The Steuben County Asylum near I-69 in northeastern Indiana represents two contrasting ideals of poverty care. On the one hand, this imposing building on the rural landscape embodied the modern ideal of an end to poverty through scientific principles. In spite of the U.S. industrial economy of the later 19th century, marked by frequent panics and recessions, a new poor care system held out the hope that all indigent persons could be retrained and readied to work in the modern industrial world. The new system would provide a safety net supporting those through the hard years and would help impoverished people develop improved habits in a healthy and orderly atmosphere. On the other hand, this building symbolized failure and loss of place in the community. To be a resident of this facility required separation from society and often induced a lifelong stigma of shame.
These institutions represented both a severe solution meant to frighten the “lazy” into working harder and a belief in a safety net to support those living on the margins.  This was especially important in an era when layoffs were not supplemented by benefits like workers compensation. Across rural America, there was fear associated with the various names for asylums: almshouses, county farms and infirmaries, poor farms, county homes, workhouses, and “the pogey.”
Traditional poor relief (after private charities and local churches were exhausted) fell to local government. This was called “outdoor relief” because the poor or destitute were helped where they lived. To contain costs, the sheriff might “warn out” (or throw out) potential pauper residents to discourage poor people from staying there. Officials often employed this method to keep immigrants, especially the Irish, from settling in their town.
If the family could not care for an indigent resident, a landowner might take that person in on the lowest bid for room and board. By the 1820s, this informal arrangement was rapidly supplanted by an increasingly standardized system recognizing one place as a county poorhouse. The professionalization of these institutions focused on isolating each class of patient from what social reformers thought was the cause of their ailments or bad habits. The system was intended to instill a culture of order on the disorder of their lives. The enforced order would help cure the issues they faced. However, most residents used the farm only for periodic stays during times of unemployment and sickness.
In line with the rest of the nation, Indiana initiated its statewide system of county poor asylums. In 1821, the state legislature approved Indiana’s first poorhouse in Knox County. Following the national standards for poorhouse improvements, promoted in prescriptive literature, many counties built what were called “model homes” by the later nineteenth century. These were modern buildings constructed to meet the current standards of that time. These asylums even provided libraries for residents to use in preparation for a changed life outside the asylum.
Many rural almshouses were working farms, providing food for residents and a profit to the county government. The Democrat newspaper of Huntington County praised its superintendent in 1871 for keeping the farm as an “almost self-sustaining . . . charitable institution.” Efficiency and thrift were valued far higher than any other management trait. These practices led to abuses of a very vulnerable group in society. To create a more orderly life for their residents, almshouses increased the level of isolation and separation in the homes. This policy is reflected in the houses’ physical form as it changed during the 19th century.
The Democrat provided a brief glimpse into the Huntington County almshouse during February of 1871. The paper listed 18 assorted inmates, but ten or twelve more typically resided there during the year. Most residents were temporally admitted during sicknesses and job slowdowns. Most poorhouses apparently hosted a few long-term residents and sometimes children were born there too. The farm around the almshouse provided work for residents capable of manual labor. One resident at the Huntington Almshouse was the full-time farm hand. Others worked on the farm or in the almshouse kitchen.
Between 1830 and 1900, four stages in almshouse design demonstrated a stronger commitment to scientific poor care. The first stage involved converting a portion of a private house to accommodate paupers placed in the home owner’s care. The owners made no effort to separate the residents, and they were assigned farm work, as able, to help earn their keep. The famous 1872 poem by Will Carleton “Over the Hill to the Poor House” was inspired by his experience at just such a home in Hillsdale, Michigan. The lack of family support, as well as old age temporarily landed elderly mothers in the poor house.
In the second stage, the county purchased a farm to use for the care of the poor. Other buildings might be constructed for dorm facilities for the majority of the residents.
The next stage was the first real attempt at building a custom facility for poor care. The Steuben County Asylum, built in 1885, appears to match this third stage. The strong center area indicates there was a public entrance with rooms for the County Superintendent of the Poor. There is room enough to separate men from women and to create the ordered environment that could be both helpful and oppressive.
The fourth stage is the full scale, scientifically approved poor house. As can be seen in the illustration above this facility is a massive element in the landscape. The very obvious three-part construction is easy to recognize. Some of you will have seen buildings like this around rural Indiana. They seem out-of-place among local farms. They may be marked by a road name such as Asylum Road or County Farm Road. The well-used 1911 textbook, The Almshouse Construction, and Management (written in Indiana) noted that asylums must be near the center of the region they serve, allow for complete segregation of the sexes, provide an abundance of sunlight and fresh air, and be designed for convenient access for administrators to the whole house. 
They are designed to house men and women in completely separate wings with public space in a center section. Usually, the County Superintendent of the Poor lived in the upstairs of the center section. Larger homes had infirmaries for men and for women. This feature became more common in the early 20th century as the almshouse became more of an old age home rather than a place of refuge from destitution.
When I first started researching this theme I interviewed staff at the Steuben County Asylum, which had been completely converted to a senior rest home. The problem was that many elderly residents refused to consider living there out of the memory of what that building had once meant. Even in the 1980s, seniors related residency in the poorhouse with a loss of freedom and personal dignity. The company managing the care facility failed to grasp the public memory of the County Asylum on that generation. Ironically, the current generation of seniors (Baby Boomers) might laugh at residing in a former poorhouse perhaps as a way of poking fun at their elders’ fears.
County poorhouses should remain a visual reminder of the hazards inherent in reform efforts. Even with good intentions, abuses of vulnerable people occurred. The poorhouse had little to regulate it except mixed national ideals and local attitudes. Torn between purposes of punishment and rescue, poorhouses failed to cure poverty. The complexity of poverty caused reformers and politicians endless pains. We might gain some comfort that citizens and politicians before us found poverty as difficult to manage as we do now.
 David Wagner, The Poorhouse: America’s Forgotten Institution, (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 2005), 19.
 Kayla Hassett, “The County Home in Indiana: A Forgotten Response to Poverty and Disability,” (Masters Thesis, Ball State University, May 2013), 13.
 See report by Henry N. Sanborn, “Institution, Libraries: The Outlook in Indiana” Forty-Third Annual Meeting Conference of Charities and Correction. (Indianapolis, IN 1916), 367-371.
 “The County Alms-House Its General Condition-The Number and Character of its Inmates,” The Democrat, (Huntington, Indiana), February 2, 1871, accessed www.poorhousestory.com.
A private research web page titled Poorhouse Story provides images, primary sources, and readings for poorhouses and related agencies around the United States. They can be accessed at http://www.poorhousestory.com.
The black snake undulated between the two women, winding back and forth, circling overhead. A lascivious leer seemed to be affixed to the snake’s mouth as it weaved, moving the women closer, but then winding between and pulling them apart. Augusta Knabe could not bear to see this horrible apparition between them. She reached for her cousin.
Augusta lost her grip on Helene and sat up in bed, struggling to catch her breath. She pushed her sweat-drenched hair back and collected herself. What a horrible dream! Augusta felt guilty she had not accepted her cousin’s offer of tea the past afternoon. She was sure the dream was her penance for wanting to avoid late afternoon traffic and enjoy the comfort of her home after shopping. Augusta promised herself she would stop by Helene’s flat after school and take her to tea the very next afternoon. Despite this promise, Augusta passed the rest of the night fitfully.
Augusta’s cousin, Helene Elise Hermine Knabe, yearned to be a doctor. In Germany women were not allowed in medical school until 1900 and it would not be allowed for women in the German state of Prussia, where she lived, until 1908. Her father, Otto Windschild, left her mother when Knabe was an infant and she was raised by her uncle after her mother died. Given her humble upbringing, becoming a doctor became more of a dream and less a reality with each passing year.
When Augusta informed Helene that women were allowed to attend medical school in America, Helene’s life changed forever and she moved to Indianapolis in 1896. The motto she heard most often growing up was “You cannot be a master in anything unless you know every detail of the work.” No one applied this maxim more than Knabe. To prepare for school she worked for four years in domestic and seamstress work in order to learn English from the upper class. She attended Butler University for a term to supplement her self-learning and to prepare her for the rigors of medical school.
In 1900, Knabe entered the co-educational Medical College of Indiana (MCI). She was required to attend classes, dissect every body part of cadavers, maintain a 75% grade in all classes, refrain from drinking, and work fourteen hour days. During this time, she continued as a seamstress to supplement her income. Knabe also used her drawing skills by providing medical textbook illustrations to several books, including detailed sketches for anatomy, surgery, and pathology slides.
Knabe proved a trailblazer with her medical school accomplishments. Dr. Frank B. Wynn, the Director of Pathology at MCI, appointed her curator of the pathology museum. She was consequently placed in charge of the pathology labs at the school. Much to the chagrin of many of her male peers, Dr. Wynn chose her to be his only preceptee for the year. She began teaching underclassmen, an unheard of honor for a student. On April 22, 1904, Knabe became one of two women to graduate from MCI. She threw herself wholeheartedly into her profession, burning the candle at both ends to gain a foothold in practice, networking, and skills.
Dr. Knabe stayed on in her positions as lab curator and clinical professor—for which she was not paid. Appointed a deputy state health officer in 1905 by Dr. J. N. Hurty, the Secretary of the Indiana State Board of Health (ISBH), Dr. Knabe became the first woman to hold this office in Indiana. Part of her duties involved investigating suspected epidemics, such as typhoid and diphtheria, and making recommendations to reverse unsanitary conditions. Dr. Knabe routinely traveled the state to work with the public and doctors, and processed hundreds of pathological samples.
