From the Book:
A History of Ohio County, Indiana
In this episode I discuss the racing boat Hoosier Boy, constructed by Rising Sun inventor and manufacturer J. W. Whitlock. The story is included, in its entirety, in in my newest book release, A History of Ohio County, Indiana.
Rising Sun inventor John William Whitlock, everyone called him J. W., built the souped up racing boat he dubbed Hoosier Boy in his factory in Rising Sun. J. W. was native to Rising son, the son of William Henry and Adaline Whitlock. J. W. worked in his father’s woodshop, sawmill and boat yard as a boy where he learned the fine art of boat building.
A prolific inventor, J. W. devised several machines during his lifetime that included a coin operated automatic harp and a horse racing game. His other inventions included a phonograph, a machine tool, a woodworking tool and an automatic record changer for phonographs.
The Whitlock Automatic Harp was the invention that launched his fortune. He received a patent on the device on September 18, 1900. He manufactured a few of the machines and managed to get some placed in saloons in Cincinnati. Howard Wurlitzer saw the machine and contacted Whitlock. The Wurlitzer Company consequently signed a contract with Whitlock to manufacture 1000 harps. He later contracted with Wurlitzer to make 500 more. When the contract with Wurlitzer concluded, Whitlock established a furniture factory in Rising Sun that continued in production until 1966.
Sometime around 1907 Whitlock began building racing boats on the second floor of the harp factory and by 1909 he had built several racing boats. some of these he entered in racing competitions on the Ohio River. The first of the boats he would call the Hoosier Boy he completed in 1909. He would build four versions of the Hoosier Boy.
He took this boat to competitions in Cincinnati, Ohio, Peoria, Illinois, Toledo, Ohio and Buffalo, New York. Whitlock won most of the races he entered and set several speed records. He raced this boat until 1917. The fate of Hoosier Boy # 2 is not known however, it possibly formed the nucleus for Hoosier Girl. Next he constructed Hoosier Boy # 3, which he raced from 1918 until 1925. This boat featured a 25 foot long hull and a 400 horsepower Navy surplus engine. Using this boat he set a speed record from Cincinnati to Louisville, Kentucky of 267 miles, in just 267 minutes and 49 seconds on October 9, 1924. This record will stand forever, as the construction of dams on the Ohio River prevents boats from racing non-stop on the river. Hoosier Boy # 3 disappears from racing records after 1925. He constructed the Hoosier Boy # 4 in time to compete for the Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association Webb trophy. He won his trophy, the last time it was awarded, in 1926. Using the success of the Hoosier Boy, Whitlock created a Hoosier Boy boat line, which he sold from 1925 until his death in 1935. There were three versions, a 14-foot long Baby Hoosier Boy, one with a slightly wider hull and the largest which featured a 16 foot long boat with a mahogany hull.
Visitors to the Ohio County History Museum will find the Hoosier Boy and the Hoosier Girl on display as well as an extensive collection of Ohio County memorabilia and several beautiful river boat models.
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