Saturday, June 6, 2015

It was not really gold..............

On December 14, 1909, workers laid the last of 3.2 million 10-pound street paving bricks on a 2-inch sand base around the 2- ½ mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. After the surface was rolled to seat them in the sand base, the more than three million bricks were fixed into their final location with a mixture of equal parts sand and cement. 

The final 'gold' brick, actually made of gold-plated brass, was laid in a special ceremony by Indiana Governor Thomas R. Marshall accompanied by Carl Fisher, James Allison, Arthur Newby Newby and Frank Wheeler, the founders of the Speedway.

The 'gold brick' idea was the brain child of Ernest ‘Ernie’ Moross, the first publicity man for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who formerly promoted for barnstorming racer  Berna ‘Barney’ Oldfield. Unfortunately, legend has it that the “gold” brick only spent a couple days in its intended location before it was stolen and never recovered.

Tony Hulman holds the 1961 'gold' brick with Ray Harroun, left and  Louis Schwitzer, right look on. Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection in IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies 

In October 1961, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway completed a massive asphalt paving project, which paved over the last of the paving bricks on the main straightaway, except for a 3-foot section at the start-finish line. The completion of the 1961 project was marked by the ceremonial placement of a 'gold' brick in the “yard of bricks,” with a group of witnesses that included 1911 winner Ray Harroun, Speedway President Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr, and Louis Schwitzer, the long-time chairman of the Technical Committee, and winner of the first race held on the Speedway, a five-mile preliminary event held on August 19 1909.

The 1961 'gold' brick on display in the IMS Museum 
Author photo 

Through the years, to avoid a repeat of the theft of the original “gold” brick, the second 39-pound gold brick was kept in a safe in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway office at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street and was only placed in the track for special occasions. The truth is that the 1961 version of the gold brick was really not gold but Dirilyte, a “gold-hued” bronze metal alloy manufactured in Kokomo Indiana.

A photo of Dirilyte flatware 
Photo courtesy The Dirilyte Company

The Dirilyte story began with the Swedish metallurgist Carl Molin who first created what he called the “Dirigold” alloy in 1914. The Swedish Dirigold Company grew slowly until 1923 when Molin and his partner Oscar Von Malmburg exhibited and sold a line of flatware at a Swedish exposition. While at the exposition, they were approached by a group of Swedish-Americans who urged the partners to expand their sales to the United States.

By 1926, Dirigold sales in the United States under Von Malmburg’s guidance had grown to the point that Molin and six of his key employees and their families relocated to Kokomo Indiana to start a new United States manufacturing operation. The Dirigold factory we established in a building on State Avenue in Kokomo that had once been the home of the recently defunct Haynes automobile factory.

Molin also created a coarser harder grade bronze alloy known as “Alcobronze” which was used primarily for builder’s hardware such as door hinges and handles and for industrial purposes. Curiously, neither alloy was protected by patent, as the company’s founders instead elected to maintain the secrecy of the formula.

At its peak, the Dirilyte Company produced a large line of products. 
Photo courtesy of The Dirilyte Company 

Unfortunately, by the time that Molin worked out the Dirigold manufacturing bugs and scaled up production, the Great Depression hit the company hard, as sales dropped and the little firm was forced into receivership in 1930. The company limped along for several years but finally the company’s assets were sold ay auction in 1935 to satisfy outstanding debts. 

The company’s assets were purchased by a group of Kokomo businessmen who renamed the company American Dirigold Corporation to manufacture and sell “Dirigold” flatware, serving trays, bowls, and hollowware. The first obstacle for the new company to overcome was a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit that claimed the “Dirigold” name misled consumers as the alloy used to manufacture the products did not contain any gold. 

To resolve the lawsuit, the company and its products were renamed “Dirilyte.” The next problem was a lawsuit against a rival firm the Dirigold Metals Corporation based in New Jersey that claimed it held the license to manufacture Dirigold in the United States, which was finally resolved on appeal in 1939.

Major Bowes' Airflow Limousine
photo courtesy of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum

In 1937, the famous amateur radio talent program host Edward “Major” Bowes took delivery of a custom-built Chrysler Series CW Airflow Custom Imperial limousine to add to his collection of ten fine automobiles. The Chrysler connection was understandable since Bowes’ radio program was sponsored by Chrysler Motors.

One of only three CW limousines built in by the Detroit coachbuilder LeBaron during 1937- the other customers were Milton Hershey, founder of the chocolate company and Elpidio Quirino the President of the Philippines. The limousine differed from the rest of the Airflow line in that it had a curved one-piece windshield, as was used in the original 1934 Airflow Triton prototype.

The CW limousine listed at $5145.00, but Bowes’ Brewster green and gold-trimmed automobile cost $25,000 - equivalent to over $850,000 today. It rode on a massive 146.5-inch wheelbase chassis and was powered by a 385 cubic inch nine main bearing straight eight engine rated at 145 horsepower.

Bowes’ car included such features as a wooden writing desk, twin swivel seats for his secretaries, a built-in electric razor, two-way radio telephone, two humidors, and an ash tray. Bowes’ custom Imperial also featured a console between the passenger compartment and the driver which contained a stainless steel “thermal compartment.” 

The car also featured a fully-stocked bar, and all the metal trim and decorative fixtures in the passenger compartment crafted from Dirilyte with jade handles. “The sweetest chariot in the land” was featured in Look magazine in 1940, and currently is displayed at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum.

Even though the Speedway’s 1961 brick isn’t really gold, it is solid Dirilyte and it is still valuable, as Dirilyte products were not cheap, as in 1962, a single five-piece set of flatware sold for the equivalent of $150 today. The Dirilyte Company was sold to Hand Industries and in 1971, the factory relocated from Kokomo to Warsaw Indiana before Dirilyte finally ceased manufacturing operations in 1986.  

The 2011 IMS 'gold brick'
photo courtesy of

Prior to the running of the 2011 Indianapolis ‘500,’ The Indianapolis Motor Speedway repeated the “gold brick” placement in 2011 for the celebration of the 500-mile race’s centennial, which was attended by Mari Hulman George, Tony’s daughter, Jeff Belskus, the president of Hulman and Company, and the first four-time Indianapolis ‘500’ winner A. J. Foyt. 

The actual construction of the 2011 commemorative brick is unknown to the author – do any our readers know?   

No comments:

Post a Comment