Indianapolis Auto Show - 1908 (Preparations)

Simultaneous but coincidental with Savannah, Georgia preparing for their first big auto race event Indianapolis planned its second annual major automobile show in late winter - spring of 1908. The show grew significantly from its inaugural event in 1907. Also check out the articles about the 1909 Indianapolis Auto Show. These articles are from the Indianapolis Star.
The articles reflect the maturing of the automobile industry in general and the Indianapolis market in particular. The auto show was led by the burgeoning growth of car dealerships in the area but also supported by the manufacturers as well. A committee of executives of these firms was formed and a collaboration of enlightened self-interest produced a multi-faceted celebration of the still-new concept of automobile ownership. The show took place in early spring as during this era that was the beginning of the car-buying season. Early automobiles were not used as frequently in the winter months of northern climates because extreme cold could freeze fluids, especially water in radiators. A large portion of the market still consisted of soon-to-be first time purchasers so stimulating interest was a big part of the game.
The article in attachment IndyAutoShow021608 reports on the auto show committee's plans for their event week. Committee Secretary P.D. Stubbs who at the time I believe was the sales manager for Overland spoke for the group. Speaking of Overland Motors, this article mentions the acquisition of the firm by John Willys who owned an Elmira, New York dealership for the brand. In 1912 Willys renamed the company Willys-Overland Motors. Among the plans for the big event week were a vehicle parade, a hill climb, and an obstacle course event. The above referenced Savannah event is specifically mentioned (although an 800 mile race is mentioned which is curious given that there was not one) as well as a specially designed American Motor Car Company entry that traveled with an executive by the name of V.A. Longacre (the spelling also appears as Longaker).
The article reports that the Indianapolis dealers had begun discussions about forming an industry association to better enable them to influence government policy. Also note that a Mr. Charles R. Newby of Capital Automobile Company forecasts an increase in sales in 1908 over 1907. This Mr. Newby is not be confused with Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder and National Motor Vehicle Company executive Arthur C. Newby. As near as I can tell they were not relatives.
The article in attachment IndyAutoShow022308 is a brief update on show committee planning that includes a sign of the times with a mention that the "fair sex" would appear in cars participating in the automobile parade - essentially to beautify it. The Pope Motor Car Company offered a silver cup to stage a half-mile speed contest. This was voted down by the committee who collectively preferred to avoid racing during the week. The Pope people had an ulterrior motive as they had an electric vehicle they were trying to demonstrate to win a municipal fire truck contract and believed the high torque acceleration of their product would be persuasive to that purpose.
The most interesting information reported in the article from attachment IndyAutoShow030108 is that an Indianapolis factory manufacturing electric Waverley cars was breaking away from Overland, which, as reported above had been acquired by John Willys and re-named. Pope and Waverley brands were among the early losers in the competitive market automobile manufacturers faced. They re-organized, merged, acquired and divested in desperate attempts to establish a toe hold in the market. In this case Pope-Waverley executives Wilbur C. Johnson and Herbert H. Rice are noted in taking the lead in the re-organization. Also note that the Irvin Robbins - a coach building company - was prominent and had a seat at the table of the planning meetings for the big Indianapolis auto show. The article also updates the committee's latest thinking on the agenda for the auto show. A typo in the article reports that the Automobile Association of America had agreed to sanction the hill climb events. The article is referring to the American Automobile Association (AAA). Make note too that in an adjacent column stage star Lillian Russell is mentioned as using a Rambler automobile as part of one of her performances.
The article in attachment IndyAutoShow030408 reports on an industry meeting that took place the previous evening at the Indiana Auto Club rooms of the Denison Hotel where fifty of the city's dealerships, car manufaturers and accessory companies were represented, gathering to report out on plans for the upcoming auto show. Sub-committees for all events such as the hill climb, obstacle course and parade updated each other on plans. The hill climb committee announced that the event would take place on Tuesday, March 24 at a location referred to as "Michigan Hill." Five companies donated five silver trophies for the various classes of cars within the event. Meanwhile the obstacle race committee shared that they expected to stage their event on Friday, March 27 on Capitol Avenue between Vermont and Michigan Streets. Curiously one of the obstacle course contests involved egg cracking.
