Automotive Heritage of Kokomo - The Apperson Brothers

The Apperson farm, where the Apperson brothers grew up, was just about one mile west of Center. Elmer was the older brother and he served his apprenticeship in Kokomo at the Star Machine Works. Then he opened the Riverside Machine works close to downtown on the banks of the Lonesome River, now known as the Wildcat Creek. Edgar learned to repair farm wagons, buggies farm equipment and bicycles, by way of on the job training there.

In 1902, Elmer started the Apperson Brothers Automobile Company. The company decided to build larger and more powerful cars. In1903, they introduced a five passenger car that had a longer body and a larger engine than the Haynes-Apperson Company. The car sold for $2500, nearly twice as much as the earlier models of Haynes-built cars. Although the Apperson Brothers left the Haynes-Apperson company in 1901, Haynes left the name the same until 1905. The brothers liked auto racing and they decided to plan a race in Kokomo in 1903. Many prominent citizens helped the Apperson brothers promote the up-coming races by driving to most cities within a hundred miles of Kokomo. Races then were always held to a limit of two cars at a time and the winner would be chosen by the car and driver that had not been eliminated. The event attracted two of the most famous race drivers in the country, Barney Oldfield and Tom Copoer. The race would be held at the Kokomo Driving Park on August 20, 1903. The crowd was big and a special charter train brought 500 people from Logansport. On race day, Barney Oldfield failed to set a new record by one second. In a special race between Kokomo cars, the Haynes-Apperson beat the Apperson car. A newspaper story read, "The World Turns Out to See the Races". Apparently there was a huge crowd.

After building 194 cars in 1905, a fire destroyed the Apperson plant and the new building was completed in 1906. The company was located on South Main Street, just south of the creek, on the east side of the street. In 1907, the company would introduce the Apperson Jack Rabbit. The car had a six cylinder engine and was guaranteed to run 75 miles per hour! The company would become famous for that model for the rest of years of producing cars.

In 1908, A. G. Seiberling resigned his position at the Haynes Company as superintendent and became the production manager for the Apperson Brothers Company. In November, the company reorganized as a stock company, valued at $400,000. As President and General Manager, Elmer owned 3599 shares valued at $100 per share. As Vice-President, Edgar held ten shares, A. G. Seiberling owned 174 shares and C. H. Felske had 217 shares as a director. The annual salaries of Elmer and Edgar were set at $5,000 each, while Seiberling made $3,500 a year. At that time the average annual wage of the employees were likely less than $500.

In 1909, production was 312 cars and the company had $100,228 in the bank, accounts receivables were $110,360 and had debt totaling less than $30,000. The company dropped the price of the Jack Rabbit Runabout by $750, making the price $4250. The outlook for the company was very positive. The following year production jumped to 936 cars, just 147 short of the Haynes production.

Elmer loved auto races and in 1912 he entered an Apperson car in the first Indianapolis 500 mile race. At that time all cars had one mechanic that would ride in each car. When you had trouble, you could pull off the track, make a repair and re-enter the race. During the race, the Apperson had a problem and pulled into the infield. The Apperson brothers, the driver and mechanic were near the car, when a race car slid off the track and hit the the Apperson car. As luck would have it, none of the Apperson team was hit, but it was too close for comfort. Elmer made a decision never to run another car at Indianapolis because it was too dangerous. He remained an avid race fan and traveled as far as California to see a good race.

In September, Seiberling resigned from the company and returned to the Haynes Company. Assets of the company stood at $666,550, with a profit of $344,479. Elmer's salary had increased to $18,000 and Edgar's was $9,000. Elmer also purchased property on North Washington Street for a new and larger plant, with a separate office building.

In March of 1913, the great flood hit the city and water filled the basement of the Apperson plant and was up several feet deep on the first floor. The following year, production continued to climb to record numbers and so did the profit. Construction of the new buildings began in 1914. The original factory had been added on to three times to allow for increased production, but they had run out of room to expand and the flood was something they never wanted experience again. In 1915, company engineer, Brutt Hubbard designed a new V-8 engine and now the company was receiving requests for more cars from dealerships in Los Angeles, Idaho, Kansas City and Omaha. The factory was not able to keep up with demand.

In 1916, Edgar decided to visit an old childhood friend that had moved to Phoenix for health reasons. He bought some property and felt he would soon be able to move there. When he returned to Kokomo, the new plant was complete and company had their best year ever, producing 1817 cars placing total sales at $3,766,288. Total assets of the company were $4,641,910. A dividend of 25% was declared for all stock holders.

1917 was a year of change. The first World War started and sales were down. Elmer and his second wife and resided at 408 West Mulberry Street. Elmer had a stroke the first of the year and was forced to take time off to heal up. At the February, 1918 board meeting, Elmer was not present and his wife represented his interest. He resigned as General Manager, but kept his position as President. Edgar assumed the position as General Manager and was paid $18,000, dating back to July of 1917. Sales were falling and some thought the popularity of the Jack Rabbit was dwindling and they introduced the new model and called it the Roadaplane. After disappointing sales they brought the Jack Rabbit name back. To celebrate the 25th year, since the first car built in the Riverside building, they produced a special car, called the Anniversary model. In 1919, Elmer and Edgar began receiving annual salary of $30,000. Production was the lowest in nine years, dropping to 730 cars, one of which was sold to Bob Hope. It was the first automobile he had ever purchased.


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