Author: Dennis E. Horvath

Automobiles in University Park in July 1913

Twenty Indiana-built cars and trucks plus almost 100 people gathered around the south side of University Park for the departure of Indiana Automobile Manufacturers’ Association Indiana-Pacific Tour on July 1, 1913.  At that time, the IAMA Tour was one of the largest transcontinental tours attempted in the United States.  Planning for this 3,600 mile trek took over eight months to coordinate all the logistics for the 20 vehicle caravan from Indianapolis to Los Angeles. The trek was more than an adventure.  It was making history.  At the time, most travel was in urban areas with nicely paved streets.  Otherwise,...

Read More

Indianapolis Auto Row Part 3

In two previous installments (found here and here), I’ve talked about the early Indianapolis’ Auto Row along Capitol Avenue.  But that is only part of the story.  As the commercial district expanded north of Monument Circle, automotive retailing soon followed. The automotive industry was lightly represented along North Illinois Street from 1900 – 1925.  The Maxwell-Briscoe Company opened its showroom at 363 North Illinois Street in 1908.  This is the oldest existing automotive dealership building in Indianapolis (current site of Acapulco Joe’s).   Just across the street in the previous Fisher Automobile Company location at 330 North Illinois Street, a...

Read More

Thank you Carl Fisher and James Allison

Carl G. Fisher, Photo courtesy LHA/University of Michigan With the 2013 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race celebrating its 102nd anniversary, I believe Indianapolis residents owe a thank you to Speedway founders Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison.  Without their vision and entrepreneurial spirit, I don’t believe that our city would be anything like it is today. Before the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911, Indianapolis was a bucolic city with very little to distinguish it.  In 1909, when the founders built the track on a 320 acre parcel outside of the city limits, the Speedway...

Read More

Indianapolis Auto Row Part 2

In the early 1910’s, the 10-block area along North Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis became the home to several segments of the auto industry. If you wanted a new car or service in Indianapolis, you went to what was then known as “Indianapolis Auto Row.” A few weeks ago I shared the story of the beginning of this area with Carl G. Fisher relocating his Fisher Automobile Co. showroom to 400 North Capitol Avenue in 1909.  This article covered most of the automotive establishments in the 400 block.  Let’s step across Michigan Street and see what happened further north.  The Cadillac...

Read More

Revamped Fisher Mansion on Marian Campus

FisherMansion in 2005 It’s no surprise that the extravagant entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher also had an luxurious home. In late 1909 or early 1910, Fisher and his wife Jane purchased the old 20-acre homestead that they renovated and adapted to their lifestyle.  Renamed Blossom Heath, its 60-foot living room featured Oriental rugs, with a billiard table in one end of the room, a piano in the other, a big desk for Carl, a comfortable divan or two, and some arm chairs, with a huge fireplace where logs burned all day long.  Fisher’s added 12 bedrooms upstairs to allow for...

Read More

Auto Manufacturers Rescue Flood Victims

R. P. Henderson’s touring car in the flood zone During the 1913 spring floods in the Midwest, Indianapolis auto manufacturers worked to rescue flood victims. The downpour started on Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913.  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 makers came to the rescue. Every factory, 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...

Read More

Indianapolis Auto Row Begins

Fisher Automobile Company 1909, Looking northeast from Vermont and Senate With all the construction on the block bounded by Vermont Street, Capitol Avenue, Michigan Street, and Senate Avenue, I thought it would be a great time to take a look at how this block was the genesis of Indianapolis Auto Row 105 years ago. In 1908, when Carl G. Fisher wanted to expand operations around his 330 North Illinois Street location, the area was already developed with commercial structures.  Consequently, land and construction costs would have been higher for new development elsewhere on Illinois Street than in undeveloped locations. ...

Read More

First Indianapolis Auto Shows Draws Thousands

Indianapolis Auto Show 3-18-1907, Copyright © 1907 Indianapolis Star The First Indianapolis Auto Shows were open air affairs.  There was no building in the city large enough for an enclosed show, therefore, the dealers arranged for openings on a large scale in the downtown business district. The first show began on March 18, 1907, and lasted one week.  Special rates were granted on rail and interurban lines to draw thousands of visitors to downtown Indianapolis. Auto manufacturers shipped their most attractive models to local dealerships for perusal.  Prospective purchasers had a chance to see new models made in Indiana...

Read More

Indianapolis’ Early Automotive Roots

Carl G. Fisher, Photo courtesy LHA/University of Michigan The story of Indianapolis’ early automotive heritage begins a little over 120 years ago.  It actually started with bicycling. In the summer of 1890, 16 year-old Carl G. Fisher and a dozen or so like-minded young cycling enthusiasts formed their own social club, the Zig-Zag Cycle Club.  The club rented a large brick house adjoining the Empire Theater on East Wabash Street.  Members participated in riding events to towns located 20 or 30 miles from Indianapolis and back.  At the time, riding a high-wheeler bicycle was an athletic challenge on the...

Read More

Duesenberg Site Lives On

Prior to moving to Indianapolis, the Duesenberg brothers—Fred and August—built extremely high-quality and advanced engines and automobiles.  Part of their reason for moving to Indianapolis was to return to their racing roots and be near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where they had already enjoyed some success.  The track could be used for testing their passenger cars as well as the racers. In 1920, they made their Hoosier home official and incorporated the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company.  The company’s manufacturing complex consisted of a 17-acre site at 1511 West Washington Street that opened for production in July 1921. Duesenberg...