Two articles appeared in the Indianapolis Star on March 8, 1908 and appear here in attachments IndyAutoShow030808 and IndyAutoShowHillClimb030808 respectively. The first, the least significant of the two reports robust sales at the local dealerships but probably does more to underscore how the newspaper could pander to local business interests with the perhaps noble objective of advancing the local economy. We can be certain that some firms enjoyed greater success than others and the eventual unraveling of the auto industry in Indianapolis is clear evidence. More importantly, the second article is really a simple entry list of cars for the upcoming hill climb contests. The great thing about this material is it is a quick reference of auto dealerships in Indianapolis at that date. Among those listed - and no surprise - is the Fisher Automobile Company of Carl Fisher who would later found the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and become its first President. Others listed are: Buick-Losey Company, Gibson Auto Company, Cadillac Auto Company, Finch-Freeman, H.T. Hearsey Company, Indiana Auto Company, Citizen's Auto Company, Capital Auto Company and American Auto Company. In reference to the silver trophies noted above there was one for each of the five events for cars categorized by their list prices.
The article in attachment IndyAutoShow031108 reports on another show committee meeting at the Denison Hotel where plans were revealed and discussed. The automobile parade route was shared as was confirmation that local police and city officials endorsed use of the roads. The route called for the parade to start at the very center of the city at Monument Circle. If you know Indianapolis the path will be familiar even today as the committee said the cars would head west from the Circle on Market Street, head south on Capitol Avenue to Washington Street and head east. From there they would go to Pennsylvania, head north to Massachusetts Avenue to Delware Street and go north. At 16th Street they would go west back to Capitol Avenue and head south to Indiana Avenue. After going east on Indiana they would head south on Illinois back to Market and conclude where they started at the Circle Monument.
Another interesting aspect of this article is that the meeting was attended by an AAA official - F.H. Elliot - who discussed rules for the hill climb events. Apparently Elliot was also scheduled to attend the races in Savannah the week prior to the hill climb. Frank Moore, who was day-to-day manager of the Fisher Automobile Company was chair for this event sub-committee. James Allison who would later that year join Fisher in purchasing the land necessary to found the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was announced as starter for the five hill climb contests.
Attachment IndyAutoShow031508 provides several interesting details about events and developments. Noteworthy is that papers of incorporation were filed for the Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association to be formed. Also the sub-committee for the obstacle course revealed that cracker barrels would be positioned along Capitol Avenue to create a "torturous" course. Drivers would be required to master this improvised circuit without mishap and at the fastest time possible. The exact rules of the "egg cracking" contest were only to be revealed on the course at the time of the event. Another interesting contest was something called a "low speed" race where the winner actually traveled at the slowest speed possible without stalling out in high gear. The Indianapolis Star had announced a prize they called the "Star Cup" for the city or club bringing the largest contingent of automobiles from outside the city into Indianapolis. In a sure sign of the times organizers forecasted an astonishing number of cars coming - perhaps as many as 300. An image of the Star Cup with a brief description of the rules for participation is contained within attachment IndyAutoShow032108.
Attachment IndyAutoShow032208 is a hefty PDF document of 48 pages and numerous articles. It was published in the Sunday morning paper the day before the show week started on March 22, 1908. Essentially it is a souvenir section and again clear evidence the local newspapers were doing their part to promote Indianapolis-based industry. The first page is a tidy summary of the events of the week - the Monday parade, the Tuesday hill climb contests and the Friday obstacle course competition. The show schedule called for a big close with a dinner at the Grand Hotel on Saturday. Dealerships, manufacturers and accessory companies like G&J Tire host special meetings and exhibits throughout the week. Interestingly, the parade route changed from its original reporting in the March 11 newspaper article. The new route began and concluded at Monument Circle but now traversed Market Street to Illinois Street to New York then to Capitol Avenue to Washington to Pennsylvania then Delaware to Capitol and back to Market and conclude at the Circle.
