Photo courtesy of Diamond Chain Co.
There is a building on Indianapolis’ near southwest side that is easily forgettable as one drives into downtown on Kentucky Ave. Yet, the story behind this century old factory has roots in America’s bicycle, motorsports and aeronautical industries, plus, another relocated cemetery to boot.
Though the “high-wheeled” or “penny-farthing” bicycle had been all the rage since its 1869 premier, it was a dangerous and unwieldy contraption. By the 1880s, the more rider friendly “safety-bicycle” with a rear wheel that was similarly sized as the front and chain driven by a crank replaced the imminent head-injury machine that was the high-wheel.
On Christmas Eve, 1890, future Indianapolis Motor Speedway pioneer Arthur C. Newby, along with Edward C. Fletcher and Glenn G. Howe established the Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Company to cash in on the growing bicycle craze.
The three entrepreneurs set up shop on the second floor of 26 E. South Street, relocated to West Maryland Street three years later before constructing their first building in 1895. The building at 241 W. Georgia Street, employed 500, produced two-thirds of the bicycle chains used in America by 1904, and was approximately where Exhibit Hall E is currently in the Indianapolis Convention Center.
Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Co. was purchased from Newby and Co. by American Bicycle Company founder Albert Pope in 1899, who tapped ABC employee and Noblesville native Lucius Morton Wainwright to run the business. A few years later in 1903, a pair of brothers, owners of an Ohio bicycle shop and Diamond Chain dealers used seven specially designed Diamond Chains in their plane that flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Wainwright, who bought the company outright in 1905 and renamed it the Diamond Chain & Manufacturing Company, expanded production beyond just that of bicycle chains. By the time the company looked to relocate yet again, bicycle chains represented only a fraction of their output, having refocused upon industrial and automotive chain production. In 1917, a new production facility was built upon the site of the now disused Green Lawn Cemetery. Most every body in Green Lawn had been disinterred and relocated to cemeteries around the city, mostly to Crown Hill including 616 Confederate dead.
Around World War I, under the leadership of Lucius Wainwright and his son Gus, Diamond Chain was one of the most progressive corporations within the city, offering its workers a company co-op grocery store, credit union, life-insureance policies and a factory sponsored school.
After Lucius passed in 1931, son Gus led Diamond Chain until it was acquired by American Steel Industries (now Amsted Industries) in 1950, who run the company to this day. And while the production of bicycle chains have long since ended at the 402 Kentucky Avenue plant, and six additions made to the facility obscure the original 1917 building, one can still make out the silhouette of what once was, matching the south-facing flag pole to the classic photo above.