Who is credited with building the first internal combustion powered automobile in America? If you said Henry Ford, you are wrong. It was a denizen of Kokomo. He pushed his vehicle out of his garage and tooled along Pumpkinvine Pike in 1894 at the outrageous speed of seven miles per hour.
On Oct. 14, 1857, four years before the American Civil War began, a baby boy came into this world in the usual way. That little boy wrapped in swaddling clothes was destined to become an American inventor, metallurgist, automotive pioneer, entrepreneur and industrialist. He was educated in public schools in Jay County and Johns Hopkins University in chemistry, biology and metallurgy.
At that time the largest reserve of natural gas and oil in America was discovered in Northern Indiana. He was engaged to work as an analyst in the laboratories of the company. Later he directed oil drilling and the transport of oil and gas through pipelines. A problem developed that gas froze in the pipelines in winter interrupting flow. He developed a process that solved the problem that is recognized as a very early experiment in refrigeration.
He had to travel by lurching, lunging, bumping horse and carriage to supervise his gas operations. He began to wonder if a better way could be invented for greater dependability and creature comfort.
He first considered steam power but in his own words that would require frequent stops for the two W’s - wood and water. The year 1893 found him at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. While others were indulging themselves in firsts such as Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit Chewing gum, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer or riding a new-fangled contraption called the Ferris Wheel he was busy with other pursuits.
While this was going on he found a gasoline powered internal combustion engine and thought, “I think this might work as my power source.” He had it shipped to Kokomo and begin tinkering. Bertha exclaimed, “If you don’t get this junk out of my kitchen I will not be responsible for what I do to you.” He heard that. He soon employed Elmer and Edgar Apperson to assist his operation in a shop owned by the Appersons.
After many fits and starts he pushed his first car, the Pioneer, out of the garage and pulled it by horse to Pumpkinvine Pike to evade a crowd of interested onlookers. The Pioneer roared to life and he and the Apperson Brothers tootled down the pike at seven miles per hour. They knew the speed by attaching a rag to a wheel and counting the revolutions. It was two years later that Henry Ford motored down the street. In your face Henry Ford. Mr. Ford, kindly step aside. Mr. Elwood Haynes of Kokomo, Indiana, inventor of the automobile, take a bow.
Unfortunately Haynes could not grow his car business as did Ford. He invented a process he called Stellite. It was a way of producing steel that would not rust so it became stainless steel and is still used for silverware, surgical instruments, et al. And when you use your non-stick skillet cookware thank Elwood. That invention put the food on the table at the Elwood Haynes house and still does. In 1925 he was a multi-millionaire. And there you have ANOTHER HOOSIER MOMENT.
Larry Vandeventer – I am a Calvertville Native. Reach me at 317-839-7656 or at Goosecrick@aol.com. Read about me, my books, and my columns on my Two Websites – Larryvandeventer.com and Rambler1956.com. I am a graduate of Worthington High School and Indiana State University.