It’s a matter of some controversy who produced the first automobile in the United States. Though German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz had been conducting trials of their prototypes since the mid-1880s, their American counterparts only started road-testing their models in the early 1890s. In 1893, Charles and Frank Duryea claimed to have made the first automobile run in Springfield, Massachusetts. When Elwood Haynes of Kokomo, Indiana test-drove his own vehicle on July 4, 1894, he challenged the Duryea Brothers’ claim. While the Duryeas, Haynes argued, had simply strapped an engine onto a carriage, Haynes’ car, which he christened “The Pioneer”–was the first expressly designed as an automobile. Haynes hired brothers Elmer and Edgar Apperson to fabricate the car, which featured a one-cylinder, one-horsepower gasoline engine. Because of the model’s limited steering capability–and so as not to scare the horses on the city streets–Haynes took the Pioneer out of the city limits for its maiden voyage, during which he clocked a speed of seven miles per hour on Pumpkinvine Pike. After retooling his design, Haynes increased the car’s top speed and improved its durability and maneuverability, going on to win awards in the fledgling industry’s contests in the 1890s. By 1898, the Haynes-Apperson Corporation of Kokomo began to manufacture cars for sale to the public, and by 1900, they had at least thirty competitors in the US. Haynes soon parted ways with the Appersons, and homed in on the luxury market–producing 350 cars in 1909 to Henry Ford’s 10,000 Model T’s. Haynes’ cars were priced from 2500 to 5500 dollars that year, while a Model T retailed at 825. Though Haynes did eventually increase production, a slump in the auto market in 1921 spelled the demise of his auto business by 1924.
The auto-maker had, in the meantime, been busy with other projects. After the discovery of gas in Jay County in 1886, Haynes had co-founded the Portland Natural Gas and Oil Company in his hometown. He is credited with having developed a number of devices facilitating the widespread use of the natural resource, including an early home thermostat, and a high-pressure pipeline spanning the state. In 1912 Haynes, an avid metallurgist, was awarded a patent for “Stellite,” a tungsten and cobalt-chromium alloy that was one of the first types of stainless steel. Haynes passed away in 1925 at the age of 67. The Pioneer is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
For more information:
- “Elwood Haynes.” Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 22. Gale Group, 2002. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich. : Thomson Gale. 2006.