History Timeline 1910's

Photo above: World War I. Courtesy National Archives. Right: United States troops entering Veracruz, Mexico on April 21, 1914, remaining in occupation until November. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1910s

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  • Timeline

  • 1911 - Detail

    May 30, 1911 - The Indianapolis 500 auto race is run for the first time in Indianapolis, Indiana. The race is won by Ray Harroun in the Marmon Wasp.

    Indianapolis 500 Winner 1912

    It was known, at first, as the 500-Mile International Sweepstakes. That name lasted for five years. And the track, built initially in 1909 as a gravel and tar track by Carl G. Fisher and associates, was, and still is, two and one half miles around with four turns banked at nine degrees, twelve minutes, and four straightaways. Smaller races were held on that surface prior to Fisher and the Speedway company installing three million two hundred thousand bricks as the track and a concrete wall around the track prior to the 1910 season, leading, in 1911, to the race we now know as the Indy 500. How many people came to the newly christened track? Sixty thousand. Who won the longest race, at two hundred miles, of the 1910 Decoration Day? Ray Harroun. That name will become legend one year later.

    Track officials bantered about what type of races would be run and what would attract the greatest crowds. The initial Decoration Day events on the new surface in 1910 saw those sixty thousand visitors, but the rest of the season saw dwindling numbers. There was consideration of a full day event, or a one thousand mile race, but in the end, five hundred miles was chosen. What was the principle reason? They could race that far before dark.

    The initial race drew lots of publicity from newspapers, drawing in celebrities like Ty Cobb during race week. The prize money had lots to do with the interest for the ninety thousand spectators. Cobb, himself, the best baseball player of the time, made less money for an entire season, $10,000, than the winner would get.

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    The First Race

    Forty cars made the starting line on May 30, 1911. Pole position was held by Lewis Stang, Car Number 1, in a Case/Wisconsin model. That pole position was not earned, however, as the first race assigned positions by their date of entry, as long as the car proved it could travel an average of 75 MPH over a quarter mile spurt. Ray Harroun, last year's winner of the two hundred mile race on Decoration Day, drove Car Number 32, from the 28th position.

    The race was confusing as the track could not keep spectators abreast of the changes in position after passing cars and pit stops muddied the order. At first, Johnny Aiken took the lead, passed after seven miles by Spencer Wishart. Fred Belcher assumed the lead position eight laps later. David Bruce-Brown would take charge about lap thirty. Often, the scoreboards indicating position would disagree with each other and the system, known as the Warner Horograph, was, at best put, ... confused.

    Harroun continued to race at a steady pace, sticking to his pre-race strategy of maintaining about seventy-five miles per hour to minimize pit stops; his tenth place laps eventually moved him to second place around Mile 150. When Harroun finally made his first pit stop, he jumped from the car and was replaced by reserve driver Cyrus Patschke. At about the halfway mark of the race, Harroun jumped back in. It is said they might have had the lead. For the remainder of the race, most sources contend that Harroun had the lead, at least from mile 300 forward. There was some discussion about eventual second place winner Ralph Mulford challenging Harroun and taking the lead for a bit; nobody knows for sure.

    Pole position leader Stang would only last one hundred and eight of the two hundred laps. Mulford thought the race ended one lap sooner and considered himself the winner; that ended up to be wrong. Harroun would complete the entire race amongst the confusion of positions and garner the winner's flag. Race time was six hours forty-two minutes and eight seconds with an average speed of 74.602 MPH. Yes, speeds would rise as the decades passed. First year over 180 MPH for an average speed was 1990.

    Harroun won the race in his Marmon "Wasp" by one minute and forty-three seconds over Ralph Mulford by the official results, which Mulford protested, but lost. Ray Harroun was the only racer in the field who drove a single seat car. Others drove two seaters with a mechanic along for the ride. Might have had something to do with his victory. The top ten racers made money with the winner garnering $14,250; tenth place got $500.

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    Ray Harroun

    Born January 12, 1879 in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania, Harroun was thirty-two years old during the running of the first Indianapolis 500 race. He had been involved in racing since 1903, part of the four man team that set the New York to Chicago land speed record at seventy-six hours, then retook the same record when passed, this time at fifty-eight hours thirty-five minutes. He was known as the "Little Professor" and was involved in the creation of his car, the Marmon Wasp, with car manufacturer Howard Marmon of Indianapolis.

    During his career in AAA sponsored races from 1905-1911, Harroun won nineteen times in sixty races. Eight of those victories were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Harroun had retired after the 1910 season, but came back to race in the initial Indy 500. He did not race after 1911.

    What is a Marmon

    The Marmon "Wasp" was built in Indianapolis by the Marmon Car Company. The company had been established in 1851 to make flour grinding equipment, experimenting with cars in 1902 before going into production. The Marmon would gain a reputation as a reliable and fast upscale car. The "Wasp" version raced by Harroun stemmed from the 1909 Marmon 32. It included, for the first time, a rear-view mirror.

    The Marmon Company continued to make cars through the first decades of the 20th century, but suffered during the depression, changing its focus to manufacturing car components for other firms as well as the manufacture of trucks. It merged into the company known as Marmon-Herrington, which through today, builds large commercial and military vehicles, and is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire-Hathaway conglomerate. It is now known as the Marmon Group.

    Photo above: Ray Harroun's Marmon "Wasp" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, 2007. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: Joe Dawson flagged down as winner of the 1912 Indianapolis 500, 1912, Bain News Service. Courtesy Library of Congress. Joe Dawson finished in 5th position during the initial 1911 contest, winning $1,500. Info source: Indianapolis500.com; "100 Years of the Indy 500," 1911, Charles Leehrsen, Smithsonian Magazine; Wikipedia Commons.

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