“A man’s work in life is not very great at best, when compared with the sum total of human effort, and after all, it is the good that we may be able to do for our fellow-men and not the glory of achievement that really counts.” — Elwood Haynes
Elwood Haynes was born in Portland, Indiana, on October 14, 1857. He was the fifth of ten children of Hilinda Sophia (Haines) and Judge Jacob March Haynes, a strong disciplinarian. His paternal grandfather, Henry Haynes was a gunsmith and mechanic, and he tutored Elwood about metallurgy.
Elwood showed an early interest in chemistry and metallurgy. At age 15, with his grandfather’s help, he invented an apparatus and succeeded in melting brass, cast iron, and high carbon steel in his blower furnace. His early experiments and studies were about the fundamental properties of matter and mixing compounds to create different alloys.
Haynes attended public schools through eighth grade. His parents often criticized him for lacking ambition and insisted that he seek employment. When Portland’s first public school was opened in 1876, he returned to school at the age of 19 and completed two more years of education. Elwood obtained admission to the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1878. His senior thesis was entitled, “The Effect of Tungsten on Iron and Steel.” It laid out the basic principles of what would later become his greatest advances in metallurgy.
After graduation, Haynes returned to Portland to teach. He eventually became the principal of Portland High School, but left to conduct post-graduate work in Chemistry, Biology, and German at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. After the death of his mother in 1885, he left the university without completing his second year and took a position as the head of the Chemistry Department at the newly established Eastern Indiana Normal School and Commercial College (now Ball State University).
His personal life was also developing. After a ten-year courtship, Elwood Haynes and Bertha Lantermann were married in October 1887. Their first two children died in infancy. The couple had a third child, Bernice, born in 1892, and a son, March, born in 1896. The two children were well-educated and grew up to assist their father in his enterprises.
With the discovery of natural gas near Portland in 1886, Haynes left his teaching job and became superintendent for the Portland Natural Gas and Oil Company. In 1890, he was appointed field superintendent for the Indiana Natural Gas Company of Chicago, which had its headquarters in Greentown. Its Board of Directors “discovered that Elwood Haynes knew more about natural gas than anyone in the state.” While working for the company, Haynes invented a vapor thermostat and discovered how to dry and prevent pipelines from freezing.
When the company constructed the first long-distance gas line from eastern Indiana to Chicago, Haynes oversaw the design and construction of the pipeline, as well as the creation of the wells for pumping the gas. During construction of the pipeline, Haynes took numerous buggy rides between the two states. This is where he conceived the idea of a “horseless carriage” and began preparing drawings for its construction. After the pipeline became fully functional in 1892, Haynes and his family moved to Kokomo, where he became the manager of the gas plant.
His first “plans for the construction of a mechanically propelled vehicle for use on the highways” began in 1891, but he soon realized his device would be too dangerous. In the summer of 1893, he attended the Chicago World’s Fair, where he saw a gasoline-powered engine. He then purchased a one-cylinder, one-horsepower engine and attached it to a carriage he built in his kitchen. After doing considerable damage to the floor and filling the room with smoke, Haynes decided he needed a different facility to continue his experiment. Haynes hired brothers Elmer and Edgar Apperson for 40 cents an hour to construct the vehicle.
On July 4, 1894, “The “Pioneer,” as he called it, was ready for its first test run. The car was towed by a horse and buggy (to avoid frightening horses on the busy Kokomo streets) out into the countryside on the Pumpkinvine Pike.
With Haynes at the controls, the car traveled about six miles at a speed approaching six or seven miles per hour – becoming one of the first cars in the country to achieve such a feat.
Elwood Haynes and the Apperson brothers formed a partnership in 1898 known as the Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company and started production of their automobile. The Haynes-Apperson automobiles were known for their long-distance running capability. The cars competed regularly and won prizes in endurance races. After a disagreement, the two Apperson brothers split from Haynes to start a company of their own in 1902. This forced Haynes to leave his job at the gas company and devote more time to his growing business. In 1905, the company was renamed the Haynes Automobile Company. He continued to seek both mechanical and metallurgical improvements for his automobiles, for which he received eight patents.
While searching for a suitable corrosion-resistant metal for use as the contact points of spark plugs, he discovered the cobalt-based alloys he would patent under the name STELLITE.® The name was derived from the Latin word for star, “stella,” which Haynes considered appropriate because of their bright, non-tarnishing surface. This metallurgical invention of these alloys is regarded by some to be more important than his automobile invention.
In order to produce his STELLITE® alloy, Elwood Haynes formed Haynes Stellite Works in 1912. In 1915, he and two local businessmen, Richard Ruddell and James C. Patten, incorporated the business as Haynes Stellite Company. Many of the initial requests for STELLITE® were for machine tools, dental equipment, and cutlery. During World War I, the company received large government contracts for airplane engines and surgical scalpels for army field hospitals. In 1920, Elwood Haynes sold his shares of the company to a new owner, Union Carbide, and returned his focus to his automobile company.
As he grew older and less involved with his businesses, he became more involved in the community. He was an outspoken advocate of prohibition and made substantial donations to the Prohibition Party. In 1916, Haynes ran an unsuccessful campaign in Indiana for the U.S. Senate as a prohibition candidate. He also became increasingly philanthropic with large donations to his Presbyterian Church, as well as scholarships to the Worcester Institute. Haynes founded the YMCA in Kokomo, where he taught swimming lessons and regularly took underprivileged boys to movies and dinners. He was elected the president of the national YMCA in 1919 and served two, one-year terms. In 1920, he was appointed to the Indiana State Board of Education, where he advocated increased state funding for vocational education.
As the country was going through the economic recession, Haynes’ automobile sales decreased and competition increased. In 1924, the Haynes Automobile Company declared bankruptcy, forcing Haynes to liquidate his assets in 1925. In this same year, he attended the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce at a New York City auto exhibition, where he, the Apperson brothers, and other automotive pioneers were awarded gold medals for their contributions to the auto industry.
On his return trip home, he contracted influenza and his health deteriorated rapidly. On April 13, 1925, at the age of 67, Elwood Haynes died from congestive heart failure in his home in Kokomo. All business in the city was suspended for an hour during his funeral.
Elwood Haynes is still remembered today as a brilliant metallurgist and a pioneer in Indiana’s automobile industry. His imaginative mind was second nature to him. He was able to put his dreams, ideas, and passions to practical use by creating products to improve and simplify everyday life – whether it was stainless steel cutlery or alloys used in airplane engines. Haynes was a man of great inspiration and achievement. He focused on charity and making the community and its people better. He believed “the man who succeeds is the man who keeps at it all the time.”
His inventive spirit is what founded the company that today, still bears his name and inspires us to continue his “Tradition of Innovation.”