Despite Dr. Knabe’s expertise, Dr. Hurty did not hire her as superintendent of the lab. Instead, he chose Dr. T. V. Keene, regardless of the fact that he did not apply for the job. As the laboratory grew, Dr. Knabe became Assistant Bacteriologist and was expected to work longer hours and spend more time in the field. During her work at the ISBH, Dr. Knabe presented papers and worked with the public in diagnosis and education. Local papers interviewed her for her thoughts on how to make Indianapolis a more beautiful and clean city.
Dr. Knabe also kept current on new methods, most notably studying with Dr. Anna Wessel Williams of the New York Research Laboratory. Dr. Williams was brilliant in her own right as the originator of the rapid diagnosis of rabies, which was based on research from Negril and the co-developer of the diphtheria antitoxin. Dr. Knabe proved the widespread existence of rabies in Indiana. From this work, she implemented ways to prevent the spread of rabies by educating the public about the disease and its consequences.
Widely accepted as the state expert on rabies, Dr. Knabe was promoted to acting superintendent and paid $1,400 annually. Dr. Hurty promised her the superintendent position and an increase to $1,800 or $2,000. Over a year later Dr. Hurty told Dr. Knabe that there was no money for her salary increase and that because she was a woman she could not command the amount of money the position should pay anyway. Dr. Knabe contacted the newspaper and tendered her resignation, citing discrimination and broken promises.
Dr. Hurty had searched for what he considered “a real capable man” by actively recruiting Dr. Simmonds as the new superintendent. Additionally, although Dr. Hurty told Dr. Knabe the state had no money for her raise, he informed Dr. Simmonds he would pay $2,000 the first year and $3,000 in the second. That was a 47% increase from Dr. Knabe’s salary. The final slap in the face came from Dr. Simmonds himself in the first 1909 Indiana State Board of Health bulletin. He published Dr. Knabe’s findings about rabies in Indiana and elsewhere without crediting her.
Leaving the oppressiveness of state employ could not have been better for Dr. Knabe. Her dedication to medicine was rejuvenated. She opened her own private practice and continued her rabies research at $75 or more per case. While many female physicians shied away from accepting male patients because they may not be taken seriously or feared being attacked by male patients, Dr. Knabe insisted on having a phone installed in her apartment in case a patient needed her. She would always answer a knock or a call, regardless of the hour. Quite often she would treat people for free or accept payments via the barter system. This is how she acquired a piano and the lessons to go with it.
One of her biggest achievements was when she became the first elected female faculty for the Indiana Veterinary College (IVC), where she was the Chair of the Parasitology and Hematology. Dr. Knabe’s tenure at the IVC predates any recognized woman department chair at any veterinary college in the United States prior to 1920.
Demonstrating her willingness to be a social feminist, Dr. Knabe bucked trends at every turn by her work in sex education. She served as the medical director and Associate Professor of Physiology and Hygiene, known today as sex education, at the Normal College of the North American Gymnastics Union in Indianapolis. She also networked with women’s clubs and the Flanner House to create and teach hygiene and sanitation practices to all ethnic groups across the State of Indiana, especially African American communities.
The same night that Augusta dreamt about the black snake, a person entered Dr. Knabe’s rooms at the Delaware Flats and brutally cut her throat from ear to ear. The killer was skilled enough to cut her on one side first, missing her carotid artery and cutting deep enough to cause her to choke on her blood. The second cut just nicked the carotid artery and cut into the spine. See Part II to learn how Dr. Knabe’s non-conformist lifestyle and work as a female physician would be used against her in the bungled pursuit of her killer.
On July 18, 1862, a brash young Kentuckian with aspirations of military advancement, Adam R. “Stovepipe” Johnson, used a rowboat and a small flatboat ferry to lead a group of approximately thirty men across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Newburgh, Indiana. Landing on the waterfront, unoccupied at lunch time, Johnson and his men seized a small store of weapons from a riverside warehouse and bluffed a group of some eighty Union soldiers convalescing in a nearby hotel into surrendering their unloaded muskets. Johnson’s men then looted a few homes and stores, paroled their prisoners, and returned safely across the river with their booty. The entire action lasted only a few hours.
Johnson recounted the events many times, and eventually published the account in his memoir, Partisan Rangers of the Confederacy. Filled with enthusiasm, southern chivalry, and name-dropping—although often sparse on corroboration—his memoir placed the Newburgh raid in the context of Confederate movements in Kentucky in the summer of 1862. If it had no other effect, the Newburgh affair enabled Johnson to raise and arm a number of youthful recruits for what became his 10thKentucky cavalry (CSA). He returned to Indiana a year later as a brigade commander in General John Hunt Morgan’s 1863 raid.
Johnson’s actions provide an opportunity to consider the role of southern fighters in the Ohio Valley. Using the language of the 1862 Confederate Partisan Ranger Act, he pictured himself in his later book as part of a military force operating in an irregular manner under the authority of such superiors as General Nathan Bedford Forrest and General John C. Breckenridge. Yet at the time of the raid, his own account suggests he had no formal appointment as an officer, wore no uniform, and commanded a hastily assembled body of civilians—more guerrillas than soldiers. Union authorities certainly viewed him as little or nothing more than a brigand, and rejected the authority of the paroles he had issued to his eighty prisoners.
The Newburgh raid may have had greater influence upon Union war activities in Indiana and the Ohio Valley than any results that Johnson claimed for his cause. The total surprise and the bloodless success was, without doubt, a shock to many Hoosier leaders. In Newburgh, it embarrassed the local Indiana Legion commander, a merchant with an unusual first name, Union Bethell. He had been among those lunching while the raiders struck, and had previously enjoyed limited success in raising and training a local company of that state militia. Accordingly, he had stored the weapons provided for them in his own unguarded riverfront warehouse. When Bethell arrived on the scene in civilian attire, he refrained from more than verbal protests after Johnson pointed out two cannon emplaced across the river—cannon that were actually dummies made from a blackened log and the piece of stovepipe that gave Johnson his subsequent nickname.
Through chance rather than Confederate action, the telegraph line from Newburgh to Evansville was not in operation. Word of Johnson’s incursion thus took extra hours to reach state and federal military authorities. When it did become known, the raid set in motion several frantic days of Union responses. Lieutenant Colonel John Watson Foster, on leave from the 25th Indiana Regiment, took command in Evansville. He called for volunteers, including local convalescent Union soldiers, assembled a small riverboat flotilla, sailed up the Ohio River to the mouth of the Green River—where Johnson’s raiders had taken their loot—and engaged in skirmishing with a small number of Confederate guerrillas.
Finding few defenders, Foster then proceeded to Newburgh. Half a dozen local residents who were perceived as friendly to the rebels were arrested. One, Andrew Huston, was later tried and acquitted by a federal court jury in Indianapolis on changes of treason and assisting the rebels. Two other Newburgh residents who had assisted the raiders were slain by members of an angry local crowd before order was restored.
As often happened in military emergencies, Governor Oliver P. Morton soon took a visible hand. First in Indianapolis and then in Evansville, he issued repeated calls for volunteers, and urged vigorous military responses. Within three days, state and federal military officers had sent approximately a thousand regulars and volunteers to the scene, occupied Henderson, Kentucky, and sent probes into that city’s countryside. One of the probes, led by Captain Bethell, recovered a portion of the stolen arms—as well as his local reputation—at a nearby farm.
The occupation of Henderson proved to be a long term consequence of the raid; Newburgh would not again be threatened. Occurring during a call for large numbers of new volunteers, the raid also proved to be a significant boost for Union recruiting in Indiana. The July volunteers were formed into a short-lived thirty day unit, the 76th Indiana. Volunteers of longer service would become parts of the 65thand 78th Indiana regiments. Several thousand more Indiana volunteers joined the Army in the following days and weeks. Disappointed with the performance of his militia, Morton returned to Indianapolis and devoted much time to improving militia equipment and training, and extending the telegraph network along the exposed Ohio River.
Mulesky, Raymond, Jr., Thunder from a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson’s Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana. (Lincoln, Neb.: iUniverse Star, 2006).
Davis, William J., ed., The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army: Memoirs of General Adam R. Johnson. (Austin, Tex.: State House Press, 1995). Reprint of the original edition published by Geo. G. Fetter Company, Louisville, 1904.
Terrell, W. H. H., Indiana in the War of the Rebellion: Report of the Adjutant General. (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1960). Reprint of volume one of the eight-volume original report, 1869. See especially pages 181 to 189.
The only effort I ever made was to state on divers[e] occasions that I was not a member of the Klan.
– Samuel M. Ralston, 1924
Late in Ralston’s career as a Democratic politician in the 1920s, his party had to take a stand on the issue of the Ku Klux Klan‘s political influence. Would Democrats in Indiana and the country cater to the secret organization for their vote or disavow them as counter to the very principles of democracy? With individual exceptions, the party chose the later, albeit feebly, inserting an anti-Klan plank in their platform at the state and national level, without calling out the organization by name.
When questioned, Ralston consistently and repeatedly denied any affiliation with the Klan. Nonetheless, modern secondary sources continue to link his name with Klan influence, especially in relation to his 1922 U.S. Senate race. However, these sources charge Ralston with the wrong transgression. If Ralston was guilty of anything, it was not for being a Klan member or seeking Klan political support. Rather, he attempted to remain neutral when the Klan threat to immigrant, Catholic, Jewish, and African American Hoosiers demanded clear and bold moral action. This issue from his later career is worth examining in a more nuanced manner as we prepare to dedicate a new state historical marker to his earlier legacy as governor of Indiana.
Ralston the Governor
Samuel M. Ralston could be classified among the more progressive of the candidates who swept the 1912 state elections. Such a political leaning helped him defeat Progressive Party nominee Albert J. Beveridge, his closest gubernatorial challenger. The Progressive Party, or Bull Moose, were a third party of Republicans led by ex-President Theodore Roosevelt who challenged the political status quo. GOP gubernatorial nominee and former Governor Winfield T. Durbin came in third in the 1912 election.
