Prest-O-Lite Building

This image is of a downtown Indianapolis building that served in 1907 as the site of the Prest-O-Lite factory owned by Indianapolis Motor Speedway Founders Carl Fisher and James Allison. Despite their previous business success, both men took their wealth and influence to new levels through the 1904 introduction of Prest-O-Lite, the first truely effective headlight for automobiles. Headlamps prior to the advent of Prest-O-Lite were basically lanterns.
The Prest-O-Lite technology was not based on electric lights which would not be effectively introduced for several years (Cadillac is credited with this in 1912), but compressed acetylene gas ignited by a sparking switch. Allison and Fisher were introduced to the idea by entrepreneur P.C. Avery who had purchased the patent for compressing the gas in a canister that was fitted to the running boards of automobiles and then delivered to the headlights through tubing.
Prest-O-Lite had previously occupied what is described as a small frame building on 25th Street. The new location was at Pearl and East Streets. It was previously used by a veterinary surgeon who also operated a college for that career field. It became the site of a dramatic fire when an acetylene gas leak ignited a fire and began a series of explosions of canisters
An Indianapolis Star article published August 18, 1907 describing the accident can be found elsewhere on First Super Speedway
Check out other images from the 1907 fire:

  • Firemen scale ladders to reach second and third floors.
  • A Fireman wades in knee deep water after debris clogged the only sewer drain.
  • Shattered planks of wood train box car reflect the force of flying brass canisters hurled by acetylene explosions.
  • Indianapolis Fire Department Chief Charles Coots oversees the work of his firefighter "hose company" teams.


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