BICENTENNIAL: Four who made a difference: Manufacturing

Keywords Bicentennial
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Carl Fisher


Carl Fisher opened the first automobile dealer in Indianapolis, helped found Prest-O-Lite Battery Co. and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and created Miami Beach as a vacation spot for Americans tired of winter’s cold and snow. Fisher was born in Greensburg and quit school in sixth grade to help support his mother. He worked as a clerk in a bookstore, as a messenger boy, and selling newspapers and candy on trains in central and eastern Indiana. Fisher came to Indianapolis shortly before the turn of the century, attracted by the city’s growing reputation as an automobile manufacturing center. Over the next two decades, Fisher, James Allison, Arthur Newby and Frank Wheeler spearheaded growth of Indianapolis as an automotive manufacturing and testing center. Fisher made and lost a fortune in Miami Beach real estate development and died in South Florida in 1939.•


William G. Mays


Evansville native William G. Mays became Indianapolis’ most prominent African-American business executive during the 1990s. Mays graduated from Evansville Lincoln High School, one of the state’s three all-black segregated high schools in the 1960s, and went on to earn an MBA from Indiana University. He started Mays Chemical Co. in 1980 to serve clients in the food, pharmaceutical and industrial manufacturing markets nationwide from facilities in Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago, New Jersey, Canada and Puerto Rico. Mays was an enthusiastic and longtime supporter—and served as co-chairman—of the Circle City Classic, which brings together two of the nation’s prominent African-American colleges for an October football game in Indianapolis. A member of the National Urban League board, Mays was the first African-American chairman of both the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and the United Way giving campaign. He died in 2014 on his 69th birthday.•


Edna Balz Lacy


In 1959, Howard J. Lacy II suffered a fatal heart attack while driving back to Indianapolis from a meeting in Illinois. His widow, Edna Lacy, became president, chairman and treasurer of U.S. Corrugated Fibre Box Co. and its six plants scattered around the eastern half of the United States. Born and raised in Indianapolis, Edna Balz received her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Michigan in 1928 and taught in the Indianapolis Public Schools system for the next six years. She married Lacy in 1934. When her husband died, Edna Lacy took over the company her father-in-law had started in 1912. U.S. Corrugated had nine plants in Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut and West Virginia. During Lacy’s tenure as CEO, she grew the business and bought Jessup Door Co., a Dowagiac, Michigan, maker of solid-wood panel doors for the new-home industry. She stepped down from day-to-day operations in 1983 when she handed the management reins of what had become Lacy Diversified Industries to her son Andre. But she remained chairwoman until her death in 1991.•


W.B. Stokely Jr.


William Burnett “W.B.” Stokely Jr. led Indianapolis-based Stokely-Van Camp Inc. as chairman from 1948 until his death in 1966. At the time of Stokely’s sudden death, the canning firm operated more than 70 plants in the continental United States, Canada, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The company was known to a generation of fighting young Americans during World War II; it originated the Type C field ration used throughout the world. A Tennessee native and graduate of the University of Tennessee, Stokely went to work in his family’s packing business in the early 1920s. In 1933, the firm purchased Van Camp Products Co. and Van Camp Packing Co. in Indianapolis. The company name was changed to Stokely-Van Camp Inc. in 1944. W.B. Stokely moved to Indianapolis and lived the rest of his life in the Hoosier capital city. The year after he died, Stokely-Van Camp acquired the rights to produce and market Gatorade.•

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