Indiana – Car Maker Capital of … Well, Part 2

Today, part two of covering the automobile industry in Indiana.

Haynes Automobile Company – Kokomo [1895 – 1925]: Elwood Haynes was a Hoosier automobile pioneer. He started working on ideas for an automobile in 1891. By 1894, Haynes, with Elmer and Edgar Apperson, formed the Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company, and released his first car, called the Pioneer. The number of innovations that Elwood Haynes left on the car industry are too numerous to post here, and will require his own entry. In 1905, after the Appersons left to create their car company, Haynes dropped the word Apperson from his company’s name. Haynes continued working on making cars better, more powerful and lighter for the years his company was in existence. 1914 saw the introduction of a car called a Light Six, which claimed to get 22 to 25 miles per gallon of gasoline. In 1923, Haynes offered a new car called the 57 in three different varieties. The company went into receivership in 1924, with the final cars assembled in early 1925. Later that year, the company would be liquidated and Elwood Haynes would pass away.

Auburn Automobile – Auburn [1900 – 1937]: The company that would become Auburn grew out of a carriage company that was founded in 1874 in Auburn. Experimental cars were made at the turn of the 20th Century. Frank and Morris Eckhart, sons of the founder of the predecessor company (Eckhart Carriage Company) entered making cars full time before acquiring two other car makers and moving into larger factory facilities in 1909. World War I materials shortages caused the factory to close for the duration. The Eckhart brothers sold the company in 1919, but the company would remain unprofitable. The new owners approached Errett Lobban Cord in 1924 about running the company. Instead, Cord offered to buy the company, which the owners accepted. The company found itself on rocky ground with the Great Depression. Auburn made upscale cars, which sold extremely poorly at a time when money was scarse. Cord was later forced to give up his automobile companies, which included Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg due to stock manipulation. In 1937, the companies stopped all production.

Overland Automobile Company – Terre Haute (1903 – 1905), Indianapolis (1905 – 1912): Although the Overland company name has been gone for almost a century, the company, or at least its successors, still live today and the name is still used by that company. In 1903, Rose Polytechnic Institute graduate Claude Cox created the Overland while working for Standard Wheel Company in Terre Haute. Two years later, Standard Wheel allowed Cox to move the company to Indianapolis. In 1908, the company was purchased by John North Willys. The company would be renamed to Willys-Overland in 1912. The Overland marquee continued to be used on cars until 1926, when the name was dropped in favor of the Willys Whippet. The Overland name made a comeback when the successor company, Jeep, started using the name for a trim package on the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

DeWitt Motor Company – North Manchester (1907 – 1910): A short lived company, started by Swedish immigrant Virgil DeWitt, basically made motorized carriages. The company was created in August 1907. It was incorporated in October 1908. There were two models of DeWitt cars – both having two seats and air cooled two cylinder engines. By April 1910, production had slowed down to one vehicle a day. On 29 April 1910, a fire that started in the paint shop spread to the entire factory, burning the whole building to the ground. The plant, it was reported, cost $22,000. Insurance on the factory was reported to be $13,000. The company never reopened.

George W. Davis Motor Car Company – Richmond (1909 – 1929): In 1909, George W. Davis started making motorized buggies in Richmond, as most cars were at that time. The original factory for the Davis company was located just east of the Pennsylvania Railroad depot in Richmond. In 1911, cars more in the modern sense were designed and built by the company. In 1920, the company purchased a plant that they had been leasing for several years. That plant had been leased by a former Richmond automobile company that moved to Springfield, Ohio – Westcott Motor Company. This kept the Davis company in Richmond, as they were planning to move to another location. Toward the end of the 1920’s, Davis cars were becoming outdated, and the company started on a downhill financial state. February 1928 saw the company purchased by Automotive Corporation of America, based in Baltimore, Maryland. The company built the last of its cars, 1929 models, using leftover parts from the 1928 models. Legal battles started between the reorganized company, G. W. Davis Corporation and the original company, George W. Davis Motor Car Company, in late 1929.

Huffman Brothers Motor Company – Elkhart (1918 – 1924): This short lived company was created in 1918, but their first cars were released in 1920. By May 1921, the company was in financial trouble, with creditors (including the Goshen Buggy Top Company and the Ligonier Auto Body Company) requesting that a receiver be named for the company. This was after the Goshen company filed a suit against the Huffman Brothers Company in October 1920 for non-payment. A receiver was named in October 1921 for the “involuntary bankruptcy” of the company. The Huffman factory, in 1924, as well as that of the Crow-Elkhart Motor Company, had been sitting idle for several months due to financial difficulties…with both plants being used at that time for storage for Studebaker automobiles. Even though the factory had been idle as of March 1924, the company was buying ads in the South Bend Tribune looking for a sales person to sell their trucks in April 1924.

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