Elwood Haynes was born on October 14, 1857, in Portland, Indiana, the fifth of ten children of Jacob M. Haynes and Hilinda S. Haines Haynes.
His family was of English descent; his ancestors immigrated to New England in 1689. Haynes father was Jay County's school commissioner, a lawyer, Whig politician, and a judge of the Jay and Randolph County common pleas court.
His paternal grandfather Henry Haynes was a gunsmith and mechanic, and tutored Haynes about metallurgy.
In 1866, the family moved from their two-room house in Portland into the countryside outside of town where they purchased a larger home to better accommodate their growing number of children.
Both of Haynes' parents were dedicated Presbyterians and outspoken prohibitionists and educated their children from a young age to avoid liquor. Haynes' mother was the founder of a local Women's Temperance Movement Union.
At age 12, Haynes built his first vehicle from scrap railroad car parts and operated it on the county's railroad tracks.
The local railroad foreman did not approve and later seized the vehicle and destroyed it.
As a child, Haynes had an interest in chemistry and metallurgy and when he was 15, with his grandfather's help, he built a melting furnace and began working with copper, bronze, and iron.
He attempted to experiment with steel, but was unable to heat the furnace enough to work it.
Haynes was also interested in nature and spent considerable time in the forest cataloging and observing plants, insects, and animals.
Because he spent so much time there, his family nicknamed him "Wood", a nickname they used for most of his life.
As he grew older, he became an avid reader of books, including Principles of Natural Philosophy and Chemistry, by William Wells.
His early experiments and studies interested him in the fundamental properties of matter, and he was intrigued by how mixing compounds could create completely different alloys.
Haynes attended public schools through grade eight and received a basic education. He had not determined a career path for himself and his parents often criticized him for lacking ambition and they insisted that he seek employment. He began by working as a janitor at a local church and later for the railroad hauling ballast to construction sites. At the church, he joined the choir where he met and began to court Bertha Lanterman. When Portland's first public high school was opened in 1876, Haynes returned to school at age 19 and completed two more years. Bertha and her family moved to Alabama during the spring of 1877, and Haynes began a regular correspondence with her. During the summer of that year, a series of revival meetings were held in Indiana by Francis Murphy. Murphy was a leader of a national temperance organization known as the Murphy Movement. Haynes attended the meetings and became interested in temperance. He took two of Murphy's pledge cards and carried one for most of his life; the other he mailed to Bertha. After Murphy left Indiana, Haynes and two friends held a three-day temperance revival of their own and invited most of their school friends. Haynes' father attended the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 where he learned of a school that would fit his son's interests. Using the money he had saved, Haynes decided to attend the college. He enrolled in the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science in Worcester, Massachusetts in September 1878. The school was revolutionary for its time, and combined a technical training with the classical liberal arts education. Although he easily passed the difficult entrance exam, he found that he was ill-prepared for some of his college courses, and he struggled with mathematics. To earn an income while away from home, he worked as a custodian at the local public library. He cleaned the building overnight and used his spare time to read books and study. He could not afford to return home during his stay at the institute, so during the holidays he spent time with his family and friends in New England.
During his first term he was required to receive a grade of 60 to remain in the school, but he only achieved a 59.2 after completing his final exams. Although he had made a failing grade, he was permitted to remain because of his recent progress. Haynes contemplated quitting, but was convinced by his mother that he should continue. Older than the other students in his class, he became popular among them and often spoke out against their use of alcohol. He was elected class president in his second term, joined the glee club, and once played on the school's unofficial football team. In his final year he took courses in metallurgy, ore analysis, assaying, and was member of a research project that was developing razors. His graduation thesis was entitled "The effects of Tungsten on Iron and Steel", and laid out the basic principles of what would later become his two greatest advances in metallurgy. Haynes spent many hours in the institute's laboratory working with tungsten and other metals before graduating in 1881; he was fourteenth out of twenty-one graduates twenty did not pass. The graduation was the attended by both of his parents who escorted him back to Indiana after detouring to New York City and Washington D.C to sight-see. After returning home, Haynes took a job teaching at the Jay County public school. The school was five miles (8 km.) from his home and he found the walk to be time consuming. Soon his income allowed him to buy a home near the school where he continued to work until he was promoted to the position of the Portland High School principal in 1882. That summer he took a week-long trip to visit Bertha, who agreed to meet him in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He became sick with a cold there and spent most of his time in bed. He was surprised to learn that her family would be retuning to live in Portland in 1883. After returning from the trip, he continued saving money and in 1884 he decided to continue his own education and enrolled at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where he took courses in chemistry and biology, and learned advanced metallurgic techniques. His mother died in May 1885 and he left the university without completing his second year, since he was not working to attain a degree but only taking courses of interest. After he returned home again, he took a position at the newly established Eastern Indiana Normal School and Commercial College (now Ball State University) and served as the head of the chemistry department.
