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 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.
got to stay on top of this one!
Thank you for youir comment.
A person who often seems to be overlooked for his role in some of Arthur Newby’s successes is Charles Edward Test (1856-1910). Born in Richmond, Indiana, he came to Indianapolis at the age of 23 to assume the position of purchasing agent for the Nordyke & Marmon Company. It was at Nordyke & Marmon that Test met and became friends with Arthur Newby.
In 1891, Charles Test, Arthur Newby, and Edward Fletcher organized the Indianapolis Chain & Stamping Co. (later, Diamond Chain Co.). Test became its president.
About 1900, Test sold his interest in Indianapolis Chain and invested in the formation of the National Motor Vehicle Company, along with Arthur Newby, Edward Fletcher, and Glenn Howe. Test was president of National Motor Vehicle Company from shortly after its inception until his death in 1910.
Test died at the relatively young age of 53 at a medical facility in Wisconsin, where he had gone to seek treatment for Bright’s disease. He would likely have continued as president of the National Motor Vehicle Company for many more years, had he survived his illness. Upon Test’s death, Arthur Newby, who had been secretary and treasurer of National Motor Vehicle Company under Test, then assumed the presidency.
A testament to the friendship between Charles Test and Arthur Newby is the fact that Charles and his wife, Ellizabeth ( née Skiles ) Test, named one of their sons Donald Newby Test. There would later be a Donald Newby Test Jr., as well as a Donald Newby Test III (both of whom I believe are still living).
The large Queen Anne home that Charles Test built in 1892 at 795 Middle Drive in Woodruff Place still stands today. It’s one of the largest residences in Woodruff Place. Its large carriage house with servants’ quarters above it still stands, as well.
Also, the Test Building at 54 Monument Circle, built by Charles Test’s children with some of their inheritance, still stands today. The structure was very innovative for its time. Most people driving or walking by it don’t realize that most of the 9-story building, which appears to be an office building, is actually a parking garage. It was one of the first parking garages in Indianapolis.
Had Test lived beyond 1910, he very likely would have been involved in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since he died a number of years before his friends and business associates did, Test’s contributions to the growth of Indianapolis are somewhat forgotten today. Arthur Newby, Edward Fletcher, and Glenn Howe are recognized more readily than Test is. Ironically, Charles Test’s eccentric son, Skiles Test, is better known (for his “House of Blue Lights”) than the hardworking, inventive, and successful father is.
It may be of interest that there is a school named after Skiles Test on the Northeast side of Indianapolis, about 6500 Norht, and west of the old location of IN100. It was new construction in the middle 1960’s. Four of my siblings went there on and off.
Just to share another note of historical connection between National Motor Car and the Indianapolis 500, Joe Dawson’s victory in the #8 car was the only stock car to ever win the race, a feat that is very unlikely to ever be replicated. Interestingly, the car did NOT feature the famous round radiator. The car is on display in the Indy 500 museum.
(photo from another HI article) http://historicindianapolis.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/A.second1.jpg
I have a National motor car owners manual that shows sixes and twelves