Tag Archives: Premier

Weather challenges for the Indianapolis Auto Show

Do think we have weather challenges today? Let me tell you about the 1913 Indianapolis Auto Show and weather challenges 100 years ago.

Indianapolis or Bust

Meet me at the auto show

Indianapolis auto shows were open air affairs beginning in 1907, because of the lack of any building of sufficient size to accommodate a large show. Soon, over 60 dealers and garages throughout the district hosted thousands of visitors at these shows.

The successes of these early shows led the Indianapolis Auto Trade Association (IATA) to plan the March 24, 1912, tent show on three streets around University Park. However, a blizzard blitzed this show. The Indianapolis News reported: “A gang of workmen was busy nearly all day removing the snow from the top of the tent and succeeded in preventing it from breaking through anywhere.”

The next year’s event was inside, at the Coliseum and Coliseum Annex at the State Fair Grounds, March 24-29. No snow, but a torrential downpour started on Easter Sunday, March 23. By mid-week many parts of Indianapolis were stranded by the swollen White River and its tributaries. With the crippling of street car and other transportation systems, Indianapolis auto manufacturers came to the rescue.

Every factory and garage and many private owners placed their cars at the disposal of the police and other departments. New cars, test cars, factory trucks, and anything that would run was pressed into service in the flooded districts where it was sometimes too swift for boats. These vehicles carried the imperiled families to places of refuge.

Henderson touring car

R. P. Henderson’s touring car

For instance, the personal touring car of Henderson Motor Car Co. Vice President R. P. Henderson was placed at the disposal of authorities on the north side making trips carrying flood victims to high ground. One of the first trucks placed in service was “Old Bolivar,” the first Henderson touring car built, that was serving as the factory pickup truck. The truck transported a boat and officers to the flood area across the Fall Creek Bridge.

By Tuesday, March 25, the continuing rains caused the White River and other streams to rise cutting off access to the fair grounds, making it necessary to discontinue the show until Friday, March 28. On Friday the show was further discontinued until Sunday at 1 pm. The directors of the IATA decided that the Sunday receipts of the show would be donated to the flood sufferers relief fund. Freewill offerings to the fund were also accepted at the doors, and the IATA also scheduled two benefit theatrical performances at the reopening. The total amount taken in for the fund during the Sunday show approached $1000.

1913 Henderson Ad

1913 Henderson auto show ad

On Sunday, IATA estimated that at least 4,000 people inspected the cars on display. Indiana manufacturers, including Auburn, Cole, Empire, Haynes, Henderson, Marion, Marmon, McFarlan, Motor Car Manufacturing Co., National, Studebaker, Premier, and Waverley Electric, were part of the 36 firms exhibiting a total of 200 cars.

The show continued through the end of the week. The Coliseum ground floor featured pleasure car exhibits, and the promenade around the structure had more cars and motorcycles. The Coliseum Annex housed accessories and trucks. Warmer weather, bigger crowds, and better transportation facilities combined to make the later days of the show successful. A joyful carnival crowd greeted closing night on Saturday, April 5.

The Indianapolis Auto Show celebrates its centennial on December 26, 2013, thru January 1, 2014. Hopefully, we won’t have any weather challenges for this year’s iteration of the show. See you there.

Snow Blitzes First Indianapolis Auto Tent Show in 1912

The blizzard of 2012 calls to mind another one 100 years ago and its effect on auto history. In March 1912, snow blitzed the First Indianapolis Auto Tent Show.

Prior to 1912, Indianapolis auto shows were open air affairs because there was no building large enough to accommodate a large show. Soon, over 60 dealers and garages throughout the business district hosted thousands visitors at these shows.

1912 Marion ad

1912 Marion ad
Dennis E. Horvath Collection
The successes of these early shows led the Indianapolis Auto Trade Association (IATA) to plan the March 24, 1912, tent show on three streets around University Park. The Indianapolis News reported: “The blizzard failed to utterly to dampen the big tent, although the canvas roof was compelled for a while to support a heavy weight of fallen snow. A gang of workmen was busy nearly all day removing the snow from the top of the tent and succeeded in preventing it from breaking through anywhere.”

Lack of heat also was a problem. The IATA rounded up new car salesmen and fired up some cars to take the chill from inside the tents. Today’s exhibition halls, thankfully are heated.

1912 National 40 ad

1912 National 40 ad
Dennis E. Horvath Collection
At the 1912 show, 40 different makes of automobiles were displayed. Ten of the 15 Indiana-built cars and trucks on display were produced in Indianapolis factories. They were American, Cole, Empire, Marion, Marmon, National, Stutz, Pathfinder, Premier, and Waverley. The Indianapolis News further reported: “Indianapolis is fast becoming the most important car center in the world. The city is nationally recognized as second to Detroit alone in the automobile manufacture and its superior shipping facilities promise to put it in the lead within the next few years.” This prediction never came to fruition, but Indianapolis maintained its auto manufacturing position through the 1920s.

