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 E. 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 vehicles were light electric vehicles offered in a plethora of body styles. A 1901 advertisement boasted, “The electric vehicle is always ready, requires no mechanical knowledge to run it, and among electric vehicles, the ‘National’ is pre-eminently simple, powerful, elegant, and excellent.”
The original National factory site was on 22nd Street, just east of the Monon railroad. In 1904 the company was reorganized as the National Motor Vehicle Company. Its first gasoline auto premiered in 1903. By 1905, a National car employed the powerful four‑cylinder Rutenber engine with a round radiator that served as a distinguishing feature. The company stopped electric car production in 1906.
In 1906, National introduced a six-cylinder Model E seven-passenger touring, one of the first sixes in America. The 1906 catalog stated, “It was placed on the market to supply a growing demand for a high-powered commodious touring car of extremely flexible control, in which vibration is reduced to a minimum.” Its cylinders were cast separately until 1908, when National produced engines with cylinders cast in pairs.
The U.S. shield‑shaped radiator design debuted in 1908. In 1908 and 1909, National offered two models each with higher h.p. ratings in the four- and six-cylinder lines range from $2,750 to $5,000.
Immediately after a strong showing at the inaugural races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during August 1909, National featured the 1910 Model Forty in a two-page advertisement in Motor Age magazine: “The National ‘Forty’ this year is the fastest, the most powerful, and most capable car that has ever been offered at anything under $4,000 heretofore.” The price was $2,500.
During this period, racing played an important part in National’s plans. National finished seventh in the Inaugural 500 mile race on Memorial Day 1911. Additional 1911 competition road race victories include Elgin,Illinois; Santa Monica,California; and the Cactus Derby fromLos Angeles,California, to Phoenix, Arizona. Joe Dawson driving a National won the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in 1912 with an average speed of 78.7 m.p.h.
In 1912, the company focused on production of a variety of fours and sixes with pricing starting at $2,500. Eleven models were available in the 1914 line with prices ranging from $2,375 to $4,800. In 1916, a new range of six body styles were announced with a Highway Six or the Highway Twelve in the same chassis.
The factory was expanded in 1916: 1. By adding a two-story building of 23,000 square feet to the existing factory. 2. Buying the block across Alvord Street and building another 40,000 square feet. The company hopped these plans would more than double production.
The 12 was dropped in 1920, and National soldiered on with six-cylinder cars for its final four years. A merger in 1922 between National, Dixie Flyer and Jackson led to a range of three cars for 1923 and 1924. In January 1924, the company entered receivership.
In 1926, the National factory complex was taken over by the Weymann American Body Company. Weymann was known for quiet, lightweight bodies. They made bodies for manufacturers like Cord, Duesenberg, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, and Stutz. Their operations closed in 1934.
The building was used for a number of industrial purposes over the years. In 2002, Development Concepts, Inc. purchased the property for redevelopment as The National Design Factory. Today, the building serves as passive storage for organizations.
That’s the story of the National Motor Vehicle Company on 22nd Street.
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