Indianapolis Auto Show - 1909

This is a collection of articles from the Indianapolis Star concerning the 1909 Indianapolis Auto Show.
Attachment autoshow022109 was published February 21, 1909 and discussed early preparations by the organizers, all members of the Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association and executives at Indianapolis automobile dealerships. Hoping to build on the success of the shows in 1907 and 1908, many of the same men involved with those events collaborated in committees to look ahead to March 1909. Similar to the previous shows their plan called for a dispersed show in that special decorations and presentations would be presented in dealerships and the local factories. As in previous years there was no coliseum, auditorium or convention center available in the city. The close proximity of most of the "15 to 20" participating dealers on a stretch of road in Indianapolis called Automobile Row made the idea of organizing the show so people could go door-to-door progressive dinner style feasible.
Among those involved with project management for the show were Will H. Brown (President), B.W. Twyman (Treasurer) and Frank B. Willis (Secretary). Twyman was an executive with the Motor Supply Company. Those prominent in the planing the previous year's show that were again taking on major roles in 1909: Frank Moore (Fisher Automobile Company), P.D. Stubbs, George Weidley (Premier), Howard Marmon (Nordyke & Marmon) and Cecil Gibson (Gibson Automoible Company). As they did the previous year they planned a parade, obstacle races and a closing banquet or ball.
The article in attachment AutoShow031409 was published March 14, 1909 and focuses on events and contests during the week of the upcoming Auto Show. In particular novelty events are explained. Many of these are beyond strange in today's terms: women driving cars while holding eggs in spoons, men and women teaming up while the man drives and the woman holds an apple in a spoon extending it outside the car, men driving blindfolded and a medley race where ribbons and sashes are tied around each other and potatos are dropped into baskets. A more traditional obstacle race was planned as well as a tire changing contest and a parade of a thousand cars supported by band music. Plans for the final event, a $1-a-plate dinner, called for speakers prominent in the automobile industry and one mentioned in particular was a gentleman named Barney Briscoe of Tarrytown, New York. The article also mentions that one event had been cancelled. This was an incline contest that was planned to be staged on a wooden ramp from Vermont Street to the top of Fisher Automobile Company four stories high.
Speaking of Fisher's garage a small item published the same day (attachment FisherNote031409) shared that the company had just taken a shipment of six Maxwell cars. All the car were for display during the automobile show week.
Published March 15, the article in attachment AutoShow031509 focuses on the planning for the parade, including early thoughts on the route through the city. The route started at Fall Creek Boulevard to Meridian, to Ohio, Capitol, Washington, East, double back on Washington, Pennsylvania, Market and around the Monument Circle. From the Circle the route was Meridian to New York, terminating at the offices of the Indianapolis Star. While the primary purpose of the parade was to showcase cars for sale the plans called for novelties such as "an old-time one-cylinder car" and "freaks" such as one described as having its radiators in the rear. One suggestion was that a clown may appear in one of the cars. The Warner Instrument Company planned to display an eight-foot by four-foot "speed register" that would display to the spectators lining the roads how fast the car it was riding in was going.
According to the report of the article published March 16 (attachment AutoShow031609) with less than a week to go for the show the dealerships were busy decorating with floral and electrical displays. The location for all the contests described above was on Capitol Avenue between Michigan and Walnut Streets. In a smart marketing move by the dealers the article reports that anyone wishing to compete in the contests could register at any of the dealerships along Automobile Row. Immediately following the main article was a digest of smaller items among which was a mention that Carl Fisher's dealership had just taken a shipment of six Maxwell cars and that the National Motor Vehicle Company had constructed a custom car for the Indianapolis Police Department.
Attachment AutoShow032009 contains an article publshed March 20 that proclaimed the Auto Show plannng committee had held its final meeting the night prior and that everything was in order. An impressive list of dealers participating in the parade is provided with the note that each expected to include 25 cars in the parade. Their signage advertising was limited to a relatively small placard on each car with basic information. Howard Marmon chaired the banquet committee and reported that Indianapolis Mayor Charles Bookwalter would provide the keynote address. The event was planned for the closing day of the week, Saturday evening, March 27, at the Denison Hotel.
There are two items published Sunday, March 21 (see cover of the paper's automobile section for images of top auto company executives in attachment CANewby032109) and they are in attachments AutoShow032109 and AutoShow032109i respectively. The article in the first attachment continues the flow of information about the show. This was day before the show began so mention is made of how visitors were coming from out of town, even from surrounding states such as Illinois and Michigan. What was evolving is an industry conference as meetings among professionals in the auto industry were secheduled along with dinner dates and other informal interaction. The improtance of socializing - essentially networking - was underscored and specifically an excursion to the "new five-mile speedway" was planned. This was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and construction was just breaking ground at the time of this publication.