In 1912, Auto Row was centered in the downtown area. This is a sharp contrast to today, where new car dealers are located in outlying areas.

1912 Stutz ad

1912 Stutz ad
Dennis E. Horvath Collection

Later on, the Indianapolis Auto Show moved to the Indiana State Fairgrounds for many years and finally to the Indiana Convention Center. When I was in high school, my friends and I always went to the Indianapolis Auto Show on New Years Day to peruse all of the new offerings. Blizzards were never a problem in our enjoyment.

Indiana Automotive Innovation

Indiana’s documented automotive innovation began with Elwood Haynes’ kitchen experiment on an internal combustion engine in the fall of 1893. Haynes’ research and development led to the demonstration of his “Pioneer” automobile along Pumpkinvine Pike, on the outskirts of Kokomo, on Independence Day, 1894. Haynes and two passengers traveled at a speed of seven miles an hour and drove about one and one-half miles further into the country. He then turned the auto around, and ran the four miles into town without making a single stop.

1894 Haynes Pioneer

Elwood Haynes with 1894 Haynes Pioneer
Copyright © Elwood Haynes Museum
If you use the accepted definition of the production as the manufacture of 12 or more vehicles of the same design, more than 200 different makes of autos were made in Indiana since 1896. Indiana-built autos featured many innovations. Some are included in the following list.

1902 Marmon had an air-cooled overhead valve V-twin engine with pressure lubrication.

1903 Haynes-Apperson featured a tilting steering column for easy access of the driver.

1911 Haynes was the first to equip an open car with a top, windshield, headlamps, and a speedometer as standard equipment.

1913 Premier and Studebaker concurrently introduced a six-cylinder engine with mono block engine casting.

1918 The Cole Aero-Eight introduced the use of balloon tires.

1922 The Duesenberg Model A introduced hydraulic brakes and overhead camshaft straight-eight engines.

1926 Stutz introduced safety-glass windshields on high-end models.

1929 The Cord Model L-29 introduced front-wheel drive.

1929 Marmon featured factory-installed radios.

1932 The Duesenberg Model SJ debuted factory-installed supercharging.

1936 The Cord Model 810 featured disappearing headlights, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable speed windshield wipers, and full unit-body construction.

1937 Studebaker introduced windshield washers.

1949 Crosley introduced disc brakes.

1963 The Studebaker Avanti introduced seat belts as optional equipment.

1963 Avanti

1963 Avanti
Copyright © 1963 Studebaker Corporation

So, the next time you are driving along in your automobile, you might wonder were we’d be without Indiana’s automotive innovation?

Thank you Carl Fisher and James Allison

With the 2011 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race celebrating its 100th anniversary, I believe Indianapolis residents owe a thank you to Speedway founders Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison.

Before the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911, Indianapolis was a bucolic city with very little to distinguish it. When the founders built the track on a 320 acre parcel outside of the city limits, the Speedway was about five miles northwest of the city’s center. The Speedway would eventually fulfill Carl Fisher’s stated goal of a proving ground “to establish American automobile supremacy.” The result also helped grow the city’s manufacturing base.

Fisher’s vision for grand ventures was first demonstrated when he and Allison obtained the rights to manufacture and market compressed acetylene headlight systems for automobiles in 1904. This firm, known as Prest-O-Lite, would become the cornerstone for their many automotive ventures. Today, an outgrowth of Prest-O-Lite is Praxair Surface Technologies, which employs more than 450 people at the Speedway Main Street site.

By 1911, Indianapolis claimed 11 operating automakers, with names like American Underslung, Cole, Empire, Ideal, Marion, Marmon, New Parry, National, Overland, Premier, and Waverley. This concentration of manufacturers attracted the supporting ancillary machine shops and businesses. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler went on to build operations in Indianapolis.

James Allison built a new shop for the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company on Main Street in Speedway to prepare a fleet of race cars in late 1916. This venture provided the genesis for the Allison Engineering Company. When World War I erupted, Allison committed his shop resources to war production for crawler-type tractors, superchargers, and master models for the Liberty aircraft engines. In 1929, a year after Allison died, General Motors Corporation purchased the company. Under General Motors, the operation produced aircraft engines, transmissions, precision bearings, and superchargers. Its descendant companies, Allison Engine Company and Allison Transmission are headquartered in Indianapolis. Combined employment at these plants totaled over 11,000 people in the late 1980’s, making them one of the city’s largest employers.

These companies spawned a number of local machine shops to supply additional services to supplement Allison operations. Skilled machinists and tool makers moved to Indianapolis to work in these shops. I know my father moved to Indianapolis in the mid-1930’s to work in various machine shops and retired with over 25 years at Allison.

Thank you to Carl Fisher and James Allison for your grand vision with these manufacturing endeavors and the creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which drew people to our great city for employment and enjoyment.