In this issue, Steve brings Hollywood producers and stars to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Indianapolis 500 race was a magnet for celebrities from New York and Hollywood. Either they wanted to run in the race; or be seen at the race; or they were in a movie with the Speedway as a setting.

Jack Warner’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In 1939, Steve Hannagan convinced Jack Warner at Warner Brothers to produce Indianapolis Speedway starring Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan (Steve’s future girlfriend), and John Payne, a rising star in Hollywood.

The plot of Warner’s movie was the conflict between father and son and the dangers of racing. The main character was Joe, played by O’Brien, was a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Despite his unprecedented success at the Speedway, Joe continued to race to put his son, Eddie, through college only to discover that Eddie had quit college to go into racing.

Although Eddie’s decision enraged Joe, he works with his son to improve his driving skills. As happens in many movies between two men, a girl, in this case a “bad girl”, named Frankie, played by Ann Sheridan, came between them.

Eventually, Joe’s age eroded his driving skills, and he killed another driver. The remainder of the movie dealt with Joe wandering the country until he made his way to Indianapolis on Race Day. There, Joe found his son driving one of the lead car in the race. i


Poster from the 1939 movie, Indianapolis Speedwayii


Lloyd Bacon directed the movie that was based on a story by Howard Hawks, with associate producers, Max Siegel and Hal Wallis. Howard Hawks and Hal Wallis gave the movie some weight. Nevertheless, movie critics considered the plot threadbare; yet solid acting strengthened its appeal.iii Hannagan believed that Hollywood and the Indianapolis 500 fit each other well because both were fan driven spectacles.

Other Movies during Steve Hannagan’s Stint at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

There were other Hollywood movies besides Indianapolis Speedway made about the Race during Steve’s tenure as Head of Publicity for the Track. While Steve played a significant role in convincing Jack Warner to do the Speedway movie, it is not difficult to imagine that Steve was also involved in other movies made in the 1930s about the Indianapolis 500.

The Crowd Roars (1932)iv

The plot of this movie was similar to the plot of the Indianapolis Speedway. The difference was that the conflict was between two brothers instead of a father and a son. Billy Arnold, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1930, advised the filming of the race scenes.v

The lead actor was James Cagney, of Irish descent like Pat O’Brien. Steve would have had a soft spot in his heart for both actors, because Steve always wore his Irish heritage on his sleeve.

A side note about the filming of the movie by Howard Hawks; Hawks “shot so much footage that Lloyd Bacon used some in his film, Indianapolis


Publicity Picture of James Cagney from The Crowd Roars in 1932

Speed (1936)vii

Speed was Jimmy Stewart’s first starring role. The movie takes its story from an actual historical event – Malcolm Campbell’s run for the world speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1935. The story eventually wends its way to the Indianapolis 500 where the movie gravitates to ‘guy gets woman’ theme. This was not one of Stewart’s great movies.


Movie Poster from Speedviii


Pop Myers Tweaks Steve and His Celebrities

According to Donald Davidson, who is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian, Steve Hannagan made the mistake of taking Pop Myers, General Manager for the Speedway, for granted.

One year, Pop Myers pulled a fast one on Steve when his office called for front row seats for Steve and a gaggle of celebrities from New York. By this time, Steve was spending much less time at the track because he had assigned his top assistant Joe Copps to be at the Track during April and May. For Pop Myers and track management, Steve was now just another pain-in-the-neck celebrity.

Myers told Steve’s Executive Assistant, Margaret Ray that they were too late and nothing was available, but he could come the day of the race to see what Myers could do for him. Of course, upon arrival, Steve found his usual seats waiting for him.

Everyone was satisfied, Steve had his tickets and saved face with his friends, and Pop Myers and the staff pulled a good one on him



i Plot summary to Indianapolis Speedway (Retrieved October 17,2012)

ii Poster from the movie, Indianapolis Speedway (Retrieved October 17, 2012)

iii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document, source: New York University Archives; p 53

iv Crowd Roars (1935); (Retrieved September 20, 2016);

v Crowd Roars (1935); (Retrieved September 20, 2016);

vi Crowd Roars (1935); (Retrieved September 20, 2016)

vii Speed (1936); (Retrieved September 20, 2016);

viiiSpeed Poster (Retrieved September 20, 2016); Speed 1936

ix Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc. /Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Steve met the man who made American auto manufacturing the wonder of the world at the Indianapolis 500. Steve took advantage of the opportunity that the track offered to meet important personages like Henry Ford, who sponsored cars at the track. Although Ford could be taciturn about racing, he knew that winning a race with a name-plated Ford would spur demand for his cars.


Ford stands next to ‘999’, and Barney Oldfield is in the driver’s seat.i

Ford’s first venture in racing was in 1902, when Ford custom built a car and beat his friend Alexander Winton. Ford used the winnings from that race to fund the start of his company.

In May 1902, Ford and Tom Cooper, a noted bicycle racer, built the famous ‘999’ car. As the picture clearly shows, race cars were barebones machines. They looked to be one step above a soap-box derby racerFord lost interest in racing and sold the car to Barney Oldfield. . Four weeks after the sale, Oldfield won his first race with ‘999’ at the Grosse Point course.

