By Mary Giorgio
On a hot July day in 1894 Elwood Haynes test drove his first automobile. The Portland, Indiana, native went on to become the first American to successfully create a commercially-viable automobile.
As a young man, Haynes showed an aptitude for metallurgy. He enrolled at the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science in Massachusetts in 1878. He later attended Johns Hopkins University for one year.
Returning to Indiana, Haynes became a field superintendent for gas and oil companies during Indiana’s gas boom. He also began experimenting with automobile prototypes.
Soon after, Haynes settled in Kokomo, Indiana. In 1894, with the help of Elmer and Edgar Apperson, Haynes built a prototype automobile named the “Pioneer.” The car utilized a one-cylinder, one-horsepower gasoline engine similar to one Haynes had seen modeled at the Chicago World’s Fair years earlier. The car weighed over 800 pounds, only held one person and didn’t have a reverse gear.
A man’s work in life is not very great at best, when compared with the sum total of human effort, and after all, it is the good that we may be able to do for our fellow-men and not the glory of achievement that really counts.
On July 4, 1894, Haynes towed his “Pioneer” to the outskirts of Kokomo, Indiana, started the engine and rolled into town at a whopping 7 mph. Soon after, Haynes and the Apperson brothers teamed up to form Haynes-Apperson, an automobile manufacturing company. They began working to make their prototype viable for mass production. It was the first for-profit automobile manufacturing company in the United States.
Over the course of the next decade, the Haynes-Apperson company regularly raced their automobiles in endurance races, earning a reputation for building reliable vehicles. Their cars won many of the races they entered.
Following an argument in 1902, the partnership dissolved. Haynes formed the Haynes Automobile Company in 1905. One of the roadblocks to mass production of automobiles was the weight of the car’s metal frame. Haynes began experimenting with lightweight corrosion-resistant metals. He eventually patented a mix of tungsten, chromium, steel, and iron that formed into a strong but lightweight metal alloy. It could also tolerate the high temperatures of combustion. In 1912, Haynes formed the Haynes Stellite Company to produce this alloy.
In addition to its applications in the automotive industry, Stellite became a hot commodity during World War I preparations. Haynes received enough government contracts for his alloy that he emerged from the war a millionaire.
Following the war, Haynes sold his patent to the American Stainless Steel Company. In 1920, he merged Haynes Stellite with Union Carbide. The company eventually became known as Haynes International. Today, the company continues to be headquartered in Kokomo, Indiana and is one of the largest producers of corrosion-resistant alloys in the country.
When Haynes died on April 13, 1925, he had amassed a fortune of $2.85 million (about $35 million in today’s dollars). Today, his “Pioneer” prototype sits in the halls of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., a reminder of Haynes’s contributions to the development of the American automobile.