Once in office, Ralston worked for many of the reforms advocated by the Progressive Party, albeit at a moderate pace that did not rock the Democratic Party boat. According to historian Suellen M. Hoy, Ralston’s publicly-declared progressive measures included: women’s suffrage, workmen’s compensation, better roads, improved vocational education, more humane prison conditions, and a child labor law, among other issues.
His concern for the average Hoosier’s welfare was evidenced in his advocacy for the creation of a public utilities act, which redefined utilities as being both publicly and privately owned and thus rightly regulated by citizens through their government agencies. His concern was also apparent in his swift and unrelenting action in organizing emergency relief in response to the Great Flood of 1913. Later that same year, he personally helped negotiate a resolution to a strike organized by streetcar workers that had turned violent.
Klan Allegations in Historical Sources
However, Ralston’s progressive legacy has been overshadowed by his alleged association with the Ku Klux Klan during his 1922 United States Senate campaign. This taint on his legacy seems to stem in part from an oft-quoted sentence from David M. Chalmers’ 1965 work Hooded Americanism. Chalmers wrote about the 1922 election:
The Klan’s most notable effort was its role in sending Samuel M. Ralston, to the Senate.
Chalmers’ source for this claim is a talk Ralston gave at St. Mary of the Woods, a Catholic women’s college in Terre Haute. In his address, the candidate spoke in part about “the importance of religious liberty and the separation of Church and State.” It is important to remember that in 1920, Indiana’s African American population was less than 3% of the total. Much of the Indiana Klan’s rhetoric and actions were directed to the more sizable Catholic populations. In reaction to this speech, Chalmers wrote that “the Klan was delighted.” Chalmers continued: “Here was a man who was not afraid to tell the papists off to their very face.” Chalmers argued for his interpretation, “Backed by the Klan . . . Ralston won.”
Chalmers is correct that the Klan endorsed Ralston’s candidacy. However, their support came not from Ralston’s actions, but his inaction, or neutrality, on the Klan issue. Retrospectively, this was not an admirable position. However, Chalmers overemphasizes any direct connection between the senator and the Klan.
The Klan in Context
The Klan was politically active in Indiana by the 1920s. Infamous Klan leader D. C. Stephenson claimed to have some measure of control of the votes of 380,000 Klansmen. He explained that his followers would receive sample ballots with a Klan-approved choice marked for both political parties – a Democrat and a Republican candidate favorable to, or at least not opposed to, the Klan. Eventually, Stephenson released the names of several prominent Indiana politicians who were Klansmen, including the Governor Ed Jackson and Mayor John L. Duvall of Indianapolis.
However, as historian Joseph M. White argues, the Klan’s “actual political power should not be overdrawn.” According to White, while the Klan had “a high level of influence” on Indiana politics, it never achieved the “outright control” that it did in other states. For example, in Georgia, Tom Watson gained his U.S. Senate seat in 1920 “using the supposed threat of Catholicism as the principle issue.” Ralston, on the other hand, mainly ignored the Klan in his 1922 bid for the Senate. While he did not cater to the secret organization, he also did not denounce it as other state leaders did. For example, Kansas Governor Henry J. Allen spoke at Richmond, Indiana, in October 1922 where he “flayed the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the Indianapolis News.
According to historian Thomas Pegram in his book One Hundred Percent American, the Klan was better at “targeting enemies” than it was at gaining politicians’ support for their desired policies. This was certainly true in Indiana. The Klan did not win the open support of any major Democratic candidates. Instead, it acted against the election of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Albert Beveridge for “various aspersions uttered by him about ‘groups’ and ‘racial prejudice’ [that] were taken by the Klan as occasion for passing the word to vote against Beveridge,” according to the Richmond Palladium. Stephenson himself stated that it was the aforementioned anti-Klan speeches that Governor Allen made in support of Beveridge that turned Klan support toward Ralston – not any specific action or position of Ralston.
On November 8, 1922, Indiana newspapers announced Democratic Party gains nationwide, including the election of Ralston to the United States Senate. The extent to which his neutrality on the Klan issue helped his win is difficult to determine. What is clear, is that Ralston, once in office, did nothing to further any Klan-favorite legislation during his term. His position would become clearer as the 1924 elections drew near.
Indiana Democrats under the influence of political boss Thomas Taggart attempted to stay neutral on the Klan, neither courting their support nor directly denouncing the organization throughout the early 1920s. According to historian Leonard J. Moore in his book Citizen Klansmen, the party strategized that this neutrality would “deemphazise the Klan as an issue” allowing them to “attack the Republicans at their weakest point — corruption in both Indianapolis and Washington.”
However, the party and Ralston, soon had to take a clearer position.
In November 1923, Indiana newspapers reported on Ralston’s response to questions on his relationship to the Klan from the Marion County branch of the American Unity League, a mainly Catholic organization working to unmask Klan members and thus obstruct their secret agenda. Most Indiana newspapers reprinted his letter in full on their front pages.
The League asked six questions in their letter. The first three addressed a petition filed against U. S. Senator from Texas, Earle B. Mayfield, by his opponent in the 1922 election, George E. B. Peddy. According to the U. S. Senate’s summary of the case, Peddy alleged that Mayfield benefited from the “use of fraudulent ballot counting procedures, excessive expenditure of money, and the flagrant participation of the Ku Klux Klan.”
The League asked Ralston if he thought Mayfield’s Klan association was “consistent with loyalty to the laws and constitution of the United States;” if Mayfield was worthy of his Senate seat while charged with receiving “vast sums of money” from the Klan; and if Ralston would vote for Mayfield to keep his seat “when the question comes up before the Senate.” Ralston responded that he would not “pre-judge” anyone before a hearing and that doing so would “be a gross violation of official duty, and would render me unfit to hold a seat in the Senate.” He continued:
Certainly your love for justice is such that it would shock you to know that I had deliberately taken on a frame of mind that would render it impossible for me to give Senator Mayfield a fair and impartial hearing.
Ralston moved on to the League’s fourth question: “Are you a member of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, or of the organization known as the Royal Order of Lions, which is affiliated with the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan?” Ralston replied, “I am not now, and never have been, a member of either organization.” He added that he was a Mason, an Elk, a Presbyterian, and a Democrat.
The League’s fifth question read: “Do you believe in the officially announced program of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan which openly declares that Jews, Catholics, negroes and foreign-born citizens of the United States are not 100 per cent American, and should be discriminated against on account of race, creed, color or birthplace?” Ralston responded:
My answer is that I hold no such view of these people, as a class, and if you had followed me in my campaign for the Senate you would know that I do not.
The League ended with a sixth question: “Finally, are you for the constitution of the United States and the ideals of the American republic, or for the announced principles of the Ku Klux Klan and the invisible empire?”
Ralston called the question “an insult” and gave an extensive response:
I do not believe that the Ku Klux Klan, or any civic organization has announced principles and ideas the equal of those set forth in the constitution of the United States . . . I have never failed, when it was seemly for me to mention the subject, to declare my unabated devotion of our Federal constitution, which provides for the separation of Church and States, and guarantees to every man the right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience . . . I shall in the future, as I have in the past, stand ready to oppose the promulgation of any principle of the Ku Klux Klan, or of the Presbyterian church to which I belong, or of any Jewish organization to which you may belong, or of any other character, that is at war with [the constitution].
Neutrality as Complicity
Finally, Ralston had made a strong statement disavowing any association with the Klan. However, the Fiery Cross, a Klan newspaper published in Indianapolis, also reprinted Ralston’s letter in full. It might seem strange that the Fiery Cross published a denunciation of their organization by a politician they had supported. However, they may have felt they benefited from Ralston including the Klan in a list with major groups and religions, including his own, thus normalizing their movement to some extent.
On June 26, 1924, at the Democratic National Convention in New York, Senator Ralston, despite his objections, was one of nineteen candidates nominated for the presidency of the United States. The convention was one of the most contentious political conventions in U.S. history (and no it really was not called the “Klanbake.”)
After eighty-eight ballots it started to look like the convention was swinging towards Ralston, the supporters of New York Governor Al Smith’s nomination, including the New York World, attempted to link Ralston with the Klan issue. The story quickly gained traction during a quick-paced convention that didn’t have a clear front-runner or consensus candidate. The Indianapolis Star printed daily reports from their correspondent in New York. On June 28, the Star reported that “in a last-hour effort to kill off the Ralston candidacy which has been in its ascendancy for the past two days, the New York World, the Al Smith organ,” printed a story claiming that the Klan supported Ralston even more than William Gibbs McAdoo, who had catered their support.
The following day, the Star reported that Ralston was “nettled” by the New York World‘s charges, “emphatically denied allegiance with the Klan, and denounced persons who attempted to link his name with it.” The Star quoted Ralston:
You can say for me that any one who says or intimated that I am a klansman is a ‘liar,’ and you can put that on the wires too.
The Star reported that “Ralston declared that he could not understand the attitude of the World, saying that he had already emphatically stated his position on the Klan question, and that there should be no further question as to where he stood.” He reiterated that “he had never sought the vote of any klansman, that he was not a klansman or in any way affiliated with the organization.” Instead, the Star reported, he would “appreciate the votes of all citizens regardless of race, creed or belief, provided that the support was given him with the full understanding that he would stand squarely on the platform of the Democratic part and the constitution of the United States.”
As he did (wittingly or not) in his response to the American Unity League, his grouping the Klan in with a “creed or belief” assimilated the extremist organization into the standard pool of voters. In fact, in his response to the World, he drove this message home. The Star quoted Ralston:
I never asked a klansman to vote for me. I never asked a Jew or a Catholic to vote for me. I never asked any one to vote for me for President . . . But if I am nominated and elected I will try to give a good, honest Democratic administration. Jew, Catholic and klansman will be treated alike in full recognition of the constitutional rights guaranteed every citizen.
