Ed Pope is a lifelong resident of Indiana with an interest in history.
Kokomo, named after a Miami chief, bills itself as "The City of Firsts." Three of the firsts were accomplished by Elwood Haynes, who came to Kokomo during the Indiana Gas Boom. His former home is now the Elwood Haynes Museum.
Kokomo has a population of around 50,000 and is generally thought of as a manufacturing town. Chrysler has a couple large automotive transmission plants in Kokomo. Delphi, which was once part of General Motors and has a long history in Kokomo, still has a major presence. Delphi, formerly Delco, is also responsible for some of Kokomo's firsts.
If you are visiting Kokomo, be sure to visit Highland Park to see Old Ben. There is also a covered bridge and giant sycamore stump in the park. If you are a cyclist, you will want to take a ride on the Nickel Plate Trail.
Kokomo's 15 Firsts
Kokomo's 15 firsts have been etched in glass and are on display at the main public library. Here is the list:
- First commercially built auto. Elwood Haynes made his first trial run on July 4, 1894. City officials were concerned about safety, so he had the car towed by horses to the edge of town before starting his test run.
- First pneumatic rubber tire. Haynes was looking to make the ride in his auto more comfortable, and he talked with David Spraker. Spraker came up with a new tire in October of 1894. He went on to found the Kokomo Rubber Tire Company.
- First aluminum casting. Produced by William Johnson in 1895 at the Ford & Donnelly Foundry.
- First carburetor. George Kingston came to Kokomo in 1901 and worked for William Johnson at the Ford & Donnelly Foundry for a short time before developing his carburetor in 1902.
- First Stellite cobalt-based alloy. Elwood Haynes came up with this in 1906.
- First stainless steel. Elwood Haynes developed stainless steel in 1912. He wanted to create silverware that Mrs. Haynes would not have to polish.
- First American howitzer shell used in war. Developed by the Superior Machine Tool Company in 1918.
- First aerial bomb with fins. Produced by Liberty Pressed Metal Company in 1918.
- First mechanical corn picker. Developed by John Powell in the early 1920s.
- Dirilyte golden-hued tableware. The alloy was developed by Carl Molin in 1914 and first used for tableware in 1926.
- First canned tomato juice. Walter Kemp of Kemp Brothers Canning came up with this in 1928.
- First push button car radio. The Delco Radio Division of General Motors produced the first one in 1938.
- First all metal lifeboat. Manufactured by Globe American Stove Company in 1941.
- First signal seeking car radio. Another first by the Delco Radio Division of General Motors in 1947.
- First all transistor car radio. Also by Delco Radio Division of General Motors. The first one was produced in 1957.
Monroe Sieberling came to Kokomo in 1887 from Akron, Ohio. He founded the Kokomo Strawboard Company which produced shoeboxes from straw. He soon sold that company and started the Diamond Plate Glass Company, now the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.
In 1890 he built a 29-room mansion at a cost of $50,000. The architecture is a combination of Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival. Since it was built during the Indiana Gas Boom, it originally used gas for both heating and lighting. The Howard County Historical Society now manages the property.
Highland Park occupies 80 acres in Kokomo. It has all the usual amenities of a city park, along with some unique items. There is an 1875 covered bridge that was moved to the park from its original location. There is a small building in the park that houses a giant sycamore stump and giant steer. The 51-foot circumference sycamore stump came from a 100-foot high sycamore tree that was blown down by a storm in 1915. The tree was located on a farm near New London in Howard County.
Also in that building is Old Ben. Old Ben was a 4,720-pound steer that was raised on a farm north of Kokomo. He reportedly weighed 125 pounds at birth (about twice the average for a newborn calf) and gained 100 pounds a month. Born in 1902, he was exhibited all over the nation and traveled so much that the Nickel Plate Railroad ran a spur line to the farm where we lived. Unfortunately, he had to be euthanized after slipping on ice and breaking his leg in 1910. His owners had him stuffed and continued to display him for a few years after his death. Old Ben has been on display in Highland Park since 1989.
Nickel Plate Trail
The Nickel Plate Trail follows the route of the Nickel Plate Railroad. It runs from Kokomo to Rochester. The total trail length is over 40 miles and currently there are 34 paved miles. It is excellent for biking and walking. When there is sufficient snow (It doesn't happen often), you can even cross-country ski on it.