The article notes that market growth was coming from the lower price segments, obviously people of lesser means but recognizing the value and efficiency of motorized transportation. According to the information cars were becoming increasingly similar and the focus was on durability and efficiency. Interest in six-cylinder models was growing. The conclusion of this article is actually provided in attachment AutoShow032109i but the main feature of the content in this attachment is a set of pictures of executives from Indianapolis automobile companies that had worked to plan the show: B.W. Twyman, D.B. Sullivan, Frank Willis, Will Brown and Fred Willis.
Another article published March 21 (attachment AutoShowNotes032109) is mostly a digest of tidbits about what the various dealers were doing. Among the interesting items was that the Nordyke & Marmon people outfited one of their cars with 14 inch wooden wheels - as opposed to the normal 36 inch ones - in order to squeeze the machine through showroom doorways. At Fisher Automobile Company a new line of motoring apparel was announced for sale on the company's second floor. In a very creative display the Willis-Holcomb company decided to demonstrate the oiling system of an EMF car by having it pump fruit punch as refreshment for visitors.
A program of events for the week is provided by a very brief but interesting item in attachment AutoShow032309 published March 23, 1909. This was the second day of the show and keep in mind the Indianapolis Star is and always a morning paper. That day a three-class tire changing contest was scheduled: clincher tires, quick detachable and demountable rims. There was also an egg carrying contest for teams of a man and a woman. The big parade was scheduled for the following day, Wednesday. The route had been changed to terminate on Massachusetts Avenue due to a last minute appeal by local merchants. On Thursday obstacles races were planned - one each for men and women. Friday offered open houses at the dealerships with individual contests provided at each dealer's discretion. Saturday was the wrap-up with a luncheon at the Denison featuring Mayor Brookwalter as the keynote speaker. The rest of the short article reads like an indemnity clause in a legal contract.
Also published on March 23 was another news digest column (attacment AutoShowOpens032309) that summarizes the various activities at the different dealers on the opening day of the show, March 22. As is noted in the previous article the non-automotive merchants in the city were excited about the show and joined in with decorations to brighten up the atmosphere. Prominent local businessman George J. Marrott - well known in the area for his department store - visited other merchants along Massachusetts Avenue to help inspire and organize. Marrott reportedly had already decorated his store with flags.
Most of the activity was along Automobile Row with few people visiting the factories. Among the events of interest was an incline climb near Fisher Automobile Company with an Overland automobile out-performing the competition by scaling the "39.5 percent 134 foot incline" in 12 seconds. Some disappointment was expressed that entries for various contests - such as the egg carrying and obstacle course events - were very slow to arrive. Organizers were hopeful to receive a tusnami of late entries. Several dealerships were described to have flags, flowers and all manner of decorations. The article reports that Carl Fisher had just completed a new office at his building and deemed one of the finest "in the West." The Fisher garage was decorated with a theme of the national colors.
One odd item is a report that a G.C. Tyle of 2717 Park Avenue offered a tip that people could use salt water as a cooling fluid for your engine. Uh...thanks Mr. Tyle, I think I'll pass. Also noted was that the Indiana Motorcycle Club moved into its new headquarters at 424 West Vermont Street. The 80-member club was preparing for the upcoming Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) convention associated with the opening of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with motorcycle races. These had been expected in July but were delayed until August due to slower-than-expected construction on the track.
Attachment AutoShowContests032409 has an article that was published March 24, 1909 and summarizes the competition in the novelty events of the previous day. As predicted numerous entries in the various events were filed at the last minute and some interesting names poped up such as future Indianapolis 500 drivers Johnny Aitken and Charlie Merz as well as their ultra-fast National Motor Vehicle Company teammate Thomas Kincaid who won races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May and July 1910 but was killed practicing at the Speedway shortly after the July race weekend. Kincaid was paired with a Miss Mary Aitken who, I am only speculating, may have been the sister of Johnny Aitken.
The tire changing contest sounds like a great competition. Edgar Apperson of Apperson Automobile, won the demountable rim contest with a time of 43 seconds. Cars had to have 32 x 3.5 inch or larger tires. Charles Star with his Premier won the clincher contest in 2 minutes, 59 seconds. Charlie Merz (National) was second in that event. T.K. McCune (attachment AutoShowContest032409 contains an image of McKune, who was with the Finch & Freeman auto company) with his Auburn won the quick detachable competition in 2 minutes and 9 seconds. Aitken was second, 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Meanwhile Carl Fisher's staged another incline climb at Fisher Automobile Company. From this article it sounds like the incline was a wooden ramp from the street to the top of the four story building. Fisher was known for his extreme stunts. Also published on March 24 was an Indianapolis Star full page ad (attachment AutoShowAd032409) touting the Indianapolis Auto Show with a great image of tire with old school chains for traction.
The article in attachment AutoShow032509 reports that rain had dashed hopes of staging the big auto parade of the previous day - its original date. The day was described as "an out of town day" as people, especially farmers, trudged their wagons through the muddy roads to come to the big city. Perhaps drawn by the promise of the parade, although the article does not imply that, the rain turned out to be fortuitous as people sought shelter in the showrooms and salesman shared their "inexhaustible" supply of automobile information.
