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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.

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An image from a 1904 Dictionary of Technology depicting a penny-farthing or high-wheeled bicycle on the left and the “safety bicycle” on the right.

Though the “high-wheeled” or “penny-farthing” bicycle had been all the rage with sporty types since its  premier, it was a dangerous and unwieldy contraption. By the 1890s, the more rider-friendly “safety-bicycle”  with equal- sized wheels and a chain driven by a crank, replaced the imminent head-injury machine that was the high-wheel.

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Arthur Calvin Newby, from his September 12th, 1933 Indianapolis Star Obituary.

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.

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By the time this 1908 Baist Atlas was produced, the Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Co. had been renamed the Diamond Chain by Albert Pope.

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.

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Wilbur and Orville Wright sold Diamond Chains and used seven specially designed Diamond chains in their Kitty Hawk Flyer.

Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Co. was purchased from Newby and Co. by the American Bicycle Company 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.

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Green Lawn Cemetery, which once ran along Kentucky Ave. and S. West Street, from the 1908 Baist Atlas of Indianapolis.

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The Diamond Chain & Manufacturing Co. and adjacent rail yard from the 1941 Baist Atlas of Indianapolis.

Wainwright, who bought the company outright in 1905 and renamed it the Diamond Chain & Manufacturing Company, expanded production beyond just 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.

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From a 1919 Indianapolis News Article on the school at Diamond Chain.

Around World War I, under the leadership of Lucius Wainwright and his son Guy, 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, his son Guy 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.

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The Diamond Chain plant today – Photo by Ryan Hamlett

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1933 Diamond Chain advertisement.

4 responses to “The Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Co.”

  1. Pete F says:

    Ryan – my company has performed some work at Diamond Chain over the years. It seems that the old cemetery was not completely emptied and when the company would expand they would come upon more bodies that would have to be relocated. Once when in the plant I noticed an old newspaper article on the wall showing a picture of a very well made and ornate metal casket (bronze perhaps) that had been discovered during one of the plant expansions. The large and heavy casket was in good shape and actually had a small window built into it that was still intact so you could see the pretty well preserved civil war occupant inside. It had been quite an undertaking to get the casket out intact so it could be relocated. Found the reference below:
    Greenlawn Cemetery / Expansion project at Diamond Chain Company uncovers bones, casket remains & ancient headstones. Indpls. Star. Oct. 16, 1980. p. 54, c. 5

  2. Tom Davis says:

    That was probably something along the lines of a Fisk iron casket. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisk_metallic_burial_case

    Governor James Whitcomb’s body was moved from Greenlawn to Crown Hill in the 1890s about 40 years after his death in 1852. During this move, it was noted by those in charge that his face was well preserved and very life-like. His daughter, Martha Whitcomb Matthews, married to then Governor Claude Matthews, responded to this news with an irrepressible desire to view her father’s face. She had been but an infant at the time of his death and had no recollection of what he looked like. She did go and take her first and only memorable look at her father.

  3. David Brewer says:

    An elderly relative once explained to me that — according to family stories — families were told that their loved ones would be moved for a fee. If the families could not pay for the exhumation and reburial, then just the headstones would be moved. As there were several families who could not afford the expense, that might partly explain the occasional casket that is found. I recall that another cast iron coffin was found in 1986. The workers who opened it up thought it might be a union soldier, since the body was wearing a blue uniform. Upon closer inspection, however, it was discovered that the deceased’s funeral suit had turned blueish from the oxidation of the metal in the casket. The body was fairly well preserved, probably due to the use of arsenic in the embalming fluid–a fairly common practice with morticians up into the 20th century.

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