Elwood Haynes, Class of 1881, on his automobile called the Pioneer

Elwood Haynes rides The Pioneer, the second gasoline-powered car driven in the United States.

Metallurgist Elwood Haynes Changed the Way We Travel

The oldest member of the WPI Class of 1881, Elwood Haynes was noted by his classmates for his serious demeanor and for always being in a hurry. He was consistently frustrated by the rusty blades of cutting utensils and, while a student, he began to experiment with new alloys. In the 1881 yearbook’s Class Memories, his classmates noted that he was a “manufacturer of tungsten steel.” After graduation, he took graduate courses and taught chemistry classes before moving to Muncie, Ind., where a large natural gas deposit had recently been discovered.

Haynes championed the use of natural gas to heat homes and businesses, and in 1886 he was named superintendent of Portland Natural Gas and Oil. Tasked with overseeing the construction of a 10-mile pipeline, he conceived of a mechanical-powered buggy that could traverse the rough and sandy roads better than a horse could.

Elwood Haynes

His early automotive designs included furnace- and electric-powered engines to no success. At the 1893 World’s Fair, he saw a demonstration of a gasoline-powered engine and ordered one for his experimental design. He first drove his experimental car, The Pioneer, on July 4, 1894; it was the second gasoline-powered car driven in the United States and the first designed exclusively to operate under mechanical power. Haynes continued to experiment with rust-proof alloys for his automobiles and found that adding aluminum to his crankcases helped deaden engine-noise vibrations.

By the time of his death in 1925, he was recognized as an influential metallurgist, automotive pioneer, and renowned inventor. The Haynes Car Company was the first viable automobile manufacturer in the United States; Haynes was named a member of the 75th class of the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2015.

His creation, Stellite, a cobalt-chromium alloy, is still used on spacecraft for its ability to withstand high temperatures. A noted philanthropist, Haynes was also passionately opposed to white supremacy groups, which were growing in influence during his lifetime.

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