The Look of the 500: 1911 – 1920

Published On September 12, 2014 » 4014 Views» By Heather Lloyd » Blogs, IMS History, Indy 500, Photography, The Look of the 500

The Indianapolis 500 has a history like no other sporting event in the world. It’s hard to believe any modern day sports competition dates back to the early 1900s, but the Indy 500 does. And it’s that storied history that puts the “great” in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 was held on Memorial Day, May 30th of 1911. And what a spectacle it was.


1911 – Turn 1 of the inaugural Indianapolis 500

Before a crowd of 80,000 spectators, the look of the early race fan was considerably formal. Made up of society people clad in their finest silk, satin, linen, and cotton, it was long dresses with veiled hats and gloves for the women. Along with the automobile came long, lightweight coats (or dusters) to repel dirt and debris. Walking suits with above the ankle hemlines were also popular and practical for the time.


1911 – Wife of driver Georges Boillot

Men were clad in three-piece suits with silk shirts, ties, and hats, a look we might call “gangster chic” today.


1911 – Founders dressed in three-piece suits

Even the drivers (who were all male), wore shirts and ties under their racing suits. Their leather helmets and goggles resemble those worn by early pilots.


1912 – Driver Johnny Jenkins

The initial field was 40 starters. Drivers had a mechanic ride shotgun to check oil pressure and help navigate traffic, with the notable exception of Ray Harroun, who won the inaugural 500 solo in the Marmon Wasp (named for its yellow jacket coloring and tail). In place of a copilot, Harroun had his own invention on board, the first known rear-view mirror.


1911 – Ray Harroun and the Marmon Wasp

The 1913 race fielded the first international drivers, including a Frenchman, Jules Goux, who famously won the race while drinking champagne during pit stops. He was the only driver ever do so, as the practice was outlawed the following year.


1913 – Headline after Goux won

Also in 1913 came the first sighting of the iconic Pagoda, constructed that year in Japanese architecture, which was very popular at the time. The Pagoda was built to replace two judges’ stands. The famous sight is featured prominently in many photos from this time, but I challenge you to find a single Pagoda selfie from the early 1900’s.


1913 – The first Pagoda

The race was shortened to 300 miles in 1916 and cancelled in 1917-1918 due to World War I.

In 1919, the Indianapolis 500 returned. Just in time to roar into the 1920s.


More in “The Look of the 500″ series: 1911-1920, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s , 1990s, 2000s, Today, The Best of The Look of the 500


About The Author

Heather Lloyd

Heather Lloyd is an Indy sports blogger who grew up in Minneapolis, graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, worked as a news anchor, then moved to Indianapolis where she became a professional fan. A die-hard Colts, Pacers, IndyCar, and Big Ten fan, when she’s not watching her teams, she’s either talking about them, writing about them, or tweeting about them. You can find her at and follow her on twitter @TheBlueMare. Ms. Lloyd has been known to blow off barbecues, birthday parties, and baby showers to watch sports. And she isn’t sorry.