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Elwood Haynes, “Grandsire of Gasoline Cars,” is born

On October 14, 1857, engineer and inventor Elwood Haynes is born in Portland, Indiana. Haynes designed one of the very first American automobiles, the Haynes “Pioneer.”  He was also an accomplished metallurgist: He patented stainless steel, stellite and a cobalt-chromium alloy that was used to make sharp dental and surgical tools. Haynes died of influenza in 1925.

After he finished graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, Haynes became the manager of a natural-gas plant in Kokomo, Indiana. The job required a great deal of travel, most of it on unpleasantly rutted and uneven rural roads and the engineer spent many hours fretting over the exasperating inefficiency of horse-drawn vehicles. There must, he thought, be a way to design a machine that could carry men faster and farther than even the strongest horses could.

First, he considered rigging up a steam-powered car, but that would be a fire hazard and require a constant water supply. Next, he considered using an electric engine, but concluded that even the lightest of those would be too heavy. Finally, Haynes decided that he would use a one-cylinder, one-horsepower gasoline engine to power his machine. The completed Haynes buggy (which he paid brothers Elmer and Edger Apperson 40 cents an hour to build) was an 820-pound, open-bodied, push-start vehicle with a chain drive, a steering tiller and 28-inch bicycle wheels. It only had room for one person and could not go in reverse.

On July 4, 1894, Haynes took his horseless carriage for its first long-distance test drive. He hitched the vehicle to a team of horses and pulled it to the outskirts of Kokomo; then he turned it around, started the motor and puttered back toward the holiday festivities in town, leaving the horses behind. “As the little machine rolled along at a speed of about six or seven miles an hour under the power of the tireless little motor,” Haynes wrote two decades later, “I realized that a new era was coming for highway travel.”  The success of his car, he added, “foreshadowed a new mode of locomotion and a coming industry of colossal proportions.”

In 1899, Elwood Haynes became the first person to drive 1,000 miles in a motor car. He donated the original Pioneer to the Smithsonian in 1910. In 1995, the car appeared on a U.S. postage stamp.

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