The Indianapolis Automobile Industry

A History, 1895-1939

(January 2018 publication)

The automobile burst upon the  Indianapolis scene in 1893 when Charles Black, a local carriage maker, made a rudimentary car.  Within 15 years, Indianapolis was a major automobile manufacturing center rivaling Detroit.  Although never producing as many automobiles as Detroit, Indianapolis was known as a center for innovation and the high quality of its automobiles  Some of the innovations from Indianapolis manufacturers were the aluminum engine, disc brakes, aerodynamics, super chargers, and the rear view mirror.

The early automobiles were unreliable and manufacturers turned to various contests including endurance races, hill climbs, and track racing to show the quality of their product.  When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway  opened in 1909, the hometown manufacturers dominated action on the track.  With its brick surface, running on the Speedway uncovered the automobile weaknesses better than running on city streets or other forms of racing.

The best known  Indianapolis brands were Marmon, Stutz, and Duesenberg.  Although not as well known but contributing to the fabric of the industry were National, American (underslung), Premier, Marion, Cole, and Cole.  Among other manufacturers with short-lived histories were Lafayette, Knight-Lyons, and Hassler.