What Ralston did not or did not choose to see, of course, was that there was no democracy for Catholics and Jews as long as the Klan was tolerated by men in power. His statement to the convention attendees was more succinct. Ralston wrote again that he was “not a member of the Klan or any of its branches” and continued:
If nominated, I shall stand on the platform of the New York convention and insist upon every citizen having his constitutional rights safeguarded.
The New York World took one final shot at Ralston on July 2, printing the claims of attorney Claude V. Dodson of Boone County, Indiana, where Ralston also lived and practiced law for much of this career. Dodson told the New York World that he “to my shame” was at one time a member of the Boone County Indiana Klan, which had been organized in that region in 1923 by P. B. Ramsey. Dodson described one of Ramsey’s recruiting tactics:
These organizers told members of the Klan after their initiation that Samuel M. Ralston was a member of their organization. He also told prospective members in some instances that Senator Ralston was a member in an effort to gain the prospect as a member.
Dodson agreed that any claims that Ralston was a member of the Klan were indeed false. However, he and the New York World thought that Ralston should have forthwith and publicly denied the unauthorized use of his name, and denounced the Klan as an “unAmerican organization” in his hometown. Dodson continued:
I will say frankly that the Klan claim as to Senator Ralston’s membership should have little weight or credence, because most of the Klan claims are false, but in this instance, Senator Ralston’s attention was called to this matter more than a year ago. He was informed that his name was being used by the Klan organizers, and no doubt it influenced many people to join the Klan . . . At that time Senator Ralston did not avail himself of the opportunity to inform the people of the state as to the truth of falsity of the Klan claim; neither did he show any anger publicly toward Klan organizers for using his name. It was only when those opposed to the Klan some six months later insisted on a public statement from Senator Ralston as to his attitude toward the Klan and his membership therein that Senator Ralston was insulted . . . Senator Ralston’s statement that he stands on the constitution . . . is well and good, but we who are opposed to the Klan ask Senator Ralston to come out and state flatly, calling the Klan by name, what his attitude is toward that organization and its principles.
Ralston responded tepidly to these charges, continuing to disavow membership without actually condemning the Klan:
To what extent the Klan or any other organization runs counter to the constitution of my country I am against it.
The World reported that when “asked what efforts he had made to prevent the Klan from using his name to obtain new members,” Ralston reiterated:
The only effort I ever made was to state on divers[e] occasions that I was not a member of the Klan.
Several days later, Ralston withdrew from the race. Although to be clear his withdrawal was due to poor health, and not being interested in running for national office (his supporters had promoted his candidacy against his will). The Klan rumors had next to nothing to do with his decision.
In short, Indiana Democrats knew that open support of the Klan would lose moderate votes. However, they also knew it was politically expedient not to have the Klan actively working against a particular nominee. Thus, Ralston chose a course of “emphatic” denial of membership in the secret organization, without denouncing the Klan itself. In fact, he stated that he would treat Klan members no differently than anyone that attended his own church. This implication that they would be left alone was good enough for some Klan members. However, it’s also clear from his record as governor and his reverence for the Constitution that he did care about upholding the rights of women, workers, children, and the incarcerated.
Of course, from our perspective today, we judge those in power who do not act in times of moral crisis as complicit in the related atrocities. Ralston, however, did not have this clear picture of the Klan’s legacy. In the Progressive Era political climate, Ralston walked a middle path that he knew would help him stay in office and effect change on the issues that were important to him. The work of fighting the Klan and working for civil rights would be left to other Hoosiers who had a clearer vision of the threat the secret organization posed to the democracy Ralston loved.
Suellen M. Hoy, “Samuel M. Ralston: Progressive Governor, 1913-1917,” PhD Dissertation, April 1975, Department of History, Indiana University.
Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).
Thomas Pegram, One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2011).
Joseph M. White, “The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana in the 1920’s as Viewed by the Indiana Catholic and Record,”1975, Master’s Thesis, Butler University, accessed Butler University Digital Commons.
In an era when African Americans, especially women, were often professionally sidelined, Vivian Carter forced herself onto the field. Through her ingenuity and personal popularity, the musical “matriarch” became a business owner and record producer. Her company, Vee Jay Records, recorded and popularized many successful musicians of the mid-20th century, ranging from Rhythm-and-Blues to Pop Rock, Doo-Wop, Gospel, Soul, and Jazz artists. Although music had been strictly segregated along racial lines, Vee Jay introduced both black and white artists to mixed crowds of local teenagers first, and then to a national audience between 1953 and 1966. The company released recordings of some of the nation’s most prolific musicians, including Little Richard, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and The Four Seasons.
Born in 1921 in Tunica, Mississippi, Vivian Carter moved with her brother and parents to Gary at age 6. As a child and teenager, she was competitive, outgoing, and self-confident. These qualities helped her win a 1948 contest for the “best girl disc jockey in Chicago,” which was the beginning of Vivian’s radio career. Eventually, Vivian had a five-hour nightly radio program in Gary, called “Livin’ With Vivian,” referring to female listeners as “Powder Puffs” and male callers “Sponges.” The “hostest who brings you the mostest” played music by black artists and much of what she played was not available on commercial records. Since Vivian owned a record store in the heart of Gary, along with her future husband Jimmy Bracken, she knew that recordings of this music would sell.
Teenagers of all races from several Calumet Region schools would gather after school to watch Vivian through the glass store window while loudspeakers broadcast her favorite Rhythm and Blues recordings, as recalled by Jerry Locasto, a future radio executive who was one of those kids. While the records played, Vivian would come out and mingle with the kids to find out what they liked or disliked about each one. Kids could request songs, and she would play them. In 1953, Vivian and Jimmy started their own record label, called Vee Jay Records from the initials of “Vivian” and “Jimmy,” to record the music of local black artists.
Their first group was the Spaniels, a group of crooners from Gary Roosevelt High School, Vivian’s alma mater. The boys walked into the record shop after winning a talent contest at school, to ask if Vivian knew how they could get a recording made. Vivian listened to the group, then gave the impoverished boys a place to practice – her mother’s garage –and arranged to record them at Chance Records, a studio in Chicago. She later bought suits for their publicity photos and a station wagon for their travels.
Best Years of Vee Jay Records
The Spaniels’ first record, “Baby, It’s You” reached #10 on the Rhythm and Blues charts. Then the Spaniels hit #5 with their second record, “Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite.” The record “crossed over” from the Race Records category to become a hit with white purchasers as well. But Vivian was disappointed when the McGuire Sisters, a “white girl trio,” sold more copies with their “cover” of the same song. She asked her brother, Calvin, to put more of a white-sounding background on the future records, to appeal to broader audiences. And the young company learned to print and register publishing rights to all their performers’ original songs, so they still made money when other performers covered them.
In 1954, Vee Jay moved to Chicago and eventually opened on Michigan Avenue’s “Record Row.” Vivian, Calvin, and her husband Jimmy remained the heads of the company. But according to Bob Kostanczuk of the Gary Post-Tribune, Vivian was always “viewed as the company’s matriarch and driving force.” They hired the knowledgeable Ewart Abner, accountant for the former Chance Records, after Chance went out of business. Abner started as manager and eventually worked his way up to president.
In the next ten years, Vee Jay Records released successful recordings of black and white performers, including hits like The Four Seasons’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” The Dells “Oh, What a Night,” and The Beatles’s “Love Me Do” and “Twist and Shout.” Since radio stations wouldn’t play several records from one company label in the same time slot, Vee Jay also recorded under the labels Falcon, Conrad, Tollie, and Abner, from the middle names of the company’s principals. Vee Jay opened a Los Angeles studio, and Vivian and Jimmy soon drove around in luxury convertibles and fur coats.
The Beginning of the End
Vee Jay’s best (and worst) luck came in 1962 when they tried to buy distribution rights for Australian singer Frank Ifield’s European hit single “I Remember You.” The Gary Post-Tribune on August 23, 1998, noted that the British agent insisted they also take a quartet named The Beatles, unknown at that time in the United States. Vee Jay released several Beatles singles and their first U. S. album, to lukewarm success until the group appeared on the nationwide Ed Sullivan Show.
Then Beatles’ sales skyrocketed. Capitol Records, who had earlier turned down the Beatles, started filing lawsuits against Vee Jay to get the group back, as reported by Mike Callahan in “The Vee Jay Story” in Goldmine (May 1981). The cost of defending the lawsuits, in addition to Ewart Abner’s poor financial management and gambling habit, wiped out Vee Jay’s money and credit, and put the company out of business.
In a life story that Vivian called “rags to riches to rags,” Vivian and Jimmy lost everything, even their little record store, and divorced. Jimmy died and Vivian worked days at the county trustee’s office and hosted a late-night radio program in Gary from 1967 to 1982. According to Dr. James B. Lane’s Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History article, when her best friend from high school, Yjean Chambers, asked how Vivian felt about the spectacular rise and fall of her recording business, Vivian replied that she had “learned too late the art of looking over the shoulder of those who work for you.” Then Vivian added, “But I don’t miss a thing. That’s all behind me now.”
After several years of illness, Vivian died of complications from diabetes and hypertension in 1989. Lane says one of Vivian’s last visitors was James “Pookie” Hudson, her first recording artist, who sang Vivian to sleep with his hit song, “Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite.”
[Sound of television channels changing with various commercials with the word “Hoosier” in them]
Lindsey Beckley: People from Florida are called Floridians. People from Maine are called Mainers. People from Washington are called Washingtonians. And people from Indiana are called…Hoosiers? On this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we’ll explore the history of what is probably the most famous demonym of any state in America.
