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Michigan Means Cars to Most Americans

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Michigan Means Cars to Most Americans

Ted Landphair, VOA News
20 September 2010


Listen to Michigan Means Cars to Most Americans in MP3 format - 482KB - 2:03

But the industry got its start in cornfields next door

Recently, we tried one of those word-association games on our colleagues here at VOA. We used the word Indiana and asked for the first thing that came to mind.

Farms, one person said. Notre Dame University football, said someone else. Another blurted out Hoosiers, the obscure nickname for people who come from that Midwest state.

No one said automobiles, except the person who mentioned the famous Indianapolis 500 auto race.

But the fact is that the U.S. automobile industry got its start in agrarian Indiana. It was settled largely by German farmers and craftsmen, and wheelwrights and woodworkers carved beautiful horse-drawn carriages in lots of small Indiana towns. When horseless carriages came along, these carriage-makers simply switched to making cars.

Soon, classic cars such as Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs were rolling out of small factories and garages. In the little town of Auburn today, there's a museum devoted to those three brands.

Before Henry Ford introduced assembly-line manufacturing up in Michigan in 1908, there were dozens of tiny auto companies in Indiana, turning out custom-made but expensive mechanical masterpieces.

The Indiana company Studebaker even made an auto called the Rockne, named for Notre Dame's famous football coach. You can see one at the Studebaker Museum in South Bend today.

Henry Ford could easily have started his assembly-line operation in the Hoosier State, too, but he was a Michigan man, and Detroit was right on Lake Erie, whose shipping lanes provided easy access to iron ore and other industrial ingredients.

Little Indiana auto companies couldn't compete, and so we came to associate Indiana with cows, not cars.



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