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Becky Cape
IU Bloomington Libraries

Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009

IU's Lilly Library showcases vintage autos

'Are We There Yet? The Age of the Automobile'

May 28, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- To kick off the summer traveling season, the Lilly Library at Indiana University's Bloomington campus has opened an exhibition featuring collections relating to early automobiles and motor cars. "Are We There Yet? The Age of the Automobile" showcases vintage catalogs, books and materials featuring topics ranging from luxury roadsters to the first Indianapolis 500.

Indianapolis Speedway, 1911

Photo from the Frank M Hohenberger Photograph Collection at IU's Lilly Library

Indianapolis Speedway, 1911

The exhibition runs through Sept. 5.

Lavish catalogs aimed at Gatsby-like customers come from the collection of Thomas T. Solley. Solley was director of the Indiana University Art Museum from 1971 to 1986 and a grand-nephew of J. K. Lilly Jr., early benefactor of the library that bears his family name.

Solley's collection shows how luxury car catalogs blossomed as an art form at the turn of the 20th century. Faced with growing competition to sell automobiles, manufacturers introduced lithography, photo-mechanical reproduction and special leather-tooled bindings to lure prospective buyers.

"The automobile is such a part of our national identity," said Becky Cape, head of public services at the Lilly Library, "and yet the industry is in crisis. It's especially interesting to revisit auto history not only in Indiana but also around the world."

"Keep away from the fellow who owns an automobile"

Photo from the Sam DeVincent Collection of American Sheet Music at IU's Lilly Library

Sheet music by Irving Berlin

In the early 20th century, Cape says, Indiana was at the center of the automobile industry, rivaling Michigan as the country's automobile manufacturing giant. In all, more than 250 makes of cars were produced in more than 40 Indiana cities and towns.

Although the Great Depression brought the downfall of most Hoosier automakers, Indiana's automobile legacy continues through one of the world's best-known auto races, the Indianapolis 500, first run in 1911.

Some of Cape's favorite parts of the exhibition describe how women influenced the industry and the market. Electricity powered some of the earliest cars, Cape says, and women were encouraged to drive them because they were slower and cleaner.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the famed French manufacturer Peugeot produced steel rods for crinoline dresses before making umbrella frames, wire wheels, bicycles and finally, cars.

The exhibition was curated by Madeleine Thompson and assisted by Cape.

The Lilly Library is Indiana University's library for rare books and special collections and one of the 18 libraries of the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries. It is located on Seventh Street south of Showalter Fountain on the IU campus in Bloomington. Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. For more information call 812-855-2452. Free and open to the public.