I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History
Beckley: One of the most common questions we’re asked here at the Indiana Historical Bureau is “What is a Hoosier,” and that’s followed quickly by “Where did that word come from?” As it turns out, people have been asking just that question for nearly two centuries.
Hoosier, spelled in the now ubiquitous “H-O-O-S-I-E-R” spelling as well as several other phonetical versions, can be traced back to the American South, where it was used as a derogatory term for uneducated, uncouth people. But just when the word began to be used specifically to refer to people from Indiana is hard to know.
According to Indiana University Archives, the earliest known written use of the word can be found in a letter dated February 11, 1831. In the letter, written by G.L. Murdock to John Tipton, Murdock replied to an advertisement and offered to deliver goods by steamboat to Logansport, Cass County. In closing, he mentioned,
Voice actor reading from letter: Our boat will be named the Indiana Hoosier.
Beckley: The earliest known printed instance of “Hoosier” can be found in a letter to the editor of the Vincennes Gazette, just 8 days after the Murdock letter was penned. In the letter, the author, who identified themselves as Rackoon, noted the increasing population of Indiana, saying,
Voice actor reading from the Vincennes Gazette: The ‘Hoosher’ country is coming out, and the day is not far distant, when some states which have hitherto looked upon us as a kind of outlandish, half-civilized race, will have to follow in our train. Let the ‘Half-horse, half-alligator’…country look to it.
Beckley: It’s pretty obvious by the lack of explanation that the authors of both of those passages expected that their readers would already be familiar with the word “Hoosier” so it’s safe to assume that the word was in use, at least locally, before 1831. Throughout the early 1830s, usage increased significantly, but it was still mostly found in traveler’s accounts and local documents. That changed with the publishing of ex-state Representative John Finley’s poem “The Hoosher’s Nest” in 1833. It’s quite a long poem – 155 lines, in fact, so we can’t recite it all here, but this excerpt should give you a good feel for it:
Voice actor reading excerpt:
The emigrant is soon located-
In Hoosher life initiated:
Erects a cabin in the woods,
Wherein he stows his household goods.
Erelong the cabin disappears,
A spacious mansion next he rears;
His fields seem widening by stealth,
An index of increasing wealth;
and when the hives of Hooshers swarm,
To each is given a noble farm.
Beckley: This version of a “Hoosier” lacks the negative connotations associated with the original usage in the southern United States. Gone is the uneducated, uncouth backcountry man, and he’s replaced by an industrious farmer who is moving up in the world. It’s likely that the moniker was first used as an insult towards people from Indiana but they took it and made it their own, much as colonial Americans had done with the term “Yankees” in the 1700s.
The publishing of “The Hoshiers’ Nest” cemented the use of the word on a national scale, as it was picked up by other papers and published far and wide. And it wasn’t long before the first article examining the origins of this most “singular” term appeared. Just 10 months after poem was published, the Cincinnati Republican ran a piece simply titled “Hooshier.”
Voice actor reading from Cincinnati Republican: “The appellation of Hooshier has been used in many of the Western States, for several years, to designate, in a good natural way, an inhabitant of our sister state of Indiana. Ex- Governor Ray has lately started a newspaper in Indiana, which he names “The Hoshier” [sic]. Many of our ingenious native philologists have attempted, though very unsatisfactorily, to explain this somewhat singular term.”
Beckley: It goes on to list two unsatisfactory explanations of the etymology of the word before getting to the “real” root of the word.
Voice actor reading from Cincinnati Republican: “The word Hooshier is indebted for its existence to that once numerous and unique, but now extinct class of mortals called the Ohio Boatmen. — In its original acceptation it was equivalent to “Ripstaver,” “Bulger,” “Ring-tailroarer,” and a hundred others, equally expressive, but which have never attained to such a respectable standing as itself. By some caprice which can never be explained, the appellation Hooshier became confined solely to such boatmen as had their homes upon the Indiana shore, and from them it was gradually applied to all the Indianians, who acknowledge it as good naturedly as the appellation of Yankee — Whatever may have been the original acceptation of Hooshier this we know, that the people to whom it is now applied are amongst the bravest, most intelligent, most enterprising, most magnanimous, and most democratic of the Great West, and should we ever feel disposed to quit the state in which we are now sojourning, our own noble Ohio, it will be to enroll ourselves as adopted citizens in the land of the “HOOSHIER.”
Beckley: Again, this examination totally lacks any negative connotation with the word, instead it highlights the virtues of being a Hoosier. The next serious look into the word comes from historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, who wrote and rewrote his article entitled “The Word Hoosier” to near perfection – in fact, the monograph that came from his articles, published in 1907, is still seen as one of the most thorough and accurate studies on the topic. It’s not often that academic treatises stand the test of time like that. So, what did he have to say on the subject?
Well, basically, he said that we don’t know exactly where we got the word Hoosier, but dismissed many of the existing explanations as utterly ridiculous. He did, however, put forward three options which he thought plausible. First he theorized that the word migrated up from the South as a slang term used for uncouth countrymen – this is the theory with the most evidence and seems to be the one Dunn favored. He included a multitude of examples of this usage in the book. Second, he proposed an English root to the word. There are some similar terms found in early English dictionaries, such as “hoose,” “hoors,” and “hoozy, that could conceivably have been corrupted into Hoosier. His third proposal sounds rather improbable on the surface. He conjectured that “Hoosier” came to America from India by way of England. According to Dunn, the Indian word “huzur” is “a respectful form of address to persons of rank or superiority.” He admitted that it seems like quite a stretch but gave some examples of other words, such as Khaki, that made the same etomological journey.
But as soon as he finished reciting these possibilities he was quick to assure the reader that he wasn’t claiming that these were definite answers, just that they were possibilities,
Voice actor reading from Dunn: It is not my purpose to urge that any one of these suggested possibilities of derivation is preferable to the other, or to assert that there may not be other and more rational ones.
Beckley: The one thing he was sure about was that the word existed before it was used to describe a native Indianan…man, as a born and bred Hoosier, it feels downright blasphemous to use that word.
Beckley: Although many many people have discussed, debated, and disputed the true origin of the word “Hoosier” in the years since Dunn’s 1907 essay, the only work to rival that of Dunn is Jeffrey Graf’s article “The Word ‘Hoosier,’” written for the Indiana University Libraries. He examines Dunn’s work as well as many subsequent scholars who followed in Dunn’s footsteps. Graf’s 100 plus page article is as thorough as it gets – if you want to pursue all the many various theories of the word Hoosier, you can find a link to his article, and all of our sources, in the shownotes. We could probably have a whole podcast dedicated exclusively to exploring the outlandish “Hoosier” theories people have come up with. But, unfortunately, we don’t have time to do that. But we do have time to cover a few of the more…colorful origin stories to come about, though.
Beckley: Frontier Indiana was a rough place that produced rough people. Rough but strong. Some of those rough, strong people found that the daily work of cutting down trees, farming, building houses with their hands, and chopping fire wood didn’t do quite enough to prove their strength to their fellow man. So they fought. They fought at house-raisings and log-rollings. They fought in the fields and in the woods. Those who were particularly adept at this so-called “wrastlin” were referred to as hushers, for they could quell their opponents into silence. One such husher found himself in New Orleans working as a boatmen when he felt the urge to demonstrate his rather remarkable strength. So, he fought not just one, but four men…all at once. And he bested them all. In his enthusiasm, he sprang up, shouting “I’m a Hussher!” But with his accent, it came out sounding more like “I’m a Hoosier!” The story goes that this episode was picked up by some of the New Orleans newspapers and the “Hoosier” pronunciation came to refer to all boatmen from Indiana, and later all people from Indiana.
This next one is my personal favorite theory of how the term Hoosier came into use – in fact, I included this version in a report I did for my 4th grade Indiana history class – it comes to us from the Hoosier poet himself, James Whitcomb Riley. His version of the story includes the same stereotype of a bunch rough frontiersmen fond of fighting as did the “Hussher” theory.
Beckley: These settlers often congregated in taverns to share the news…and maybe a drink or two. When they got a bit into their cups, they always fell to fighting. And what fights they were – so vicious that participants routinely lost bits or their noses and ears. The morning after these ferocious rows, the barkeep would walk through the bar room and, seeing a stray ear on the floor, push it aside with his foot with a careless “Who’s ear?” This became so commonplace that it slowly morphed into “Whose year” and then to “Hoosier.”
With just 65,000 people living Indiana in 23 million acres of Indiana, many people saw Indiana as a land of opportunity in the early years of the state. The opportunity to own land, the opportunity to make a decent living, and the opportunity to start over…all drew people to the state. Families made their way from all parts of the country to settle on the fertile soil of Indiana. And as they traveled those roughhewn roads, those families would sometimes come across a lone cabin in the wilderness.
Beckley: Weather they were looking for shelter, company, or both, often they would approach the cabin with a shout of “Who’s here?” to let the occupants know someone was coming. At this, the door would be opened and the guests welcomed. This scene played out again and again throughout the southern part of the state. Eventually, “Who’s here?” slowly morphed into “Whosere” and later to “Hoosier.” In the course of time, “hoosier” came to describe all people from Indiana.
[“Back home again in Indiana”]
It seems like there is an endless line explanations, each more amusing than the last, all claiming to be the origin of the word Hoosier. All of these theories have one thing in common – they’re almost certainly apocryphal. I mean, the “Whose Ear” theory was said as a joke by Riley and picked up and repeated so often that people began to think of it as a real possibility… and it doesn’t even make sense that you would walk up to someone else’s cabin asking “Who’s here?” Like…the owner of the cabin is there, who else would it be? And when you really think about it, how likely is it that one man yelling something that sounded a bit like Hoosier 700 miles away in New Orleans became a nickname for every single person from Indiana? Seems rather improbable to me.
