allowed the member companies to grow and prosper in the competitive automotive market of the early 1900’s.