Touring Indianapolis’s Auto-Making History

Indianapolis was a leading commercial producer of automobiles and taxicabs from 1897 to 1937. Take a closer look with a driving tour of the Circle City’s automotive landmarks.

Duesenberg Motors Co
The Duesenberg Motors Co. at 1511 W. Washington St. manufactured vehicles from 1920 to 1937.

A Leader in AUto Manufacturing

Indianapolis was a commercial producer of automobiles and taxicabs from 1897 to 1937. The Circle City, with 65 different vehicles manufactured here, ranks second to Cleveland’s 82 as Detroit’s chief rival for the title of the nation’s auto capital.

David L. Lewis notes in The Automobile in American Culture that until 1905 Indianapolis contained more auto plants than did any city in Michigan. As with the majority of manufacturers around the state, the companies in Indianapolis were primarily assemblers. This allowed them to introduce some uniqueness to their product, but in the end proved to be their undoing.  They were not able to compete with the mass producers who could control all components of the process and therefore offer a product at a much lower price.

Today we can only enjoy their handy work at museums or collector car meets, but many automotive industry landmarks still stand. Take your own driving tour around the Circle City with this list of 20 automotive-related sites:

This tour is about 23 miles and approximately 50 minutes travel time (excluding stops).

  1. Old Trails Building, 301 & 309 W. Washington St., 1928
    Noted for its automotive murals & sculpture. It housed the Old Trails Automobile Insurance Association.
  1. Duesenberg Motors Co., 1511 W. Washington St., 1920-1937

    Members of the Indiana Landmarks’ affinity group, Indiana Automotive, touring the historic Duesenberg Motors Co. site.

  1. Marmon Motor Company Buildings (Plant 3 & Assembly Plant), 1223 W. Morris St., 1919-1932
  1. Diamond Chain Company, 402 Kentucky Ave., 1915 to Present
    Produces roller chain for vehicle applications.
  1. Cole Motor Car Co., 730 E. Washington St., 1913-1925
  1. Ford Motor Co., 1307-23 E. Washington St., 1914-1932
  2. James A. Allison Mansion, 3200 N. Cold Spring Rd., started 1911 – 1914
    Founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Allison Engineering Company.
  1. Carl G. Fisher Mansion, 3124 N. Cold Spring Rd., 1909
    Founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Prest-O-Lite Company.
  2. Wheeler–Stokely Mansion, 3040 N. Cold Spring Rd., 1912
    Frank Wheeler was Founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Wheeler-Schebler. Carburetor Company.
  1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, 4600 W. 16th, 1909
  1. H.C.S. Motor Car Co., 1402 N. Capitol Ave., 1920-1927
    Harry C. Stutz left the Stutz Motor Car Co. in 1919 to begin the H.C.S. Motor Car Co.
  1. Ideal Motor Car Co., 217 W. 10th St., 1911
  1. Stutz Motor Car Co., 1008 N. Capitol Ave., 1913-1934
  1. Lexington Motor Sales Co., 1200 N. Meridian St., 1921
  1. Buick Showroom, 1302 N. Meridian St., 1923
  1. Frank Hatfield Ford Showroom, 627 N. Capitol Ave., 1920
  1. William Small Co. (Monroe Factory), 602 N. Capitol Ave., 1915-1923
    This was the Monroe Motor Car Company showroom from 1918-1923. A Monroe sponsored by William Small, built by Louis Chevrolet, and driven by Gaston Chevrolet won the Indianapolis 500 in 1920.
  1. Indiana Automobile College, 500 N. Capitol Ave., 1910-1911
  1. Gibson Co. Building (Willys-Overland Factory), 433 N. Capitol Ave., 1916-1917
    From 1916, the Gibson Company sold and distributed automotive parts and accessories to dealerships and service stations in Indiana.  The Capitol Motors Division of the Gibson Company sold automobiles here from 1930 to 1963.

    Gibson Building Indianapolis

    A historic shot of the Gibson Building at 433 N. Capitol Ave.

  1. National Road of the State House, 250 W. Washington St.
    Two monuments, dedicated in 1916, honor this historic route.


Dennis Horvath is a local author and automotive history enthusiast. Read more from Dennis at





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