In 1851 the Nordyke and Marmon Machine Company was formed; located in Richmond, Indiana. It was later moved to Indianapolis where it specialized and prospered in the manufacture of flour mill apparatus. The Marmon family became wealthy.
Howard Marmon was born into this wealthy family. He attended college at the University of California in Berkeley where he studied mechanical engineering. In 1902 at the age of 23 he was named the chief engineer of the family business, not because he was a member of the family but rather because he was a mechanical genius.
Besides his duties at the mill, Howard was entranced by all-things mechanical, especially the new-found replacement for the horse-and-buggy, the automobile. He used his mechanical genius to build an air-cooled V-twin engine that introduced the idea of pressure lubrication. A year later he had built an automobile powered by an air-cooled four-cylinder engine in 'vee' configuration. During that year he built and sold six automobiles. The following year he sold an astounding twenty-five examples. Howard decided to focus his attention on building automobiles rather than the flour-mill business.
In 1911 a Marmon Wasp, given the name because of the yellow paint and long tail, was entered in the Indianapolis 500-mile race. The vehicle was driven by Ray Harroun who outfitted the car with an unusual device, at the time, and captured the checkered flag. The device was a rear-view mirror. All other cars had seating for two, one for the driver and one for the mechanic. The job of the mechanic was to change the tires, fix any components that broke, and to watch traffic. Since the Wasp was outfitted with a mirror it was able to save considerable weight and proved to be the more competitive automobile. The victory amplified the desire for Marmon automobiles and greatly improved sales.
Marmon wanted to prove the endurance of his automobiles even further and set out to break the cross-country record established by Cannonball Baker in a Cadillac. The trek from one side of the United States to the other side took only 41 hours for the Marmon, easily breaking the previously held record.
Marmon's automobiles were exquisitely designed and catered to the wealthy. This overcrowded market segment was filled with Packards, Cadillacs, Auburns, and more. The lower segment of the market was being filled with Buick's and Fords, to name a few. The upper segment of the market was tough, it featured fierce competition and required the manufacturer to continually introduce new products, powerful engines, and unique designs.
George William, president of the Wire Wheel Corporation of America entered the scene around 1925 and provided financial backing to the struggling Marmon Corporation. With his financial support he also brought new ideas on making the company more competitive. Williams suggested that the company being producing low-cost automobiles to attract a wider segment of the market and rejuvenate sales. In 1927, the Marmon produced the Little Eight and later the 1929 Roosevelt, both selling at a reasonable price of around one-thousand dollars. By 1929, sales had increased to over 22,000 a large increase from the nearly 3000 units produced a few years prior.
This success was short-lived, unfortunately. The stock-market crashed and brought about the Great Depression, crippling many manufacturers and closing many factories. The hardest hit was those who catered to the wealthy. Their short list of clientele became even shorter as many were unable to afford these high-priced automobiles.
Marmon had just introduced a V-16, formed by merging twin-eight cylinder engines together. Cadillac had also introduced a V-16 engine, but in comparison was less powerful. Non-the-less, it did offer a challenge in the form of competition for sales. The Marmon V-16 was built with aluminum, was 491 cubic-inches, weight less than a thousand pounds, and offered an impressive 200 horsepower.
The five-thousand dollar price tag and a struggling economy was the reason less than 400 examples were ever produced. Just like many other automotive manufacturers at the time, the Marmon Motor Car Company went into receivership.