Automotive Heritage of Kokomo - More Apperson Brothers

Edgar took another trip to Arizona in January of 1920. According to the Arizona Republic, he was one of three Kokomo men that purchased the Chalmers Transfer and Storage Company while on that trip. It was likely that Edgar was ready to move there and leave the auto business.

On March 28th, Elmer was in California enjoying an automobile race, when he suffered a heart attack and died. It would prove to be the beginning of the end of the Apperson Brothers Automobile Company. At the April board of directors meeting, Elmer's wife was named as the chairman of the board. Edgar resigned as secretary-treasurer and became president and general manager. In hindsight, it appeared that a person that really didn't have the desire or the ambition to be in charge of an automobile business was now in charge of the company. The company did have engineers on the payroll that could continue to improve the automobiles and production did continue.

During the years of 1918 to 1924, the company also supplied automobiles without engines to the Bryan Steam Boiler Company in Peru, but that was a small number of cars. That company installed steam boilers in them for the power source. The cars were sold as Bryan Steam Cars.

On June 12th, countering Haynes' claim of being the first car, the Apperson company ran a full page story in an attempt to say the Appersons had really built the first car and that Haynes was a customer that paid them for their work. That article triggered a controversy that later gave Haynes the credit. The Apperson cars were now being built at the north plant and the old downtown building was a repair department for the company. In July, the company opened the new office building and was described by one reporter, stating "that the interior was finished in rich black walnut with black marble wainscoting." In the marble foyer floor was a Jack Rabbit. Sales for the year were up slightly, to 863 cars. At the December board meeting, it was stated that some of the dividends had not been distributed and that money would be turned back to the surplus of the company. This was the first sign that a financial problem may be coming in the future.

The following year production increased to 1112 cars and prices of the cars ranged from $3500 to $4500. Inventory was beginning to build up and in 1922, the company dropped prices in an attempt to sell more cars. Production fell to 613 cars. (As a side note, my father worked at the plant that year as a time keeper. He was sixteen years old.)

In May, the directors had their first board meeting in seventeen months. Elmer's widow, Catherine who had inherited 3599 shares of stock, retained 1499 and 1/3 shares. She gave 1000 shares to her mother and Edgar's shares increased to 615 and 2/3rds, while his wife, Inez had 624. T. E. Jarrard had 190 shares and seven other employees and board members held ten shares each. Pay was set as follows: Catherine and Edgar would receive $15,000 per year. T. E. Jarrard, the vice-president was to receive $12,000, A. G. Dawson, the secy- treas salary was set at $5,000. The general manager, N. H. VanSicklen' salary was set at $24,000.

A severe cash crisis had hit the company and the board voted to increase the capital stock from $400,000 to $4,100,000. In the meanwhile the company would sell $700,000 in bonds to raise immediate cash to enlarge the business and pay current financial obligations. During the next few months, meetings were held weekly to work on the problem. No buyers were interested in the new stock and a plan was set to sell new cars in inventory at a 30% discount, in order to increase sales and revenue. At this time, nationally sales were down and nothing seemed to work for the company.

On the tenth day of December, 1923 the stockholders, signed over their shares to a new administration, which was now in charge. Edgar was given a letter, saying that he would continue to receive $7500 per year and could move to Arizona and would be on call. The general manager was relieved and he tried to get a $20,000 settlement. That was refused and then he wanted one of the new Apperson cars, which was also declined. In an attempt to introduce the company as a new one, the name was even officially changed to the Pioneer Automobile Company. Nothing seemed to work and at the February, 12, 1925 board meeting, a decision was made to surrender all assets, including real estate to A. G. Dawson, who would act as a trustee to dispose of all interests including the properties.

I consider what is left of the Apperson Brothers Automobile Company saga as the rest of the story. Edgar Apperson would end up as the hero of the Kokomo automobile industry, because he outlived everyone else in the local industry and could made claims without challenge. While wintering in Arizona (2000-2004), I found quite a bit of information on Edgar. One edition of the Arizona Republic had a quarter page article about the Phoenix resident that built the first car in America. According to the story, Elwood Haynes came by one day and asked if the brothers could build a buggy that could be operated without a horse. Haynes had purchased an engine. Edgar did all of the design work and by the following July he had completed the first motorized carriage in the country. The story also included Edgars love of hunting and fishing trips.

At Elmer's funeral, the editor of the Kokomo Tribune Edwin Souder, who had grown up with the brothers, spoke at the service, about Elmer's achievements without a mention of Edgar. An editorial in the Indianapolis Star, used a caption, "A Captain of the Industry of the Industry Gone", and the story never mentioned Edgar. The New York Globe story referred to Elmer this way, "the automobile industry loses a man who has been an important factor in its development from its very beginning." When Elwood Haynes, Elmer Apperson, John Maxwell and other mechanics were putting the finishing touches on the 1895 car for the Chicago Contest, Edgar was off to buy a boat. Had he been the key factor of the business, it seems he would have been working along with the others on the car.

In March of 1952, True magazine had a several page interview with Edgar at his Arizona home. Much of the same information that had been in the Phoenix paper was repeated in the magazine and much more. Edgar also said his maternal great grandfather was Daniel Boone, but in my search, I could never find any connection. The author of the story, Robert E. Pinkerton apparently was very impressed by talking to Edgar and wrote, "no one ever tackled a newer problem with less knowledge of what was ahead, than Ed Apperson, who unaided, designed and built a really successful automobile."

Edgar Apperson last came to Kokomo for the dedication of Appersonway in 1955. He passed away in Phoenix at the age of 89. He owned a great deal of property in the Salt River Valley. His only survivor was a foster son, Gilbert Alvord, whom he called his best friend.

In the early 1980s, I had a call from a gentleman that had a 1918 Apperson that had once belonged to Edgar. He lived in the Patterson Park area on Boulevard. I went to see the car and it was one of the Anniversary models, but had been just setting there for 55 years or so. The fellow's wife had been married to an employee of the company and when the business closed, her husband took care of all of the buildings until they were sold. In exchange, he received the car. I didn't want the car and I couldn't find anyone else that had any interest at that time. A Purdue professor purchased the car, had it restored and donated it to the Auburn museum.

In the late 1980s, I had a call from Gus Trometer, who had purchased the same home where the Apperson was located. He and his wife were remodeling the home and found the corporate minutes books for the car company in their attic. I told him to bring them to the next Pioneer Auto Club meeting. The members were delighted to see them and we traded a receipt for what we felt the books were worth. Several times I have looked through them for reference. Its surprising what some people find in their attics!


Return to Historian Page