[Sound of television channels changing with various commercials with the word “Hoosier” in them]
It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know with any certainty exactly where the word “Hoosier” originated, but from the 1986 film “Hoosiers,” widely considered to be one of the best sports movies ever made, to the Indiana University Hoosiers, to the 4,500 businesses with the word “Hoosier” in their names in the state, it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay – in fact, in January, 2017, after a bipartisan effort by Indiana Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, it became official – the U.S. Government Publishing Office updated their Style Manual and changed the demonym of Indiana so that there are, officially, no Indianans in Indiana….only Hoosiers.
Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. We’re proud to announce that THH has been awarded an Award of Merit winner by the Leadership in History awards committee of the American Association of State and Local History. It really is an incredible honor.
Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. The voice of newspapers on the show is Justin Clark. To see the sources for this episode, and all of our episodes, go to blog.history.in.gov and click on Talking Hoosier History at the top. Keep up with us on Facebook at Talking Hoosier History or on Twitter at @TalkHoosierHist. Subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!
Shells rained down on men who had endured disease, the obliteration of their comrades, sleep deprivation, the constant shriek of ammunition, and the literal smell of death. Burrowed into dirt along the Western Front, these Allied men slugged it out in a battle of wills and weaponry until they defeated the Central Powers in 1918. Many of the American troops that helped ensure victory in World War I, as well as the surgeons waiting on hand in ambulances to treat shrapnel-torn faces, were there, in part, because of the efforts of Indiana dentist Otto King. For Dr. King, dentistry went beyond staving off cavities and engineering attractive smiles. He applied his dental skills to a greater good both abroad and at home, and encouraged the nation’s dentists to follow suit. This meant mobilizing dentists to treat war-induced maxillofacial trauma and establishing free dental clinics for poor children who missed school due to untreated oral issues.
After graduating from the Northwestern University Dental School in 1897, Dr. King practiced dentistry in his hometown of Huntington, Indiana. He assumed a national leadership role in his profession in 1913, when he was elected the general secretary of what is today known as the American Dental Association (ADA). The role of general secretary was equivalent to that of a modern executive director. Dr. King helped transform dentistry from a trade to a profession through the establishment of The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), published in Huntington and distributed nationally. Dentists across the country—notably those in remote areas—could learn about best practices, research findings, educational and professional opportunities, and new dental theories through articles like “The Functions of Dentistry and Medicine in Race Betterment” (1914) and “Commercialism vs. Professional Ethics” (1915).
Editor King also used the journal to mobilize dentists for World War I service and published findings related to war-related injuries, such as Leo Eloesser’s 1917 “Gunshot Wounds and Lesions Produced by Shell and Shrapnel in the Jaws and Face.” Just days before the U.S. entered World War I by declaring war on Germany in 1917, Dr. King gave an interview printed in newspapers across the country about the Preparedness League of American Dentists, an extension of the ADA. The emergence of trench warfare during the “gravest crisis” in history created an urgent need for dentists on the frontlines and the Preparedness League worked to recruit dentists for Army and Navy service from every state, as well as Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands, and Canada. Dr. King did his part when Colonel Kean ordered him to choose dentists to serve at base hospital No. 32, located in Indianapolis, in July 1917.
Dr. King explained that the league would respond to this need by securing “in each locality, a nucleus of the trained dental specialists, who will assist in the instructions of the members of the unit along the lines of war dental surgery, as a measure of preparedness against war and to co-operate in treatment of wounds of the jaws and face, in case of actual warfare.” He stated that “Whereas Red Cross base hospitals are being formed, we are, as fast as possible, organizing dental units in connection therewith and co-operation is established between the organizations.”
The New York Times reported that the Preparedness League outfitted dental ambulances sent to the warfront to reach patients in “out-of-the way places.” In addition to treating the wounded, these ambulances isolated men in order to prevent the spread of diseases like mumps and German measles. The Times reported that “at least 20 per cent of the men are incapacitated and kept from active service on account of illness finding its source in diseased conditions of the mouth.” These state-of-the-art ambulances included a fountain cuspidor, electric lathe, sanitation cabinet, steam sterilizer, nitrous oxide, vulcanizer, and a typewriter on which to record treatment findings. A secondary use for these ambulances involved relief work in France, where the Red Cross mobilized dentists to treat the teeth of children.
Because of his work with the Preparedness League, Dr. King was appointed as one of twelve members on the Committee on Dentistry, General Medical Board of the Council of National Defense. He headed the Committee on Publicity, a subcommittee tasked with recruiting dentists for Army service. Dr. King utilized JADA for this purpose, including a blank application to the Dental Reserve Corps and publishing pieces like “You Can Help Win the War!—An Appeal for Prompt Individual Service by Every Member” and “How May You Assist the Medical Department of the United States Army?”
In one article, U.S. Army dentist Dr. John S. Marshall detailed the morbid gamut of dental injuries awaiting military personnel, including:
blows upon the face from the closed fist; kicks of horse or mule; the impact of some heavy missile propelled with considerable force; the extraction of teeth, tho this is rare; a fall from a horse, bicycle, or a gun-carriage; the passage of a wheel over the face; and gunshot injury in line of duty or from accident, or design, with suicidal intent or otherwise.
He lamented the devastation wrought by shell fragments, which “tear away the soft tissues and underlying bone, leaving a hideous and ghastly wound.” Because of these traumas, “the Oral Surgeon has during this World War come into his own.” These surgeons not only performed life-saving procedures, but also helped restore facial features in what the Chicago Tribune described in 1918 as “a new branch of the healing art—that of plastic surgery.” The Decatur, Illinois Daily Review noted that working to reverse oral disfigurement “have given the dentists a new distinction.”
In addition to injuries, success on the battlefield was impeded by defective teeth, as they hindered the ability to eat and subsequently weakened the fighting force. Dr. King thus noted the importance of the U.S. Army Dental Corps, stating “It is truly said that an army fights on its stomach and teeth . . . As monitors of the teeth, the dentists are supervisors of the stomach, hence, the army is helpless without our professional officers.”
But just getting troops onto the battlefield proved to be a challenge. Dr. King utilized his prominence in the profession to convince dentists to treat recruits barred from service due to dental issues—at no cost. He warned that “more than 2,000 applicants for enlistment were in danger of being refused entrance into the fighting force of the nation because of defective teeth.” In April 1917, he volunteered to personally treat rejected recruits and he convinced local dentists to prepare the mouths of two rejected recruits. Under his direction, the ADA hosted a “Help Win the War” convention in 1918, which featured a series of clinics about dental treatment and military recruitment.
The Chicago Tribune reported that by the time of the conference, Preparedness League members had performed more than 500,000 free operations on recruits, enabling the men to pass the military’s physical examination. A letter printed in the JADA encouraged dental colleges, dispensaries, and hospital clinics to work with the Preparedness League to treat the mouths of recruits. The author lamented that the criteria for military acceptance included only “a mouth free from disease producing conditions and four (4) opposing molars, two on either side . . . This requirement is a joke but we can change it no doubt, if desired.”
With the conclusion of the Great War, Dr. King intensified his efforts to bring his “great humanitarian mission” to fruition. This involved educating the public about importance of dental prevention, particularly among children. He noted that most infectious diseases, such as diphtheria and small-pox, entered through the nose and mouth, making the maintenance of a healthy oral environment crucial. He observed that many children missed school due to infections and malnutrition caused by defective teeth, but their parents lacked the resources to treat the maladies. Dr. King hoped to prevent these painful and disruptive dental issues by educating children about hygiene, through demonstrations and nursery rhymes, and by offering free preventative treatment. In an address about oral hygiene, Dr. King proclaimed that “For years we have been trying to dam back or cure diseased bodies, due to neglected Oral Hygiene conditions, but overlooking the source or beginning of life as represented in childhood as the place to teach and establish preventative medicine.”
Dr. King helped establish free clinics on the East Coast and implored the public and lawmakers to invest in their establishment, stating in 1917 that “Disease is a social menace, an enemy of the State.” In a 1920 criticism of American dental care, he noted that “The children of our country deserve as effective physical care as the livestock.” He anticipated backlash for proposing free dental clinics, but argued that “socialized health” should be wielded as a weapon against “capitalized disease.” Dr. King’s dogged belief that dentistry could uplift humanity radiated from the trenches of Gallipoli to classrooms in New York.
Learn more about the extraordinary Dr. Otto King with IHB’s new historical marker.
People from Florida are called Floridians. People from Maine are called Mainers. People from Washington are called Washingtonians. And people from Indiana are called…Hoosiers?
One of the most common questions we’re asked at the Indiana Historical Bureau is “What is a Hoosier,” and that’s often followed by “Where did that word come from?” As it turns out, people have been asking just that question for nearly two centuries.
Hoosier, now spelled ubiquitously “H-O-O-S-I-E-R,” as well as several other phonetical versions, can be traced back to the American South, where it was used as a derogatory term for uneducated, uncouth people. But just when the word began to be used specifically to refer to people from Indiana is hard to know.
According to Indiana University Archives, the earliest known written use of the word can be found in a letter dated February 11, 1831. In the letter, written by G.L. Murdock to General John Tipton, Murdock replied to an advertisement and offered to deliver goods by steamboat to Logansport, Cass County. In closing, he mentioned, “Our boat will be named the Indiana Hoosier.” The earliest known printed instance of “Hoosier” can be found in a letter-to-the-editor of the Vincennes Gazette, just eight days after the Murdock letter was penned. In the letter, the author, who identified themselves as Rackoon, noted the increasing population of Indiana, saying,
The ‘Hoosher’ country is coming out, and the day is not far distant, when some states which have hitherto looked upon us as a kind of outlandish, half-civilized race, will have to follow in our train. Let the ‘Half-horse, half-alligator’… country look to it.