Read More

The American Underslung – “The Safest Car On Earth”

American Eagle During its eight years in business, the American Motors Company of Indianapolis became well known for its “underslung” design, conceived by chief engineer Fred I. Tone.  In those years, the company produced over 45,000 automobiles, ranking them third inIndianapolis’ Top Ten auto producers. American’s genesis was at 910 State Life Building,Indianapolis, in 1905.  Founders V.A. Longaker and D.S. Menasco invested in the company after making a fortune in the lumber business in the Northwest.  Soon they hired Harry C. Stutz to design the first conventional chassis American cars, which premiered in 1906. American offerings were assembled cars...

Read More

Stutz – The Car That Made Good In A Day

1912 Stutz Bearcat During his 30 years in the automobile industry, Harry Clayton Stutz had a hand in many automobiles that crossed the American landscape.  The one bearing his own name, the Stutz, is the most well known among his contributions. In 1911, Stutz formulated his dream of a quality sports car built from assembled, high-quality components manufactured by outside suppliers at a price below $2,000.  The first Stutz was built in just five weeks and was immediately taken to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the inaugural running of the 500 Mile Race.  Gil Anderson drove the car to...

Read More

Ford Indianapolis assembly branch centennial is coming

Ford Indianapolis Assembly Branch, Copyright © Ford Motor Company To meet America’s insatiable demand and to reduce shipping costs for finished Model T’s, the Ford Motor Company built its Indianapolis Assembly Branch in 1914.  Located near the southwest corner of East Washington and Oriental Streets, the original building measured 141 feet along Washington Street with a 300 foot depth.  The back of the lot had frontage along Southeastern Avenue. Ford Motor Company opened its four-story assembly branch (known as Plant 215) in the fall of 1914.  The company hosted a grand opening gala for over 5,000 persons on March 9,...

Read More

Indy’s Top 10 Auto Producers?

Ford Motor Co., 1307-23 E. Washington St. A couple of articles ago we explored: “How many cars were made in Indianapolis?” Prompting another question:  “Who were Indy’s top 10 auto producers?” As mentioned previously, compiling this type of research is an imprecise art.  In this instance, there is no single source listing production numbers for manufacturers by location.  Some sources list production numbers only for larger manufacturers.  In this case, multiple nameplates or vehicle types are grouped by manufacturer.  In other instances, research is compiled from archives, other researchers, and historians. After perusing numerous sources, here is the final...

Read More

Recycling the National Motor Vehicle Company site

1906 National Model E Touring The saga of the National Motor Vehicle Company spans nearly a quarter century from 1900 to 1924.  Over 100 years later, there have been some attempts to revive the National plant site at 1101-47 East 22nd Street.  Let’s take a look at what happened here. As the 1890’s bicycling craze died down, manufacturing pioneer Arthur C. Newby began looking for new opportunities.  Newby, along with L.S. Dow and Phillip Goetz, formerly of the Waverley branch of the Indiana Bicycle Company, founded the National Automobile & Electric Company in Indianapolis during 1900.   The first National...

Read More

Made in Indianapolis

1912 American Scout Perhaps the most frequent question about the city’s auto history is: “How many cars were made in Indianapolis?”  Before answering that question, a word of caution about automotive lists: Compiling lists about the automotive genesis is an imprecise art.  There is no single source of information for the American automobiles’ progression.  Some reference works are fairly complete regarding makes, manufacturers, cities and dates.  These same works may miss some instances where a manufacturer’s model is built in a plant other than that company’s main places of business.  For example Ford Motor Company made cars in Indianapolis from 1914 –...

Read More

Disappearing Auto Landmarks Part 2

1909 Marion Flyer As mentioned earlier in a Disappearing Auto Landmarks article, every few years we lose one of the remnants of our transportation era.  Sometime in early 2011, The Marion-Federal-Empire-Elgin building at 323 West 15th Street was demolished to make way for new construction.  This site was probably one of the most important single sites inIndianapolis automotive history. Since 1904, the building had been home to several auto makers-the Marion Motor Car Company 1904 – 1914, Federal Motor Works 1914, Empire Motor Car Company 1915 – 1919, and Elgin Motors, Inc. 1923 – 1924.  Harry C. Stutz got...

Read More

Who’s on first? Charles H. Black?

Working as an Indianapolis carriage builder, Charles H. Black helped to herald the entry of the self-propelled motor wagon into Indiana.  It has even been speculated that he may have built Indiana’s first automobile in 1891.  Unfortunately, no contemporary newspaper accounts of the time exist to corroborate this claim.  Elwood Haynes of Kokomo, Indiana, is generally accepted as one of the first to demonstrate a gasoline-powered automobile in America on July 4, 1894. Black asserted in an article in the December 27, 1913, issue of the Indianapolis News that “In 1891, after making most of my parts in my...

Read More

Happy Birthday to the Cole Motor Car Company

Cole Aero-Eight ad October 9, 2012, marks the 104th anniversary of the introduction of the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile.  The Cole Motor Car Company is one example of an automobile manufacturer that evolved fromIndiana’s carriage industry.  By the end of the company’s drive through history, it contributed several innovations to the automotive industry. Cole’s story begins 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 maker Parry Manufacturing Company of Indianapolisand another firm. In November 1904, Cole purchased a one-half interest in...

Read More

Disappearing Indy Auto Landmarks

As little as 15 years ago, Indianapolis had over 40 existing buildings that housed the movers and shakers of its automotive industry.  Sadly, every few years we lose one or two of these reminders of our transportation era. Sometime in early 2011, the Premier Motor Manufacturing Co. plant at 3500 East 20th Street was leveled.  Thus, we lost another Indianapolis automotive landmark. Let’s look at this little known automaker. George B. Weidley and Harold O. Smith organized the Indianapolis-based Premier Motor Manufacturing Company in 1903 with a capitalization of $50,000 for the production of air-cooled cars.  Premier’s early claim to...

Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Learned something new? Question answered? New connection made? Generally inspired or entertained? Love Indy more?

Please consider supporting this community asset.

Pin It on Pinterest