The Gas Boom of the late 1800s kicked off a population explosion, bringing people of all skills, social backgrounds and educational levels into the area. They arrived with new ideas and ways of thinking. One such person was Elwood Haynes.
Haynes was born in Portland, Indiana and developed an interest in chemistry while still young. He first worked as a teacher and served as principal of Portland’s high school. The discovery of natural gas took him in a new direction when he got involved in a project to supply gas to Portland. Haynes made himself into Indiana’s preeminent expert on natural gas and moved to Greentown in 1890 to develop a gas line from there to Chicago. Haynes’ innovative nature began to appear when he designed a device to remove moisture from natural gas, which had been clogging the new pipelines with ice.
While commuting by horse-drawn buggy as a manager for the gas company, Haynes dreamed of new ways to make travel faster. In 1893, he drew up designs for a buggy powered not by a horse but by the recently invented internal combustion engine. His first vehicle was tested on July 4th of 1894 and two years later, he began selling automobiles. He is considered to be the founder of the first commercially-successful auto company and the forerunner of a major new industry. The Haynes prototype is now in the Smithsonian, one of the most important vehicles in American automotive history.
Haynes’ most significant innovation may not be automotive. His interest in chemistry led him to metallurgy and the creation of an extremely strong, wear-resistant, heat and chemical tolerant alloy called Stellite, which played a key role in military manufacturing during WWI. The company he built has played a significant role in two world wars, the space race, and aeronautics. It still operates today as Haynes International, with headquarters in Kokomo.
In 1916, Haynes built a beautiful Italian Renaissance Revival home on South Webster Street, at the east end of Highland Park. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. It is now owned by the City of Kokomo and is the site of the Elwood Haynes Museum. The museum collections include many of his papers, as well as automobiles and other objects and inventions from his life.