It is pretty obvious by the lack of explanation that the authors of both of those passages expected that their readers would already be familiar with the word “Hoosier,” so it’s safe to assume that the word was in use, at least locally, before 1831. Throughout the early 1830s, usage increased significantly, but was still mostly found only in traveler’s accounts and local documents. That changed with the publishing of former state Representative John Finley’s poem “The Hoosher’s Nest” in 1833. The version of a Hoosier found in the following excerpt lacks the negative connotations associated with the original usage in the southern United States:
The emigrant is soon located-
In Hoosher life initiated:
Erects a cabin in the woods,
Wherein he stows his household goods.
Erelong the cabin disappears,
A spacious mansion next he rears;
His fields seem widening by stealth,
An index of increasing wealth;
and when the hives of Hooshers swarm,
To each is given a noble farm.
Gone is the uneducated, uncouth backcountry man. He is replaced by an industrious farmer who is moving up in the world. It is likely that the moniker was first used as an insult towards people from Indiana, but they appropriated it and made it their own, much as colonial Americans had done with the term “Yankee” in the 1700s.
The publishing of “The Hoosher’s Nest” cemented the use of the word on a national scale, as it was picked up by other papers and published far and wide. It was not long before the first article to examine the origins of this most “singular” term appeared. Just ten months after “The Hooshers’ Nest” was published, the Cincinnati Republican ran a piece simply titled “Hooshier.”
The appellation of Hooshier has been used in many of the Western States, for several years, to designate, in a good natural way, an inhabitant of our sister state of Indiana. Ex- Governor Ray has lately started a newspaper in Indiana, which he names “The Hoshier” [sic]. Many of our ingenious native philologists have attempted, though very unsatisfactorily, to explain this somewhat singular term.
It goes on to list two unsatisfactory explanations of the etymology of the word before getting to the “real” root of the word.
The word Hooshier is indebted for its existence to that once numerous and unique, but now extinct class of mortals called the Ohio Boatmen. — In its original acceptation it was equivalent to “Ripstaver,” “Bulger,” “Ring-tailroarer,” and a hundred others, equally expressive, but which have never attained to such a respectable standing as itself. By some caprice which can never be explained, the appellation Hooshier became confined solely to such boatmen as had their homes upon the Indiana shore, and from them it was gradually applied to all the Indianians, who acknowledge it as good naturedly as the appellation of Yankee — Whatever may have been the original acceptation of Hooshier this we know, that the people to whom it is now applied are amongst the bravest, most intelligent, most enterprising, most magnanimous, and most democratic of the Great West, and should we ever feel disposed to quit the state in which we are now sojourning, our own noble Ohio, it will be to enroll ourselves as adopted citizens in the land of the “HOOSHIER.”
Again, this examination lacks any negative connotation with the word. Instead, it highlights the virtues of being a Hoosier. The next serious look into the word comes from historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, who wrote and rewrote his article entitled “The Word Hoosier” to near perfection – in fact, the eventual monograph that came from his articles, published in 1907, is still seen as one of the most thorough and accurate studies on the topic. It’s not often that such academic treatises stand the test of time.
Even after putting years of work into his article, Dunn concluded that we do not know exactly from where the word “Hoosier” derived, but dismissed many of the existing explanations as utterly ridiculous. He did, however, put forward three options regarding its origins.
First, he theorized that the word migrated up from the South as a slang term used for uncouth countrymen – this is the theory backed by the most evidence and seems to be the one Dunn favored, as he included a multitude of examples of this usage in the book. Second, he proposed an English root to the word. Similar terms can be found in early English dictionaries, such as “hoose,” “hoors,” and “hoozy,” that could conceivably have been corrupted into “Hoosier.” His third proposal sounds rather improbable on the surface. He conjectured that “Hoosier” came to America from India by way of England. According to Dunn, the Indian word “huzur” is “a respectful form of address to persons of rank or superiority.” He admitted that it seemed like quite a stretch but gave some examples of other words, such as “Khaki,” that made the same etomological journey.
But as soon as he finished reciting these possibilities he was quick to assure readers that he was not claiming these to be definitive answers, merely possibilities, saying, “It is not my purpose to urge that any one of these suggested possibilities of derivation is preferable to the other, or to assert that there may not be other and more rational ones.” The one thing he was sure about was that the word existed before it was used to describe a native Indianan.
Although many people have discussed, debated, and disputed the true origin of the word “Hoosier” in the years since Dunn’s 1907 essay, the only work to rival that of Dunn’s is Jeffrey Graf’s article “The Word ‘Hoosier,’” written for the Herman B Wells Library at Indiana University. He examines Dunn’s work, as well as that of other scholars who followed in Dunn’s footsteps. Graf’s 100+ page article is as thorough as it gets.
Not much has been added to the academic discourse in the last 100 years. It seems like most subsequent scholars begin with the goal of finishing the work Dunn started, covering the same ground he did, then throwing their hands in the air in frustration. One thing they have in common is a list of the various and sundry theories proposed throughout the years and we would be remiss not to cover at least a few of the more colorful origin stories to come about.
Frontier Indiana was a rough place that produced rough people. Rough but strong. Some of those rough, strong people found that the daily work of cutting down trees, farming, building houses with their hands, and chopping fire wood didn’t do quite enough to prove their strength to their fellow man. So they fought. They fought at house-raisings and log-rollings. They fought in the fields and in the woods. Those who were particularly adept at this so-called “wrastlin” were referred to as hushers, for they could quell their opponents into silence. One such husher found himself in New Orleans working as a boatmen when he felt the urge to demonstrate his rather remarkable strength. So, he fought not just one, but four men at once. And he bested them all. In his enthusiasm, he sprang up, shouting “I’m a Hussher!” But with his accent, it came out sounding more like “I’m a Hoosier!” The episode was picked up by some of the New Orleans newspapers and the “Hoosier” pronunciation came to refer to all boatmen from Indiana, and later all people from Indiana.
With just 65,000 people living in 23 million acres of Indiana, many people saw Indiana as a land of opportunity in the early years of the state. The opportunity to own land, to make a decent living, and to start over drew people to the state. Families made their way from all parts of the country to settle on the fertile soil of Indiana. And as they traveled the roughhewn roads, those families would sometimes come across a lone cabin in the wilderness. Weather they were looking for shelter, company, or both, often they would approach the cabin with a shout of “Who’s here?” to let the occupants know someone was coming. At this, the door would be opened and the guests welcomed. This scene played out again and again throughout the southern part of the state. Eventually, “Who’s here?” slowly morphed into “Whosere” and later to “Hoosier.” In the course of time, “Hoosier” came to describe all people from Indiana.
This theory comes to us from the Hoosier poet himself, James Whitcomb Riley. His version of the story includes the same stereotype of rough frontiersmen fond of fighting as did the “Hussher” theory. These settlers often congregated in taverns to share news and maybe a drink or two. When they got into their cups a bit, they always fell to fighting, often so violently that participants lost bits of their noses and ears. The morning after these ferocious rows, the barkeep would walk through the bar room and, seeing a stray ear on the floor, push it aside with his foot with a careless “Who’s ear?” This became so commonplace that it slowly morphed into “Whose year” and then to “Hoosier,” much like “Who’s here” supposedly did.
It seems like infinite theories exist, each more amusing than the last, all claiming to be the origin of the word Hoosier. All of them have one thing in common – they’re almost certainly apocryphal. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know with any certainty exactly where the word “Hoosier” originated. However, from the 1986 film “Hoosiers,” to the Indiana University Hoosiers, to the 4,500 businesses with the word “Hoosier” in their names in the state, it is safe to say that there are no Indianans in Indiana–only Hoosiers.
In May of 1861, as men throughout the state answered Governor Oliver P. Morton’s call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, well-known abolitionist and evangelical speaker Sojourner Truth visited Indiana to speak in support of the war. This would ultimately lead to her arrest. The reformer was born a slave in Ulster County, New York, sometime in the late 1790s, and named Isabella. She became free in 1827 under New York’s gradual emancipation law, and took the name Isabella Van Wagenen, after her last master. That year, she had a religious conversion experience and became a Methodist. In June, Isabella Van Wagenen was inspired to change her name to Sojourner Truth and became an itinerant preacher. She settled among the Northampton Association and for the remainder of her life spoke widely on behalf of spiritual, anti-slavery, feminist, and temperance causes.
Sojourner Truth first visited northeastern Indiana in 1858, probably because it was not far from her new home in the Harmonia community near Battle Creek, Michigan. By setting foot in Indiana she broke the law, as Article 13 of Indiana’s 1851 Constitution provided that “No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State, after the adoption of this Constitution.” This was of no concern for a woman of her ideals and determination. It was at the small town of Silver Lake in Kosciusko County that a hostile crowd insisted that she was really a man in disguise. Challenged to reveal her breasts to women of the audience, she uncovered her breasts for the entire audience, saying that she “had suckled many a white babe.” Accounts of this “symbolic rape,” as modern scholars describe it, were published both locally and in the nation’s leading abolitionist newspaper, William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator.
Her 1861 appearance at the Steuben County courthouse in Angola was, according to abolitionist accounts, disrupted by a drunken mob, which pushed and cursed her, threatening tar and feathers or even worse. Reports noted that she made a dramatic figure: unusually tall (some said nearly six feet), thin, very dark complexioned, and dressed for this occasion in red, white, and blue. According to the Steuben Republican, “Sojourn Truth” did speak, although her words were not recorded. Local residents were divided on her right to speak, but the Republican said nothing about a mob or threats of violence. Its seven headlines tell a story of confusion in five distinct typefaces:
A BLOODLESS VICTORY.
