Indiana – Car Maker Capital of … Well, Part 3

Today, we go back to looking at the history of automobile manufacturing in Indiana. Today, we start in New Albany, working our way through Muncie, Peru, and Elkhart. Before it comes up, I DO plan on covering Studebaker…I promise. One can not simply ignore the longest Indiana owned auto maker when covering such a topic. I am deciding whether to cover the company as a separate entry, or as a part of this series.

American Automobile Manufacturing Company – New Albany (1908 – 1913): This company really wasn’t based in Indiana…but it was manufactured in the state. The company started in 1908, when the American Automobile Manufacturing Company started by acquiring the Jonz Automobile Company of Beatrice, Nebraska. The offices were moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1910, with the factory built on six acres along Vincennes Street in New Albany. The factory had been that of the New Albany Woolen Mill Company. By February 1912, a receiver had been appointed for the company on the application of Chester C. Jones, patentee of the gasoline engine made by the company. The financial trouble was reported as lack of working capital. The bankrupt company was purchased by Ferdinand N. Kahler, a New Albany businessman. Kahler had been making wooden body and frame components for cars since 1908. In December 1912, the company became the Ohio Falls Motor Company…but that was dissolved in July 1913. It was reincorporated as the Falls City Motor Company. The Kahler Company, which basically owned the motor car company continued after the 1914 final bankruptcy and liquidation of the Falls City Motor Company. All assets were sold to the Crown Motor Company (later Hercules Motor Car), and Kahler continued to manufacture parts for other companies, including making frames, floor boards battery boxes and other components for Henry Ford’s Model T.

Bryan Steam Motors – Peru [1918 – 1923]: This company, founded by former Santa Fe Railroad engineer George A. Bryan, generally made what were called light steam tractors. The plan of the company was to start making cars, of which they had built roughly half a dozen. The company had actually always been named the Bryan Harvester Company. The company still exists to this day, building steam boilers for building use as Bryan Boilers in Peru.

Crow-Elkhart Motor Company – Elkhart [1909 – 1923]: This company was founded by Martin E. Crow. The company produced 16 models of cars in their 14 year history, with one being rebadged by the Black Motor Company of Chicago as the “Black Crow.” One of the features that Crow-Elkhart had in their cars was the popular seating arrangement at the time: Cloverleaf seating. This was described as “staggered seats, with the driver’s usually ahead of the others.” This gave way to “rumble seats,” of bench seats, in the 1920s. Color choices available from Crow-Elkhart were: napier green; live green; black; fern green; white; cherry red; battleship gray; rover gray; cobalt blue; and cream. The logo consisted of a heart shaped insignia with a antlered elk’s head in the center. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1922, and was sold for $78,000 in 1923.

Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company – Elkhart [1905 – 1931]: Originally started as the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Company, the owners of the company decided in 1905, some 30 years after the company’s founding, to start producing automobiles. The first product, the Sterling, was offered from 1905 to 1909. Later expansion of the company’s offerings created a niche market that Elcar, the new name of the concern, filled very well – taxi cabs. By 1931, competition from Henry Ford and the brothers Dodge, led to the demise of Elcar. The last car to be manufactured at their Elkhart factory was the Mercer, a car for another manufacturer. There were only two of these built before the company gave up entirely.

Sheridan – Muncie [1920 – 1921]: I included this one simply because it was based and built in Muncie. The Sheridan was the first automotive company that was created by William Durant’s General Motors from the ground up. To that point, all other car companies that were a part of General Motors was purchased and folded into the company (Chevrolet, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac). But things weren’t going to go well for the new company. Durant was fired by GM before Sheridan could really get off the ground. He bought the nameplate and factory from GM. The Sheridan nameplate, endorsed by Eddie Rickenbacker, was destined for great things. As it turned out, by the summer of 1921, Sheridan started sliding into oblivion. The company had been renamed Durant Motors, and the Sheridan name, despite a backlog of orders, went by the wayside. The Sheridan nameplate disappeared completely by September 1921.

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