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A Link in the Chain of Aeronautical History

Indiana’s place in the history of flight is well secured by the role played by French-born civil engineer Octave Chanute, whose experiments with non-motorized aircraft in Indiana’s dunes in the 1890s directly inspired the aeronautical innovators who followed.  But Chanute’s immediate successors, the Wright Brothers, were the beneficiaries of another bit of Hoosier ingenuity as well.  The Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Company started cranking out bicycle chain in 1890, just as the nation started to go berserk about biking.   In rented rooms on South Street, the company started on $5000 by Arthur Newby, Edward Fletcher and Glenn Howe boomed quickly, and in 1895 moved into a large factory constructed on the site later occupied by the RCA Dome (which was demolished in December 2008).  Owners of a bike shop in Dayton, Ohio, the Wright Brothers were agents for the Indianapolis chain company. The airplane they designed, and first flew successfully in the North Carolina dunes on December 17, 1903, used seven different kinds of specially designed chain from the Hoosier firm. The Wright Brothers also took advice from the company’s president, L.M. Wainwright, in working out the plane’s bicycle chain-driven propeller system.

As the biking vogue diminished, Indianapolis Chain moved increasingly into producing roller chain for power transmission and conveyor belts.  Having purchased the company in 1904, Wainwright changed its name to Diamond Chain and Manufacturing. The company relocated in a new factory at Kentucky Avenue and West Street in 1917, where it is still housed–albeit as a part of AMSTED Industries, which acquired Diamond Chain in 1950.  Employing approximately 600 workers in 1993, Diamond’s workforce has dwindled in recent years, a twenty percent reduction announced just before Christmas, 2008.

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