One of the first of its kind: an automotive technical institute in the early days of the car – immortalized on a postcard.
The Thing About Postcards…
You could almost think of them as proto-Twitter: the fastest and easiest way to communicate in as few words as possible since 1893, when the Postal service changed regulations to allow images on one side of what had been known as a postal card. But, for decades, the postcard served as much more than a mere communication device. For businesses, they were an excellent advertising medium. For hobbyists, they were treasured souvenirs of travel, events, alma maters, and celebrities — prized, collected, traded and scrapbooked — and often unmailed.
Most areas of the United States have been recorded on postcards, and many of these postcards have survived to become an important visual record of scenes that were deemed significant enough to sell, or distribute for promotional purposes. Any serious collector of historic postcards will tell you, the photographic cards in particular, are a treasure trove of ambient information. Grab your magnifying glass and really look into any vintage postcard — scrutinize the windows and doorways. Note the signage, the modes of transportation, the evidence of emerging technology like telephone and electric lines. Observe the human figures who were captured in the shot. Note their apparel, parcels, facial expressions; a moment frozen in time.
Take for instance, this 1910 postcard of the Indiana Automobile College, once located on the Indianapolis near northside. The building in the postcard is believed to be the second home of the College. The 1914-15 plat maps reveal this building was constructed in 1910 — and it still stands north of West Michigan Street, at 502 North Capitol Avenue.
The Indiana Automobile College was the next New Idea…
Publications heralded the opening of the college in November, 1909 articles…
“A number of automobile men have arranged to establish a school of instruction in Indianapolis, to be known as the Indiana Automobile College. The second floor of the building at 27-33 North Capitol Avenue, formerly occupied by the Indiana Carriage and Automobile Company, has been leased, and classes will be started in repairing, assembling, driving, drafting and other branches of the industry. It is also the intention to establish night classes for those who cannot attend during the day. These classes will be held Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. Some time ago the Indianapolis Y. M. C. A. attempted instruction in automobile lines which did not prove successful, and the classes were abandoned.” — The Horseless Age: The Automobile Trade Magazine, Volume XXIV
“An auto driver with a diploma in driving, repairing and handling automobiles, [a] graduate of the study of the road laws of the state, and authorized by a real college to tackle and operate safely any sort of a motor car, is one of the things that will soon be available in Indiana. The Indiana Automobile College is to be started in Indianapolis…. The new idea college is expected to meet in part the abnormal demand now existing for auto workers, mechanicians, and experts in the handling and repair of motor cars.” — Indianapolis Sun, November 16, 1909
The first directors of the school were Charles S. Grant, Ozora B. Grant and Samuel Glick of Indianapolis. On the date of incorporation, the businessman were charged by the school’s board to equip the college with shops, machinery, laboratory and other equipment, to hire instructors and to fix salaries.
Interestingly, a student of the “new idea college” could attend in person or by correspondence. Students were taught “the science of the construction of automobiles,” and were given lessons in driving, chauffeuring, mechanical repair, assemblage, lathe, shop work, drafting, and manufacture. There were also courses in the (few) laws of the era that governed cars. Graduates were to be awarded diplomas after only eight weeks!
The 1910 R. L. Polk directory for Indianapolis reveals to us that the Indiana Automobile College opened its doors initially at 27-33 North Capitol Avenue. However, it didn’t stay there for long. Sometime in that same year, the W. H. Bass Photo Company produced a photograph (similar to the postcard) of the college’s brand new building in the 500 block of North Capitol Avenue.
The Bass photo (above) shows a Cadillac dealership in the south end of the brand new building. At that time, the building sported a banner that read simply “GARAGE,” hanging above the building’s center doorway. Based on plat map evidence, this new building was fully occupied by 1911.
It appears that the school was enthusiastically embraced from the get-go. One newspaper touted…
“Many Study Autoisms! Eager young men enlist in practical classes where motor car subjects are now being taught. Instead of the usual rah! rah! bagging trousers, with well defined creases and postage stamp caps, thirty-five college boys, dressed in oil soaked overalls and hand and face smeared with dirt, are daily taking lessons at the Indiana Automobile College… Indianapolis as a motor car manufacturing center has long been famous, but now it is taking the front ranks as an automobile training locality…” — Indianapolis Star January 14, 1910
Students were divided into groups of four or five to work in teams, studying everything from the simplest parts to the most complex motors of the day. They were equally immersed in repair work on “old” and “new” machines. One of the early instructors, MacDonald Purcell, employed an interesting method of teaching. He had students completely dismantle a car and then put it back together, in working order.
At peak enrollment, the school filled all three of the new building’s floors and the basement. A large lecture room occupied the top floor. Instructors moved from area to area and floor to floor during operating hours to answer questions that might be plaguing the student teams.
Upon this writing, the story of exactly when or why the college dissolved is unknown. However… ominously… a search of historic newspapers reveals one strange thing: all advertising for the college completely disappears after April, 1914… just over 100 years ago.
Can’t get enough vintage Indy “autoisms”? Check out these HiIndy posts:
HI Mailbag: Indianapolis’ “Automobile Row”
Sources and Resources:
The postcard itself, and in-depth research of Tom Keesling and his amazing postcard archive on Flikr, Hoosier Recollections
Marion County Indianapolis History discussion group on Facebook
Nancy J Postlewaite Netter, historical resource Sherpa
R.L. Polk directories, Indianapolis
Bass photo collection
Indiana Historical Society
Sanborn™ plat maps
Online Newspaper Archives: Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Sun
The Horseless Age: The Automobile Trade Magazine, Volume XXIV (New York, NY: E. P. Ingersoll, 1909), page 579