Free Speech Tolerated in Angola.
GRAND MILITARY DISPLAY!
NEGROES NOT TOLERATED IN INDIANA.
Arrest for Harboring Negroes.
Arrest and Trial of Sojourn Truth.
ANGOLA BECOMING HERSELF AGAIN.
Apparently many local Republicans were reluctant to allow Sojourner Truth to speak, although they were equally opposed to allowing anti-abolitionist Democrats to prevent her from speaking. The Republican seemed to be more concerned with the community’s reputation for law and order than for printing a clear account of what actually happened:
Although the freedom of speech had not been questioned here, yet the free speech of colored persons was not thought advisable at this time and under the excited state of the country, which met with opposition by some and encouragement by others, which resulted in favor of free speech, although but of short duration.
Sojourner Truth was arrested “by her would be friends on a charge of being in the State contrary to the laws of the State,” tried before a friendly justice of the peace, and set free. Other local residents, dissatisfied by this “mock trial,” had her arrested again and taken before a less-friendly justice, whereupon her friends won a change of venue to a court ten miles to the north in Jamestown, very near the state line. As she told the story afterward, she and her white companion Josephine Griffing were called before the courts on six occasions, but she was never convicted. A local abolitionist named Horatio Roby was arrested and bound over to the circuit court “for harboring a negro.” He was released on bail set at $500, but there is no record that he was ever brought to trial.
Sojourner Truth remained for about a month during her 1861 visit, and she certainly spoke at a number of places in northeastern Indiana, not only in favor of the war itself, which was not a matter of great controversy in that part of the state, but also on the evils of slavery and the necessity for its destruction. Abolition did not become government policy until President Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862.
Sojourner Truth’s visit emphasizes how divided was public opinion in Indiana in the late spring of 1861. Most Hoosiers were enthusiastically in favor of preserving the Union, far fewer favored the abolition of slavery, and few of those would have welcomed freed slaves to live in Indiana. Although it was unenforceable during and after the Civil War, Article 13 was not formally repealed until 1881. Nevertheless, despite accusations of intimidation by a drunken mob published by the abolitionist press, Sojourner Truth did speak publicly in Steuben County. She was threatened but not injured, she was protected by armed members of the Scott Township Home Guard, and she was never convicted for the crime of entering the state although obviously guilty of the charge. The Steuben Republican believed that “Negro excitement has run very high in Angola for the last ten days, very much to the discredit of the town.” Those who invited, sheltered and defended Sojourner Truth on her visits to Indiana held a much different opinion.
The author wishes to acknowledge the generous assistance of Peg Dilbone of Angola, independent researcher and Steuben County Historian.
Painter, Nell Irvin, editor, Narrative of Sojourner Truth. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.
Painter, Nell Irvin, Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.
Steuben Republican [Angola, Indiana].
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. Indiana in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau and Indiana Historical Society, 1965.
Thornbrough, Emma Lou,The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.
Washington, Margaret, Sojourner Truth’s America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.
This weekend, some 300,000 fans are expected to descend upon the Town of Speedway to watch the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. The Speedway area has been home to the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since 1911. The race attracted drivers and fans from all over the world. It has only been cancelled on two occasions: during World War I (1917-1918) and World War II (1942-1945). While there was no roar of race cars, the area was by no means quiet. Instead, the Speedway area became a hub for wartime production, with aircraft engines taking center stage.
Entrepreneur and Indianapolis Motor Speedway co-founder James Allison quite literally shifted gears when he devoted his precision machine shop’s resources on Main Street, just south of the track, to the war effort in 1917. Allison originally built the shop to redesign and rebuild foreign and domestic racecars. By mid-1918, the War Department awarded government contracts to Allison Experimental Company to build parts for the Liberty aircraft engine. According to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the Liberty represented “America’s major technological contribution to World War I.” The United States’ auto industry produced over 20,000 of these engines during the war and Allison’s Speedway company played its part in this endeavor. The Speedway area also saw the development of an aviation repair depot where workers helped repair, modify, and test hundreds of airplanes and aircraft engines.
Just one month after the war’s end, in December 1918, the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that the Indianapolis 500 would resume in May 1919. The focus in the Speedway area quickly shifted back to automobiles and racing, but interest in aviation there had just begun. During the 1920s, Allison Experimental Company (Allison Engineering Company by 1921) worked on rebuilding and inverting Liberty engines.
Following James Allison’s death in 1928, General Motors Corp. filed an appropriation request to buy the company the following year. According to the request, General Motors planned to continue Allison’s work in the aviation industry. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce promoted the acquisition, stating that with General Motors’ purchase of the company:
Development of this city as a center for the nation’s aviation industry seems assured.
The Chamber of Commerce was not far off the mark. During the 1930s, Allison Engineering Co. focused its efforts on developing a 1,000 horsepower liquid-cooled aircraft engine in the Speedway area. Known as the V-1710, it would become the primary engine that powered Allied fighter aircraft during World War II. Norman Gilman, chief engineer and general manager for the company, reasoned that a liquid-cooled engine could be placed inside the fuselage, where a radial type engine could not and therefore developed high wind resistance or drag, particularly at higher speeds. Despite initial hesitation from both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, the Navy placed an order with Allison Engineering Co. for a liquid-cooled airplane engine of 750 horsepower in June 1930. The company designed, built, and delivered this engine to the Navy in March 1932. After completing a 50-hour development test, the Navy accepted the engine in September of that year. The Army Air Corps followed suit and soon after placed an order for the engine with the company.
Throughout the mid-1930s, Allison Engineering Co. worked to improve the engine, with the goal of making it 1,000 horsepower. After several tests and improvements to the design, the company delivered the engine to the Army Air Corps at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio in March 1937. One month later, the V-1710 passed the 150-hour acceptance test.
By 1939, as war clouds gathered over Europe, Allison Engineering (renamed Allison Division of General Motors in January 1941) committed itself to mass production of the V-1710 aircraft engine in Speedway. At the time, Allison employed 600 people, but this number grew exponentially as orders for the V-1710 came pouring in. In April 1939, newspapers reported that the company would soon triple its facilities with construction of a new plant that would span 200,000 sq. ft. By the end of the year, employment figures had almost doubled to 1,200. Allison Division constructed additional plants in Speedway and the Indianapolis area throughout the war years and with these plants came thousands of additional employees.
Demand for the V-1710 engine made Allison Division one of the three principal manufacturers of aircraft engines in the country during the war, alongside Pratt & Whitney and Wright Aeronautical. In January 1941, Life magazine ran a feature on the engine, highlighting it as the “plane motor on which the Army puts its biggest bet.” By July 1941, the War Department awarded Allison a new contract for the engines. With this contract, total orders for Allison engines since the beginning of the defense emergency program totaled approximately $242,000,000.
America has bet heavily on the Allison engine in its aircraft defense plans, just as the war industries board in 1917 bet everything on the Liberty engine . . . the Allison engine has been delivering regularly for the R.A.F. [Royal Air Force]. Allison is now producing 400 aviation engines a month, where a year ago it was delivering only 150, and expects to approach 1,000 engines a month by the end of 1941. – “More Air Power,” Mason City [Iowa] Globe Gazette, August 13, 1941, 4.
Orders and output for the V-1710 engine continued to grow, particularly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. By this point, employment at Allison Division surpassed 12,000. It swelled to 23,019 in October 1943. The company’s growth impacted the Town of Speedway as well. As early as 1940, Indianapolis newspapers commented on Speedway’s growing pains, reporting that officials from the town were seeking state aid to address problems that had come about from the influx of workers to the plants. These problems included the need to improve streets, sanitary conditions, and the need for a better water system. The Indianapolis Times noted that with more employees at the Allison plants came “more money, more home buying, more eating, etc.” School enrollment in the area doubled, church attendance rose greatly, and many new homes were built.
Meanwhile, Allison Division continued to impress. By March 1944, it built and delivered its 50,000th liquid-cooled engine. By the war’s end, the total figure reached 70,000. These engines powered many of the United States’ fighter planes during the war, including the P-38 Lightning, the P-39 Airacobra, and the P-40 Warhawk. The engine was also used in several fighter planes flown by the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom.
Allison Division received high praise for the fine precision, workmanship, and durability of the V-1710. It won the Army-Navy “E” Award for excellence in production four times during the war: in October 1942, March 1944, October 1944, and June 1945. By the spring of 1945, Allison Division reduced production schedules of the V-1710 to focus more of its time on building jet engines, which could power planes at much higher speeds. The U.S Army Air Forces had awarded Allison a contract for the production of jet propulsion units in the fall of 1944. The Navy followed the Army’s lead and placed their own order with Allison in the summer of 1945, citing Allison’s “well established reputation for delivering the goods on time.” This reputation would continue through the end of the war in August 1945 and through the post-war years.
As had happened following the conclusion of World War I, racing returned to the Speedway area in 1946 to much fanfare. Left abandoned for nearly five years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had fallen into disrepair during World War II. Tony Hulman purchased the track in November 1945 and worked to restore it in preparation for the May 1946 500-mile race. Fans came in droves to witness the 30th running of the Indianapolis 500 that year, as racing returned to center stage in the Speedway area.
Allison’s work in Speedway and its commitment to technological advancements did not end with World War II, but rather continues through today. In addition to continuing its investment and development in the aviation industry following the war, Allison also organized a new department for the design and development of transmissions. The transmissions were manufactured for commercial and military use, with many powering tanks during the Korean War. Their production ushered in a new chapter in the company’s history. Today, James Allison’s experimental company in Speedway , now known around the globe as Allison Transmission, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fully automatic transmissions.