The article, "Auto Dealers Form Trade Association," reports that the Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association was officially incorporated with Frank Staley of the H.T. Hearsey Company as president. The vice presdient was A.E. Vinton of G&J Tire Company and Frank Moore of Fisher Automobile was treasurer. Next to this article is a peculiar rhyme with the byline attributed to P.D. Stubbs, secretary of the American Motor Car Company. The rhyme, titled "Indianapolis Dealers Sell Nearly Every Type of Car," is a useful reference in that it mentions all the city's dealers and the brands of cars they carried. A great companion article titled "Location of Automobile Showrooms, Factories, Garages and Cars Handled" is a more straightforward list of the dealerships, garages and factories in Indianapolis as well as their addresses.
On page 14 of this sizaable PDF attachment is a very interesting article ("Local Exhibit Now Has the Boards") that makes three points. 1) It captures some of the color of the auto show by noteing that the dealerships, garages and factories were decorated with bunting and other accoutrements that just makes me imagine the deep wood grain and polished brass of the day. All of it to put out the red carpet for the customer. 2) The article stresses how the automobile was transitioning from a luxury to a utility machine and increasingly priced attractively for the masses. 3) The enthusiasm for the automobile as evidenced by the throngs that gathered roadside even in inclement February weather to witness the Indiana leg of the New York-to-Paris "Great Race" the previous month.
Page 15 of the PDF presents an image of Michigan Hill where the hill climb contests were scheduled. Mentioned in the article on the first page is a note for readers who wish to spectate that the best way to get there was to take the Northwestern Avenue car (I assume this means light rail or electrc interurban "train") to the terminus and then walk "a short distance." Contestants and friends and family were instructed to meet in their cars at the Circle Monument at 9:30 so they could all depart together. On page 16 a blatant puff piece for the Indiana Auto Company appears. This dealership sold the Thomas Motor Company cars which were receiving a good bit of attention as the leaders (and eventual winners) of the New York-to-Paris race still underway at the time. They also sold Peerless and Franklin Automobile Company cars. A number of their customers - prominent citizens of Indianapolis are noted - including Meyer Block (of the W.H. Block store chain) are listed.
A fairly technical article about the internal workings of National Motor Vehicle Company products follows on PDF pages 17 - 19. The information presented here would require a brass era car restoration specialist to fully appreciate as brass water jackets, beveled gears and exhaust systems allowing for heat expansion are discussed. Also there is a note that company's car engines do use "packing" - whatever that means. There is a double system of ignition and the cylinders of the "Big Six" model are cast seperately - which still amazes me but I understand it was the norm for the day. The Fisher Automobile Company is called out as the dealership carrying the National brand.
Trucks were emerging as an important product of the automobile industry and PDF pages 20 - 21 provide an article ("Many Rapid Trucks Will Be In Parade") that touts the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company's line of trucks carried by the Indianapolis Automobile Company dealership. The city of Indianapolis apparently purchased a good deal of their official vehicles from the dealership and the article notes that they planned to be well represented in the Monday auto parade. The following page, 22, contains an image of a very young-looking American Motor Car Company Secretary P.D. Stubbs. Stubbs was a central figure in the planning and production of the 1908 Indianapolis Automobile Show.
On PDF page 23 an article bylined by H.O. Smith, the president of the Premier Motor Manufacturing Company discusses the state of the industry. He offers up some interesting statistics, not the least of which is that he reports the American automobile industry was over $100M in 1907 which is amazing growth in roughly 10 years. Based on his commentary the life expectancy of the cars of the day was roughly 50,000 miles and a tire could last about 5,000 miles. Smith also offers the opinion that a car could operate on $15 to $25 monthly with an annual maintenance cost - aside from tires or accidents - of roughly another $25 to $50.