Natural gas was first found in Indiana in the 1876 and by the 1880s it had been determined that the Trenton Gas Field was the largest deposit of natural gas yet discovered. As a professor at a university in the Trenton Field, Haynes offered his services to the drillers and worked to analyze soil samples, determine well pressure, and give estimates to the amount of energy that could be created by the gas. He delivered several lectures to large crowds about the magnitude of the gas discovery and the many possible applications of the new source of fuel. He began a petition to have the local citizens create a corporation to pump the fuel from the ground and pipe it to area homes and businesses. His promotion was successful and Portland Natural Gas and Oil Company was formed and Haynes' father was named to the new company's board of directors. The board hired Haynes as superintendent in the fall of 1886 to manage the company and oversee the creation of wells and piping for the massive amounts of natural gas below the surface. The company was one of the first in the Trenton Field, and many of the others which soon followed modeled themselves on the Portland company. As a fuel and industry, natural gas was in its earliest stages. Haynes invented several devices that became critical to the success of the industry.
In October 1887 Haynes married Bertha B. Lanterman after a ten-year relationship. The ceremony was held at her parents home and the couple honeymooned in Cincinnati. Their first child, Marie, was born on January 28, 1889, but she soon succumbed to illness and died when six months old. Their second child, a son, was born in 1890, but he also died in infancy. The deaths saddened the family and caused them to turn more to their religion. Haynes became increasingly active in the Presbyterian church and became an elder. In December 1892, the Haynes' third child, Bernice, was born. A second son, March, was born 1896. The two children were well educated and grew up to assist their father in his enterprises. During 1889, a ten mile (17 km.) long main gas pipeline was laid between Portland and a neighboring town. Haynes oversaw construction of the pipeline and the creation of the wells for pumping the gas. During his numerous buggy rides between the two towns he first began to conceptualize motorized transportation. His thoughts on the topic were spurred by his frequent need to change horses because of their inability to endure the long distances and sandy roads he frequently traveled. He theorized that a motorized vehicle would be more economical than horse-and-buggy transportation, and could potentially move at a faster rate of speed. He and his wife moved to Greentown where he oversaw the construction of the the company's first pumping wells. The company planned to construct a natural gas line from eastern Indiana to Chicago, a distance of over 150 miles (240 km), that would be the first long distance natural gas pipeline ever built in the United States. Haynes was put in charge of the proposed pipeline and oversaw the design and construction phases of the project. Because of the length of the line and the temperature changes between the two points, moisture in the natural gas condensed on the pipe, and during colder times would freeze the pipes in some locations. The problem was a significant set back to the operation, which had to stop pumping during the winter months. Haynes devised a solution to the problem by creating a refrigeration device that would cause the moisture (which was a diluted form of gasoline) to condense, freeze, and fall into a reservoir. These devices were installed between the main lines and pumping stations and effectively removed all the moisture from the natural gas before it was pumped into the lines. This prevented water buildup in the pipes and allowed the pipes to be used year round. The concept was a significant advance in early refrigeration technology and was further developed in later years.
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Haynes was offered a higher ranking position within Indiana Gas, but by then he had become aware of the t business's connection to the corrupt and disgraced monopolist Charles T. Yerkes. He entertained the offer only briefly; Bertha's advice to refuse the position dissuaded him and he declined the offer. After the pipeline was made fully operational in 1892, Haynes moved to Kokomo where he was made a supervisor of the Indiana Natural Gas and Oil Company's local operations. The Indiana General Assembly began attempts to regulate the gas industry and began to accuse the company's field operations of gross waste of the fuel, and Indiana Gas became the primary target of scathing reports. Haynes helped the company compile reports and offered opinions on the validity of their claims. He was disturbed to find that many of the claims proved true, and advocated that the gas be used more conservatively. He specifically recommended that the flambeaus (the flames fed by natural gas to show that the gas was flowing) be extinguished, which were found to be the largest source of waste. He calculated that the company daily wasted $10,000 ($237,852 in 2009 chained dollars) worth of gas by burning flambeaus, a figure that shocked the company's leaders. Despite his support of the governmental anti-waste regulations, he was strongly against other rules that regulated pressure and hindered productivity. He personally filed lawsuits against the regulations a month after their passage, claiming that the government had no right to regulate artificial increases in well-pressure. The court case continued for several years, until the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the regulations were unconstitutional in 1896. The entire set of regulations was repealed, including the anti-waste measures. The gross waste continued and the field's wells began to run dry by 1905 modern experts estimate as much as 90% of the one trillion cubic feet (28 km3) of natural gas in the field was wasted. Despite his involvement in the lengthy litigation, Haynes had more free time on his hands than when we was overseeing the construction of the company's pumping stations and gas lines.