The next day's newspaper, March 26, reported (attachment AutoShowParade032609i) that the weather again foiled the Auto Show committee's plans for their big parade. This time it wasn't rain, it was just good, old-fashioned cold Indiana March weather. Outdoor events in Indiana during March are only for the most optomistic but this was the window to get in front of the automobile buying season during this era. It was a blustery wind that seemed too cruel to ask people to endure so organizers delayed another day. Meanwhile Parade Committee Chairman Fred Willis was laying down the law on decorations or signage that would be permitted on participating cars. As mentioned earlier a standard issue plaque is all the rules prescribed and Willis warned he had police back-up if he needed to pull violators out of line - and out of the parade. Meanwhile plans for the closing event of the week - the banquet - were in full swing. A Mr. M.M. Crabill had been prevailed upon to speak about good roads. A Google search indicates Crabill was at some point involved in the insurance industry. Attachment AutoShowParade032609 contains a March 26 image of a car replete with floral display. You have to wonder if this isn't an example of the kind of thing Willis was complaining about.
A digest column (attachment NationalFisherGarage032609) on also published March 26 yields some interesting information. The Fisher Automobile Company had a National race car on display with the hope of attracting foot traffic. Nordyke & Marmon had a a cut-away demonstration unit displayed as well, with glass windows to see the internal workings. The company demonstrated its oiling system by allowing customers to turn a crankshaft with a hand crank so they could see how the lubrication system worked. The pistons and rods were removed to fully expose the crank and the oiling arteries drilled throughout it. As the crank turned the oil pump delivered the oil through the arteries. The article noted that a Marmon would go through only one gallon of oil in 300 miles!!! The column also identifies a name I had never heard before working as a "publicity man" for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His name is reported as Frank Westcott.
Finally on Friday, March 26 the big parade was conducted. This was reported in the Saturday morning paper (attachment AutoShowParade032709i). An estimated $500,000 worth of cars, numbering several hundred in total, drove the five mile route. A gentleman by the name of Lew Cooper led the parade and was presented with a basket of American Beauty Roses at its conclusion. May Freda Brown, a ten-year-old girl, drove one of Carl Fisher's Overland entries. The obstacle races had been postponed due to the cold, windy weather as well. They were conducted immediately following the parade. Interestingly a decision was made at the last minute not to allow the women drivers to participate - for fear they would scratch and dent the new cars! Fisher Automobile Company again hosted an incline climb on their giant, four-story ramp.
Attachments AutoShowParade032709ii and AutoShowParade032709 both were part of the Saturday, March 27 news coverage. They contain images that support the above article. Note that the cars pictured have no decorations indicating Willis prevailed. Comments from the spectators expressed disappointment that no special effort was made to decorate the cars for the occasion.
Attachment AutoShow032809 contains an article summarizing the show. Testimonial after testimonial is presented with various dealership executives enthusiastically beaming about the success of the week. A passage odd only in the context of today's times provides insight to the sensibilities of 1909:
"A peculiar thing happened at the Fisher garage. A large colored man had been roaming around the stoe for some time and as he seemed to be 'just looking on' no one bothered him nor asked questions. Finally one of the salesmen ventured a remark. It developed that he had been sent to the garage by a wealthy woman for whom he worked. As a result a machine was sold. This is given out by the dealer as an example of never knowing what episode or accident will result in benefit."
Attachment AutoShowBanquet032809 is a very brief item summarizing the closing banquet. As planned Mayor Bookwalter spoke, as well as M.M. Carbill who discussed the good roads movement. The Temple Quartet provided music and a vaudeville company entertainment.

autoshow022109.pdf477.4 KB
AutoShow031409.pdf610.3 KB
FisherNote031409.pdf199.92 KB
AutoShow031509.pdf357.83 KB
AutoShow031609.pdf552.06 KB
AutoShow032009.pdf467.46 KB
CANewby032109.pdf1.19 MB
AutoShow032109.pdf608.06 KB
AutoShow032109i.pdf565.26 KB
AutoShowNotes032109.pdf1.17 MB
AutoShowProgram032309.pdf262.96 KB
AutoShowOpens032309.pdf1.41 MB
AutoShowContests032409.pdf855.43 KB
AutoShowContest032409.pdf179.67 KB
AutoShowAd032409.pdf377.94 KB
AutoShow032509.pdf692.85 KB
AutoShowParade032609i.pdf697.44 KB
AutoShowParade032609.pdf305.03 KB
NationalFisherGarage032609.pdf1.07 MB
AutoShowParade032709i.pdf690.93 KB
AutoShowParade032709.pdf238.87 KB
AutoShowParade032709ii.pdf661.17 KB
AutoShow032809.pdf795.27 KB
AutoShowBanquet032809.pdf253.15 KB