Elmer Apperson was born just outside of Kokomo, Ind., simply another potential future farmer, at the start of the Civil War. But, like many young men of that era, when he came of age he knew he would do something besides follow his father's occupation. A new age of machinery, no longer needing steam to operate as it had when the Industrial Revolution started, was dawning. And given the choice between building something of substance or plowing and planting the same field over and over again for the rest of his life - praying all the while that nature wouldn't ruin him financially - the teenage Apperson became a machinist's apprentice at the Star Motor Works in Kokomo.By the time he turned 27 Apperson had opened his own business, the Riverside Machine Shop, and his exceptional quality work and fair dealings quickly gained him a following. It was that reputation that in late 1893 led Elwood Haynes, the wealthy head of the local gas company, to commission the most far-fetched and outlandish job Apperson and his brother Edgar had ever attempted. For years Haynes had been sketching out designs for a self-powered vehicle, even purchasing a one-cylinder engine from the Sintz Motor Works in Michigan. Now he was asking the Apperson boys to turn his designs into a functional automobile.An "Auto-mobile"?!Privately the Appersons thought the idea of a self-propelled vehicle silly and questioned a client foolish enough to waste his money on something so outrageous. So they agreed to manufacture and assemble the parts for Hayne's pipedream, but only if they could do it during the down time in their usually busy shop. Moreover, they wanted 40 cents an hour for the job. But if the brothers thought that these extraordinary conditions - pay almost double their normal rate and stipulating that they would work on the project when they had nothing else to do - might get them out of it, it didn't work. Haynes told them to move quickly on the project.At first they showed little interest in jumping into the project. But as the various pieces of the automobile were machined and made to work, suddenly this very profitable project inspired more passion than any job they had ever tackled. They still weren't sure it was going to work, but their new enthusiasm started to move the project forward quickly. Named the Haynes Pioneer, it was completed by Independence Day in 1894. It was not only one of the first functioning automobiles built in America, but it put the Appersons on the map as the first automobile manufacturer in Indiana.Here's what Haynes got for his money: A car that had to be pushed to start, that lacked brakes and lights, whose two gears didn't include reverse, and whose engine had no muffler. As for the lack of brakes, no one thought they'd be needed; the car moved at only 8 miles an hour. Oh, and everyone associated with the vehicle considered its steering design extremely dangerous.All that said, though, after a short and successful drive in the country that day the only thing that failed was nothing the Appersons had built, but the one-cylinder engine Haynes had gotten from a well-known manufacturer. Not too surprisingly, that one short drive in an automobile they'd made themselves convinced the Appersons that they might be onto something big.More PowerElmer decided to build an even larger and far more powerful automobile and enter it in a Chi cago Times-sponsored race the following year. That car made it to Chicago, but when a wheel got caught in the city's streetcar tracks its suspension was damaged. It couldn't be fixed in time for the race. It didn't matter: On that fall day only two American-made vehicles even showed up in the Windy City, the Apperson and the Duryea. And even though the Apperson vehicle couldn't race, it still won first place for having the best-balanced engine in any automobile. This time, instead of using another Sintz engine, the brothers had designed their own two-cylinder model from scratch.Elmer Apperson decided on the spot that their future lay in automobile manufacturing. Brother Edgar dumped the bicycle shop he owned on the side. And with Elwood Haynes, who kept his job at the gas works but would help with engineering and technical issues, they set out to become a world-class car company.Their third car went around to state fairs in the Midwest in 1896 looking for potential buyers. There was enough interest that full-scale manufacturing was scheduled for 1897, when the brothers hoped to build and retail 50 cars. That was considered an outlandish goal; the Duryea Company had failed the previous year because they could find only 13 buyers for their vehicle. But by 1900 the Haynes Apperson Company was building 200 cars a year and enjoying considerable financial success. So much so that the Apperson brothers quit the company they co-owned with Haynes and started their own in 1901.Elegant EngineeringTheir first car, finished in 1902, sold for $3,500, the equivalent of $91,000 in today's money. But in this new car company the brothers had no real passion for high volumes, instead wanting to be known for building the finest and fastest automobile in America. So they built only a few vehicles each week, while offering a great many models to the public. (One of their custom offerings retailed for $15,000 - $364,000 in today's money.)By 1911 the Appersons' reputation had been achieved; they were recognized by others in the industry as having the finest and best built vehicles in America. But of course there would be battles.The Appersons claimed in their ads that they had built the first successful American car in 1893. This troubled their former partner, Elwood Haynes, because that car had been his design and his money had built it - and it hadn't been completed until the summer of 1894.Henry Ford immediately circulated the PR story that in fact he had built the first American car, in 1893; but since that was in no way true it was quickly dismissed. However, the Appersons then put out an ad campaign stressing that their vehicles were built with real quality; each car was supervised by the industry's finest automotive production people. One should never, they warned, trust any manufacturer whose factories turned out tens of thousands of vehicles - an obvious jab at Henry Ford's mass production.Finest of the FirstThat kind of automotive fun could have continued, but in 1917 Elmer Apperson's health started failing; and he passed away while attending a race in Los Angeles in 1920. The recession of that year forced brother Edgar to find new financing for the company, and during that process he lost control of his family's business. Among the pallbearers at Elmer's funeral was Jonathan Maxwell, who as a young man had worked at the Appersons' Kokomo, Ind., machine shop and in 1893 had helped build their very first car.Today no one remembers the Apperson automobile, even though it was not only considered the first real American luxury car, but also the finest example of American automobiles in the industry's infancy. No one remembers that they were the first to build cars in Indiana, or that until the 1920s theirs was the oldest surviving automobile company.Come to think of it, no one remembers Jonathan Maxwell, who helped build that first automobile, even though he would go on to start his own automobile company. It failed at almost the exact same time as the Appersons', during the great recession of 1920; and, just as creditors forced Edgar to give up control of his car company, Maxwell too was forced to bring in outside help to take over his troubled firm as one of his creditors' key demands.That's the story of the creation of Chrysler. Yes, Jonathan Maxwell helped build America's first car for the Apperson brothers, then started his own car company; and he served as pallbearer to his former employer while losing control of his own firm. And the person his creditors brought in to take over Maxwell was Walter Chrysler.So the young man who was paid less than 40 cents an hour to help build the first American car lived long enough to see Walter Chrysler take over his car company and turn it into Chrysler Corporation - which became the last of the Big Three of Detroit.Footnote: Edgar Apperson lived to 100 years of age, passing away in 1959. In 1955 he was asked for his recollections of their 1894 automobile and its successful first run. He only remembered how truly dangerous it was to drive. But he also took credit for forcing his secretary to drive one of his cars from town to the office one day in 1899; women had never been considered capable of handling an automobile, and he wanted to prove to everyone that women could drive just as well as men.© Ed Wallace 2013Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, and is a member of the American Historical Association. He hosts the top-rated talk show, Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF AM. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, and read all of Ed's work at www.insideautomotive.com.