His first idea was for a steam powered vehicle, but after careful consideration he decided the furnace on the device would be too dangerous to be used. His second plan was to use electricity for the device, but after research he found that no practical devices existed to store the electricity required. His plans continued to develop from 1891 until the summer of 1893 when he attended the Chicago World's Fair where he witnessed a gasoline engine for the first time. The newly invented engine's demonstration at the fair led him to decide that an internal combustion engine would be most practical method to propel his vehicle.
Haynes ordered a one-horse power marine upright, two cycle engine from Stintz Gas Engine Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan for $225. Although the engine was intended for use on a small boat, Haynes believed it could be adapted for his purposes. The engine, weighing 180 pounds (82 kg), arrived in the fall of 1893 and was accompanied by Harry Kraft. Kraft was a Stintz company engineer who was interested in Haynes' use of the engine and came to offer valuable advise for adapting the motor for Haynes' project. Haynes soon had the device attached to a carriage he built in his kitchen and placed on saw horses. He found when he started the engine that its vibrations were too severe for the harness it was in, and before he could stop the engine it had done considerable damage to the carriage and the floor of his kitchen, and filled the room with smoke. Haynes decided he needed a different facility to continue the experiment after his wife told him she would not abide his destruction of the family kitchen. He contacted Elmer Apperson, the operator of the Riverside Machine Shop, and arranged to use a space in his shop for the continued development. He agreed to work on his vehicle only after hours, pay 40 cents per hour for the help of Elmer and his brother Edgar, and that he would not hold them responsible should his project fail. He started building a new carriage, this time with a heavier metal harness made of steel. The wheel axles were also made of steel and the entire front axle was constructed to swivel. A central column was also built of steel and laid across the axles in such a way as to allow it move in all directions within a small radius to accommodate any sudden movements by the motor or vehicle.
Because the traction of rubber tires were unknown, Haynes completed a series of tests with a bicycle on paved roads. He used a wagon built to the weight of his automobile and a horse to pull a device that would cause the wheels to turn, thereby providing traction. With this he was able to determine the weight needed to enable the tires to provide sufficient traction for propulsion. Once completed, his vehicle weighed about 820 pounds (370 kg). He named his car the Pioneer and first test drove the vehicle on July 4, 1894. The Apperson brothers had told the Kokomo townspeople of the test drive and a crowd gathered to witness the event. Haynes was concerned that his vehicle could injure the crowd, so he had the vehicle towed by a horse and buggy to a state turnpike, away from the crowd. The car started with Haynes driving and Elmer Apperson riding as a passenger, and was able travel at 7 mph (11 kph). He traveled for 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and then stopped the vehicle to manually turn it around with Elmer's help. He proceeded to drive it several more miles back into town without stopping. His trip convinced him that the vehicle was worthwhile and could become a valuable enterprise, although he was disappointed in the vehicle's handling and decided he needed to improve the steering system and find a way to divert the motor's exhaust smoke away from the carriage. Haynes' car is believed to be the second gasoline-engine powered vehicle to be successfully road tested in the United States, built two years before Henry Ford's Quadricycle, and only preceded by Charles Duryea's Motorized Wagon less than a year earlier. Unlike Duryea's car, which was an adapted buckboard wagon that was designed to run under its own power but still able to be pulled by horse, Haynes' car was designed only to run on its own. Some automotive historians use this difference to explain that Haynes' car was the first true automobile. The Stintz company continued to be intrigued by Haynes' use of their motor and sent representatives to photo his vehicle and published the images as an advertisement for one of their engine's possible uses. The publicity spurred a the creation of numerous other automobiles across the American midwest. Haynes continued to drive his car as he added improvements to the vehicle, and constructed the Pioneer II in 1895 to incorporate his improved steering designs and an exhaust pipe. Haynes' car caused considerable fear to horses, and after several mishaps he decided to test drive the vehicle only at night. In one incident, while passing a wagon carrying tomatoes, the horse pulling the wagon bolted, dumping the cart and ruining the cargo. Haynes was held responsible and required to repay the man for his loss.
