A hundred years ago, no city in Indiana, or perhaps the Midwest, experienced such in influx of industry, ingenuity and American innovation as Kokomo, Indiana. Riding off the fumes of Indiana’s brief natural gas boom, inventors and industrialists alike met in the city and together, cranked out invention-after-invention.
This parade of progress earned Kokomo the official/unofficial title of “City of Firsts”. Here is just a tiny sample of what Hoosiers contributed to our then-emerging American industry.
The First Push-Button Car Radio
Before the push-button radios, car audio had to be tuned in the old-fashioned way—by searching the squeaks and squelches of AM signals. Anyone over the age of 40 can remember how frustrating that was. The Delco Division of General Motors in Kokomo released a push-button radio in 1938, allowing drivers to “program” stations.
The World’s First Pneumatic Tire
To combat the rough terrain of America’s earliest roads, D.C. Spracker of the Kokomo Rubber Tire Company invented the pneumatic tire in 1894, inflating an amalgam of rubber and fabric around a rim.
First Aerial Bomb with Fins
To improve the increasing tactical use of aircraft, Kokomo’s Liberty Pressed Metal Company introduced the first bomb with aerial fins in 1918, allowing greater accuracy and reliability in aerial bombardment.
The First Mechanical Corn Picker
Known as the John Powell Picker (named after its inventor), there can hardly be an invention more suited for use in Indiana. Powell had been attempting to build a better tractor, but witnessed how corn harvesters floundered in the muddy terrain of cornfields. He then created the two-row corn picker in 1920, a PTO implement for contemporary tractors.
The First “McDiner”
In an effort to expand its services and market, McDonald’s briefly toyed with the idea of a “McDiner”, allowing families to enjoy McDonald’s food in a full-service, casual dining atmosphere. The first “McDiner” popped up in Kokomo in 2001. The idea, uh, never caught on.
The First Stainless Steel Flatware
In 1912, prolific (and amateur) Indiana scientist Elwood Haynes perfected the first flatware composed of stainless steel, satisfying his wife’s request for dining utensils that didn’t tarnish…or taste funky. His invention eventually became part of the Haynes Stellite Company, a producer of metals of industrial use…and also flatware.
The First Canned Tomato Juice