Harry C. Stutz left his mark on automotive industry

With “transformative” renovations now under way at the former automobile factory known for years as the Stutz Business Center and now more simply as “the Stutz,” historian Connie Zeigler takes a look at the man whose business acumen launched the famous automobile company.

By CONNIE ZEIGLER, Contributing editor

The Indianapolis Star published notice on June 25, 1930: Harry C. Stutz was in “fair” condition after an operation to remove his appendix at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. One day later he was dead.

The Star article that had reported his seemingly successful operation also offered the information that, in hindsight, probably explains why Stutz died: “He was brought here from Florida Tuesday and the operation was performed Tuesday night.”

A 1,200-mile trip from Miami to Indianapolis takes about 17 hours driving on interstate highways in 2022. Stutz made that trip on 1930s highways, with an inflamed appendix. Although Stutz survived the surgery and, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which reported on the mogul’s death on June 27, “for a time his progress following the operation was satisfactory, but he declined rapidly when infection set in.” 

This 1916 photograph shows the Ideal Motor Company, which Harry Stutz started in 1911. The name was changed to Stutz Motor Company in 1913. BASS PHOTO COLLECTION, INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Reports on his funeral noted that leaders in the automotive world gathered for the funeral of Stutz. After all, he had helped put Indianapolis on the map as a carmaker’s city in the 1910s and 1920s.

He had spent several years working his way up in the fledgling Indianapolis auto industry, first as a machinist with Gormully & Jeffery Tire Co., then salesman, then car builder at American Motor Car, and then chief engineer/designer and factory manager at Marion Motor Car Co., for whom he designed a handful of cars that placed in several races across the country.

In 1911, Stutz made his name as a designer/builder with the first car he built for his own firm, the Ideal Motor Car Co. The company’s first factory was at 217 W. 10th St. Stutz named the car that ran in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 race of 1911, the “Stutz.” Stutz the man and Stutz the car amazed the field by finishing 11th out of 40 cars that started the race. Stutz capitalized on the fame by renaming his company the Stutz Motorcar Co. The great showing of the car at the race also inspired the company’s catchy slogan, “The car that made good in a day.”

A year later, in 1912, Stutz added a new, modern plant at 212 W. 10th St. These two buildings are still standing as the present-day Stutz I and II buildings.

Stutz cars ran in several Indy 500s. In 1912 a Stutz, driven by another Indianapolis auto legend, Carl J. Fisher, was the pace car, according to motorsports.com. In 1912 Stutz introduced the Bear Cat (later Bearcat). A Stutz Bearcat set a world speed record –104.3 miles per hour – in 1915, at the Sheepshead Bay race in New York, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The year 1916 saw majority ownership of Stutz Motor Car Co. taken over by financier Allan A. Ryan. Stutz contracted to stay on as president until 1919. The newly reorganized Stutz Motor Car Company of America, Inc., went public and was listed on New York Stock Exchange as SMCC of America.

Stutz donated ambulances to the war effort in 1917. The Indianapolis Star lauded him for his patriotism and called him “one of the big men in an industry that makes and unmakes men pretty fast.” The article continued, “Very few have had the capacity to make their product a business success … but Mr. Stutz made more than a business success [and] he was among the first of those who responded to the call of the country by giving the government a complete unit equipment in ambulances.”

In June 1919, Stutz resigned his position at the Stutz Motor Car Co. of America and shortly after opened the H.C.S. Motor Car Co. In a scandalous short-sale kerfuffle a year later, Allan Ryan would bankrupt himself and lose the original Stutz Motor Car Co. to a group of financiers, including Charles M. Schwab.

In November 1919, the H. C. S. Motor Car Co. was capitalized to the tune of $1 million with Stutz as president, managing director and majority stockholder. The New H. C. S. Special sold for $2,950 in 1920, from the showroom at 848 N. Meridian St., a building no longer standing. It belonged to Harry’s cousin, Charles E. Stutz.

By the mid-1920s, The Indianapolis Star announced another new Stutz venture, the establishment of the Stutz High Duty Fire Engine Co., which produced the Stutz-designed firetrucks and the H. C. S. cars at a new building at 1400 North Capitol (still standing). Business was good and the company expanded the building in 1920.

Meanwhile Harry Stutz motored on. By 1920 he and his wife, Clara, following Carl J. Fisher’s grand plan, had purchased swampland in Florida – in what would become Miami. For a while Harry would split his time between Florida and Indianapolis. H. C. S. Motor Car continued production; in 1921 the “H. C. S. 6” was the Indy 500 pace car.

An undated advertisement of a Stutz coupe.

In 1926 the peripatetic Harry moved on again. He closed the H. C. S. Motor Car Co. and the fire truck production facility and began development on a four-cylinder engine for the Stutz Bellanca Aircraft Co. He also exited one marriage and entered another. Clara was out; Blanche Clark Miller was in.

Blanche was the daughter of Sanford P. Secrest, a real estate developer, and former wife of Herman Miller, a café manager. Authors Charles Lam Markmann and Mark Sherwin wrote in their 2014 book, “Builders and Drivers of Sports Cars” that Blanche’s husband, a harpist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, unsuccessfully sued Stutz for $50,000 for alienation of affection over the affair that ended his marriage.

Harry and Blanche moved to Orlando in 1926, but they were living at the Indianapolis home of her father, Secrest, when the 1930 Census was taken in April that year. Still, by June, the Stutzes were back in Orlando, forced to make that fateful drive back to the Circle City when Harry’s appendix became inflamed. They made it, but too late to save Harry S. Stutz.

Blanche was a widow and a wealthy one at that. But not for long. Not quite two years after her husband, Harry Stutz, died, Blanche, back in Florida again, wed a third time. The Indianapolis Star reported that groom number-three was Paul O. Meredith, secretary of the Florida Association of Real Estate Boards and formerly secretary of the Indiana Real Estate Association. A little over a year later, on June 18, 1933, Meredith died after an emergency surgery for appendicitis. The Star reported on his death in Orlando. It happened almost exactly three years after the death of Harry S. Stutz by the same cause in Indianapolis.