Haynes continued to perfect his auto design and in 1895 he began his work to create a new hard alloy for use as a crankcase and other auto parts. His intent was to create a metal that would be impervious to corrosion. As his designs progressed, he decided to form a partnership for the manufacture of his vehicles. In 1894, Haynes joined with Elmer and Edgar Apperson to create an automobile company and began producing cars that year. Their company is recognized as being the first viable automotive company in the United States, and the second company to commercially produce autos. The Duryea Motor Wagon Company had formed a year earlier, but went out of business after producing only thirteen wagons. By 1896, the company had the infrastructure to produce one new car every two to three weeks and was building vehicles on order for $2,000. As the number of orders increased, the company was formally incorporated as Haynes-Apperson in 1898, and at the end of that year was relocated to a large factory. Two new models were designed and the workforce was expanded as production increased. Demand for the vehicles grew rapidly from five cars produced during 1898, to thirty in 1899, 192 in 1900, and 240 in 1901. The work kept the factory open 24 hours a day, and two shifts totally more than 2,000 workers were needed to keep the factory running at capacity by 1902.
Haynes began to have disagreements with the Apperson brothers over the business's income, and the two brothers decided to split from Haynes and start a company of their own in 1902. The loss of his partners necessitated that Haynes leave his position at Indiana Gas and Oil to devote more time to his growing business. Haynes was most interested in working on development, and turned over daily management to Victor Minich in 1903. Haynes spent most of his research efforts on developing metals in an attempt to discover lighter and stronger alloys for use in automobile parts. He also investigated other areas and published a 1906 paper on the impurities in gasoline and recommended that the sulfur content in the fuel be lowered to increase engine performance. Haynes-Apperson automobiles were known for their long-distance running capability. The company's cars regularly competed and won prizes in endurance races that demonstrated distance and terrain over which the cars could travel.
In 1905, three years after the Apperson brothers split from Haynes, Haynes-Apperson was renamed the Haynes Automobile Company and Haynes launched a series of publicity campaigns. A parade of 2,000 cars was organized in New York City during 1908 and Haynes, who was at that time recognized as the inventor of the American automobile, led the parade down Broadway riding in the Pioneer. He was followed by ten Haynes' cars, a model from each year to display the advancement in technology. The celebration was intended to be a ten year commemoration of the invention of the automobile, although earlier self-vehicles dated back nearly twenty years. Haynes donated the Pioneer to the United States Government in 1910 to be placed in the Smithsonian Institute where is still on display as the second oldest motorized vehicle in the United States. Haynes' Model L was his most popular vehicle. First designed in 1905, the three speed car could travel at 35 mph (58 kph) and carry four passengers; the company sold over 4,300. More than 1,000 autos where built by Haynes Automobile Company in 1910 and the company continued to experience growth, until a devastating fire swept the company factory in 1911 and killed one employee. Recovery from the blaze was slow, and it was not until 1913 that the company was able to resume its growth.
To continue the promotion of his cars, Haynes organized a trip in which he would cross the country by automobile in 1914. The trip gained considerable attention from the press and gave his company much needed publicity. Almost every town he visited printed newspaper stories on his invention and many hailed him as the "Father of the Automobile". After traveling over four months on the road he reached San Francisco where he led a parade of 200 cars through the city as a final triumph of the journey.
Haynes continued his research into ways to produce corrosion resistant metals. While working on alloys for use in spark plugs, he created a metal he named stellite. Realizing the value of his discovery, he patented his first version in 1907. He continued to experiment with it until 1910 when he published his findings in a paper to the International Congress of Applied Chemistry and the American Institute of Metals, where he held memberships.
