Elwood Haynes and his Pioneer

AUTOMOTIVE PIONEER: Elwood Haynes sits in his first car, the "Pioneer," with tiller steering, bicycle wheels and chain drive, circa 1894. Haynes was named to the 75th class of the Automotive Hall of Fame. Image courtesy of the Howard County Historical Society

The Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan, recognizes people who “have significantly impacted the development of the automobile or the motor vehicle industry.” More than 200 deserving individuals have been so honored.

About 30,000 visitors to the 80-year-old Hall of Fame rediscover automotive titans such as Carl Benz, Ettore Bugatti, Louis Chevrolet, Walter P. Chrysler, Andre Citroen, Horace and John Dodge, Charles and Frank Duryea, Henry Ford and Ransom Olds every year.

Kokomo’s Elwood Haynes is among them, having been inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2015. Outside the Seiberling Mansion, home of the Howard County Museum, a life-size, bronze statue of Haynes now welcomes visitors.

On July 4, 1894, Haynes drove his gasoline-powered “Pioneer” along Pumpkinvine Pike right outside of Kokomo. “A new American industry had been founded” that day, said Ralph Gray, professor emeritus of history at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

It’s why the Haynes Apperson Festival, which begins a week from today in Foster Park, is celebrated each year around Independence Day.

In his lifetime, Haynes was recognized as the builder of America’s first automobile, according to Gray. Haynes drove his Pioneer at the head of a parade celebrating the automobile’s first decade in New York City in 1908. During a 1913 tour of Indiana-built autos from Indianapolis to the West Coast, he was acclaimed as the “father of the automobile.”

As state Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, said during the Haynes statue unveiling, he also could be considered the father of Kokomo.

“We are all his beneficiaries here in Kokomo,” Buck said. “The City of Firsts started with this man. This man planned in the past the future that you and I enjoy today.”

Haynes’ contribution to the auto industry didn’t end with the Pioneer. Needing a more durable spark plug electrode, he invented a precursor to his alloy, Stellite. He introduced stainless steel because his wife wanted tableware that didn’t tarnish. His work in metals arguably is more important to the car industry than his autos.

In Kokomo and Howard County, Elwood Haynes has no peer.

Kokomo Tribune editorial board

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