Blast from the past historical feature: Western Springs and the Indy 500 Race

Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society brings us different historical tidbits from Western Springs. In this edition, we look at how our small town is connected to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Every Memorial Day weekend, auto enthusiasts look forward to the world-famous Indianapolis 500 race. First run in 1911, the race quickly became a favorite among Americans, the majority of whom did not yet even own an automobile.

One of those enthusiasts was Ellmore (“E.C.”) Patterson of 4344 Grand Avenue, Western Springs. After moving to our town in 1893, he had held a variety of jobs before going to work for “Collier’s Magazine,” one of the leading publications of its day. Eventually promoted to General Manager of the magazine, Patterson’s financial success allowed him to dabble in one of his favorite pastimes, automobiles.

And, dabble he did. After personally making the first nonstop motor trip from Chicago to New York in 1914, Patterson set his sights on winning the Indianapolis 500.

To do so, he first acquired a 275-cubic-inch Grand Prix Mercedes race car with an aerodynamically designed V-shaped radiator and an aluminum body. To drive the car, he hired Ralph DePalma, one of the best professional race car drivers in the world. DePalma was very familiar with the car, having driven it in the “500” race the prior year.   

While rain postponed the race until Monday, May 31, Patterson’s Mercedes started in the second position and dominated the entire race. DePalma led the pack for 132 laps, including the final 65 circuits. The average speed was 89.8 miles per hour.

DePalma did not have to split the winner’s share of the purse with his car owner. “E.C.” Patterson informed the Speedway via telegraph from Western Springs that he had “…received your check and I am very happy to inform you that the entire $22,000 has been turned over to Mr. DePalma.” Patterson was indeed a generous car owner. Not only did he give DePalma the entire purse, he also purchased a Stutz automobile as a back-up car for DePalma’s use, which he drove in four other races during 1915.

A true sportsman, in July 1915, Patterson drove his own six-cylinder Packard touring car from Chicago to New York City in 35 hours and 43 minutes, which broke his own previous record for the 1015-mile distance. He also later served as the honorary starter for the 1919 Indianapolis 500. Patterson later co-founded the Warner-Patterson Company, which manufactured automotive accessories.

Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society presents a “Blast from the Past”. To view prior stories, visit us at www.westernspringshistory.org.

This content was submitted by a member of the community. We’d like to hear from you, too! To share stories, photos, video or events for our calendar, please email Community News Manager Michael Cronin at michael@aggrego.com or use the online submission tool.

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