He received another patent in 1913 on his alloy of stainless steel. The metal was very resistant to corrosion and had immediate application in tool making and numerous other implementations. At the urging of his wife, he created the first set of stainless steel silverware for her personal use. In later years he claimed to have created stainless steel because she did not enjoy polishing their silver tableware. He sold his stainless steel patent to the American Steel Company and he and his estate received royalties on its production until the patent expired in 1930. The stock he received as payment allowed him gain a seat among the company's board of directors in 1918, and he installed him son, March, to represent him. The income from the transaction led Haynes' to begin the accumulation of a large fortune. Seeing stellite as a far more valuable metal, he decided to keep its patent for himself and founded the Haynes Stellite Company in Kokomo to produce the metal. As World War I broke out, his company received large government contracts for use of the material. Stellite was found to have excellent applications in airplanes, and because it was non-corrosive and could protect it's contents indefinitely, it proved to be the best metal available for ammunition casing. In 1916 alone, the company registered $1.3 million in sales. The rapid growth of the business made Haynes increasingly wealthy and he became a millionaire that year. Despite his large income, he refused to provide his employees a year-end bonus, causing a significant stir in the factory. When the men demanded to know the reason that their wages were not raised, he told them, "It doesn't pay to give the working man too much money, it makes him too independent." His statement was widely repeated and, although he claimed to have made it in jest, it alienated a large part of his workforce and began a period of labor problems. After the war, Haynes Stellite moved to producing tableware, jewelry, and pocket knifes. The threat of labor strikes and Haynes' desire to avoid the problem led him to sell the company to Union Carbide on April 10, 1920 in exchange for 25,000 shares of Union Carbide stock valued at $2 million dollars. He later made an additional half million from dividends.
Haynes was an avid supporter of prohibition and spoke several times on behalf of prohibitionist leader Frank Hanly, lending him both personal and financial support. Hanly advocated the passage of a local option law that allowed most of Indiana to ban liquor sales in 1909. He continued in his support of the Prohibition Party and donated it thousands of dollars and an automobile nicknamed the "Prohibition Flyer". He became increasingly involved in the organization and in 1916 he ran for the United States Senate on the prohibition ticket, making many speeches and stumping across the state. He was overwhelmingly defeated, the Democrat candidate winning the election by plurality. Despite his personal electoral failure, liquor sales were fully banned in Indiana in 1918. In December 1920, Haynes was selected to be a member of a grand jury that tried several prohibition violation cases during a three-month period. The cases had a high profile in Indiana and received significant attention from the press. The offenders were all found guilty and condemned to prison sentences.
Haynes purchased a new home on Webster Street in Kokomo in 1916. He made regular large donations to the Presbyterian church and became a patron of the Worcester Institute he had attended, providing scholarships and donating funds for expansion. He funded the formation of a Young Men's Christian Association in Kokomo where he and his son became active. Haynes taught swimming classes and regularly took underprivileged young boys to movies and bought them dinners. After several years of active membership at the local level, he was elected president of the national YMCA in 1919, and served two one-year terms. His primary focus during his tenure was the launching of several successful membership drives. In 1920, he was appointed to the Indiana State Board of Education by Governor James P. Goodrich where he advocated increased state funded of vocational education. The United States economy went into a recession in the early 1920s and automobile sales decreased. Coupled with increasing competition, Haynes Automobile Company began running into debt. Haynes had to use his personal savings to rescue the company in 1921 and pay off some outstanding debts. A bond drive was launched to raise $1 million, but fell significantly short. Haynes was the primary purchaser of the bonds. The situation continued to be bleak for the company, and it was forced to declare bankruptcy in October 1924. Haynes sought a merger with multiple other auto companies, including Henry Ford, but partners were not forthcoming and Haynes was forced to agree to a liquidation. He was held personally responsible for about $95,000 of the company's debt. In addition, he lost $335,700 in stock he held in the company and a substantial amount in investment bonds. In total, the loss cost Haynes nearly a quarter of his net worth.
On January 6, 1925, Haynes and the Apperson brothers were awarded gold medals by National Automobile Chamber of Commerce at a New York City auto exhibition for their contributions to the industry. On his return trip home he contracted influenza and his health began to deteriorate rapidly. In March he asked his son to take over his business interested while he traveled to Florida to seek rest in the warmer climate. His condition steadily worsened until his death from congestive heart failure in Jacksonville on April 13, 1925. Haynes was returned to Kokomo were his funeral was held before his interment at the Memorial Park cemetery. Haynes' estate was left to his wife who continue to live in the family mansion until her own death from a stoke in August 1933. The family assets were then distributed between Bernice and March who separately oversaw their portion of the family's interests. March inherited the family mansion, but sold it to General Motors Company who used it as a company headquarters for several years. The company sold the mansion in 1965 to Bernice, who then donated it to the city of Kokomo. The city converted it into the Elwood Haynes Museum and it has been open to the public since 1967. Haynes is remembered as a pioneer in American automobiles.
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