Leave it to good old Carl Fisher to come up with a unique attraction (PDF pages 24 - 25) to draw prospects into his Fisher Automobile Company dealership. There he presented a hive of bees and visitors encouraged to guess the number of the insects involved. I am going to assume the bees were in a glass enclosed case with some kind of ingress and egress so they could carry on their work in order to keep the hive alive - but who knows? The winner of the contest was to receive a Witherbee storage battery. The article also discusses a $5,000 National car ready for delivery to a prominent citizen as well as the fact that the dealership had Stoddard-Daytons and Maxwells for sale.
Another useful reference list is on PDF pages 27-28 where the variety of different makes of cars registered in Indiana - with the total units of each make - is provided. Clear evidence of a crowded market is that there were 132 different makes of cars registered, many with a single unit on the road. The most popular brands were Cadillac (411), Ford (406) and Oldsmobile (331). While the overwhelming majority of the cars listed are no longer manufactured the first three are still on the road today albeit Oldsmobile was discontinued in 2004. The list could be a researcher's date with Google as among the most obscure are: Home Made, Wayne, Lambert and Leader. Note that Harley-Davidson is listed as a manufacturer with two cars on the road.
Pages 32-37 present an article more in the style of romantic magazine prose than what you expect from a newspaper - but this is 1908 and it is Sunday morning. The article, titled, "Motoring By Night Full of Pleasure," sings the virtues of the acetelyene headlight, the first legitimate automobile headlight even though the beam was gas powered and not electric. This was the technology that propelled Prest-O-Lite to the ranks of major corporation and with it propelled the personal fortunes of founders Carl Fisher and James Allison to levels that supported their subsequent ventures into interests such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and later Miami Beach. The article extolls the virtues and adventure of the free spirit on a drive well past the final vestiges of a day's sunshine. Most importantly it encouraged a tempted public to imagine the sensual experiences and thrill of commanding dozens of horsepower at the wheel of an automobile. Certainly if you were not experiencing these sensations than you simply were not living.
"All Roads Lead to Indianapolis," is a phrase that has been used in auto racing circles in contemporary times but it was also a title to an article from page 38 through page 41 of the attached PDF. The meaning in this case is that automobilists and prospective automobilists from all corners of the state were expected to converge on the captial city. Frank Staley of the Hearsey Vehicle Company was interviewed for the article and as one of the top promoters of the show week was trumpeting its features and the promise of great fun and great business. He said that many people were arriving from outside the city in automobiles and of those that were coming by many would return in an auto. According to Staley he had been in contact with the first man to purchase an automobile in Indiana - in 1898 - and the gentleman intended to drive the car in the Monday parade. On page 42 a brief article on the Gibson Automobile Company - one of the early dealerships in the city - describes how the firm had carpenters and decorators working for three weeks to spruce up their salesroom for a gala reception.
Pages 43 - 46 of the attachment provide an article about the 1908 Marmon Cars. The article notes how they were scheduled for display in the Hearsey dealership. More interesting, it discusses the operating philosophy of the Nordyke & Marmon factory, "The Marmon idea is not how many cars, but how good." Relevant to this comment the discusses the custom tools and equipment used to assemble the machines as well as the craftsmanship and materials. Worth noting is that Nordyke & Marmon had been granted 40 patents from the U.S. Patent Office at the writing of this story.
The final two pages of this attachment, PDF pages 47 and 48 are copies of the same page, both sharing the numerous advantages of owning a National Motor Vehicle Company automobile. The ad may be an early example of cooperative advertising as it also promotes the product's distributor, the Fisher Automobile Company.
For an image of old Waverley plant see attachment Waverley092708.

IndyAutoShow021608.pdf684.43 KB
IndyAutoShow022308.pdf469.73 KB
AutoShow030108.pdf770.31 KB
IndyAutoShow030408.pdf1006.8 KB
IndyAutoShow030808.pdf495.22 KB
IndyAutoShowHillClimb030808.pdf427.76 KB
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IndyAutoShow032208.pdf12.73 MB
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