Elwood Haynes Museum: Automotive Pioneer Invented World’s Strongest Metal Alloy

As field superintendent in Indiana’s new natural gas industry, Elwood Haynes needed a way to get from gas field to gas field. So he invented a horseless carriage. There were several automobiles being developed around the country at the same time, but Haynes called his vehicle “America’s first,” and the title stuck. Haynes also invented Stellite in the early 1900s. Stellite was world’s strongest known metal alloy. The Elwood Haynes Museum in Kokomo, Indiana, tells the story of Haynes, his inventions and his contribution to history.

Haynes, the automobile pioneer

Elwood Haynes hired brothers Edgar and Elmer Apperson to build the first car that he designed. The three men successfully test drove the “Pioneer” in 1894. Shortly after that test drive, the three men formed the Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company. The company dissolved after only three years, after which Haynes and the Apperson Brothers formed separate companies.

America's first car

Haynes donated that first car, the “Pioneer,” to the Smithsonian Institute in 1910. However, you can see a 1905 Haynes Model L in the Elwood Haynes Museum. The Model L had many technical advances over that first car, but the two features I found most interesting were the front seat and the steering wheel. The front seat sat forward of the driver and was meant for mothers and mothers-in-law. Without a glass windshield, guess who would get hit with all the bugs and debris? The steering wheel tilted, the first steering wheel to do so. Haynes called it the “fat man’s steering wheel,” a name his wife, Bertha, suggested.

Haynes Model L

Haynes, the metallurgist

Elwood Haynes was a metallurgist by trade. His laboratory was across the street from his home in Kokomo, which he could reach through a tunnel.  (The laboratory is now a private home.) He is credited with perfecting stainless steel and inventing Stellite. At the time, Stellite was the strongest known metal alloy and was used to make cutting tools. Tools made of Stellite cut three times faster than other tools and outlasted other products.

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Haynes Stellite and World War I

Just before the United States became involved in World War I, the government contacted Elwood Haynes. Their machine guns would only fire 15 or 20 rounds before the barrel would get hot and warp. They asked for Haynes’ help in finding a solution to the problem. Haynes lined the machine gun barrel with Stellite, which solved the problem. In addition, all of the Stellite that Haynes Stellite could make went to the war effort for barrels, mortar shells, and medical tools like scalpels.

Elwood Haynes’ personal life

Elwood Haynes was very much an introvert, and always serious. His wife, Bertha, on the other hand, was just the opposite—outgoing and loved to laugh. Bertha was always trying to get Elwood to laugh or to make him angry. He would do neither. But he was a kind-hearted man. During the recession that preceded the Great Depression, business at Haynes Automotive was dwindling, but he refused to lay off any workers.

Haynes Automotive did close after Haynes’ 1925 death. However, Elwood’s wife, son and daughter kept Haynes Stellite running. The company still operates today as Haynes International and supplies Stellite to many industries, including aerospace.

If you visit the Elwood Haynes Museum

The Elwood Haynes Museum includes many more artifacts of Haynes’ personal life and his businesses. Besides the 1905 Haynes automobile in the house, additional Haynes and Apperson vehicles are displayed in the garage.

The museum is located in Haynes’ former mansion at 1915 South Webster Street in Kokomo, Indiana. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Free will donation. Check the website for further details.

Elwood Haynes Museum

Kokomo accomodations

We stayed at Courtyard Kokomo during our stay in Kokomo. Find the best Kokomo hotel deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.


Disclosures: My visit to the Elwood Haynes Museum was hosted by the Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau. However, any opinions expressed int his article are my own.
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