In 1913, Ford re-entered racing at the Speedway with a modified Model T. However, track officials turned down his entry telling him that the car was too light and needed an additional 1,000 pounds to be eligible. Ford’s retorted “we’re building race cars not trucks.”ii Ford left racing disgruntled with the rules and returned to building the Ford manufacturing empire. In 1935, he briefly and unsuccessfully returned to racing with the Miller-Ford cars. This is when he met Steve Hannagan.

Ford and Steve at the Track

It was at the 1935 Indianapolis 500 that Steve met Ford for the first time. In the accompanying photograph,iii Ford is chatting with Steve. Ford’s son Edsel, President of Ford at that time, is to the left of his father and out of the conversation.

It is not known what Henry and Steve were discussing. However, Ford did not lightly spend time mulling over the events of the day. So, it might be assumed that Steve and Ford’s animated conversation indicated that Ford found something in their discussion that could benefit the Ford Motor Company.

It is a fair assumption that Steve also saw an advantage to talking with one of the most powerful men in America. Steve intuitively knew that someday the conversation might benefit him. He formed networks long before networking became a buzzword.

Steve at Ford Motor Company – World War II

The next time that Steve connected with Henry Ford was though his son Edsel Ford. Edsel looked to Steve to help Ford resolve a nasty public relations mess at its River Rouge plant. River Rouge built the B-24, the country’s largest workhorse bomber until late in the War. The plane had 152,000 parts; 313,000 rivets; and 30,000 pages of drawings to guide assembly.iv

Consolidated-Vultee originally designed and built the B-24, but they lacked the manufacturing capacity required by the US Army Air Force (USAAF). To gain manufacturing capacity, the Army turned to Ford Motor Company with its reputation for mass production.

When Ford received the contract, Henry Ford and his son Edsel claimed that Ford would quickly produce a bomber an hour. They made this unfortunate prediction before top management and engineers could determine how to apply automobile mass production techniques to building a complex aircraft like the B-24.


B-24s in Formation on a Bombing Mission v

When Consolidated-Vultee’s engineering team met with Ford’s engineers, Ford’s Team discovered that Consolidated did not have a completer nor reliable set of blueprints for the plane. They also learned that Consolidated was a craft manufacturing plan and did not use mass production techniques. Before Ford Motor Company employees could build the first bomber the Company needed standard drawings and a manufacturing process that did not depend on handcrafting to fit everything together.

Ford engineers had to design machine tools and a manufacturing process from the ground up for mass production of the aircraft. For example, Consolidated used easily formed soft dies that quickly wore out. Ford replaced the soft dies with hard steel dies that took longer to make but could reliably produce thousands of pieces that did not require handcrafting for a final fit.

Before Ford could build planes in mass, they had to assemble the production equipment and that took about a year. It is not hard to imagine that during a world war no one the Army Air Force, the various government procurement and Senator Truman’s Special Committee to Investigate National Defense had little patience with Ford’s delays. The Army wanted the Ford plant to produce B-24s at the rate that Henry and Edsel Ford claimed.

An early moment in the public relations debacle came in September 1941 when President Roosevelt secretly visited the plant to see for himself Ford’s highly touted plant for building B-24s by the thousands. The President, to his vexation, discovered that the plant had only produced one bomber, and it sat forlornly on a runway.i

By June 1942, it was apparent that Ford could not deliver on its promise. The press, the public, the Pentagon, and the Truman Committee were outraged with Ford. The government had paid millions of dollars with nothing to show for it. Some bureaucrats and politicians thought that Ford, who was an eccentric, a pacifist, and vociferously anti—Roosevelt, was bilking the government and American taxpayers. The critics were ready to kick Ford to the curb.


Ford’s Massive B-24 Plant at Willow Run

Designed by Alfred Kahn i1

Edsel Ford Hires Steve Hannagan

At the same time, Edsel Ford, Henry Ford (final arbiter of the Company’s decisions), and Charles Sorenson (Ford’s production manager) were having lunch in the Dearborn engineering laboratory. They recognized the dangers to the Company of the bad press about the B-24. Sorenson called Henry Ford’s attention to a recent column by Drew Pearson about Steve Hannagan’s skills as a press agent. Edsel noted that “he had met Hannagan in Miami Beach, and he heard that Hannagan was well-respected. Edsel suggested that “maybe we can get Hannagan to straighten things out for us.”ii Henry agreed but showed little enthusiasm.iii The problem that Steve soon discovered was that Edsel was a weak manager, and Steve would need Henry’s enthusiastic support. As time would tell, there was another player at Ford who would torpedo Steve’s relationship with the Company.


Henry and Edsel Ford iv

(Edsel Ford is to the right)

Steve’s job, as described to him by Edsel Ford, was to calm the storm in the press and to handle the Pentagon’s USAAF officers who were demanding answers to the debacle. While the ‘Hannagan Way’ could work miracles with the press and public, Steve could not apply the same magic to resolve Henry Ford’s disdain toward his son Edsel, nor to the debilitating internal politics within the upper reaches of management at Ford Motor Company.

Press Wonders Why Steve Is Hired

The press soon asked why Ford,

“…had engaged a ‘loud shouting, belligerent, whip-smart press agent’ whose specialty had been described as ‘peddling photos of pretty legs in mid-winter.’”v

Or, as the Detroit News succinctly pointed out: “America will expect a lot from Steve Hannagan and Henry Ford.”vi Immediately after signing the contract, Steve assigned his top aid Joe Copps to oversee news operations and set up one of his most successful news management expedient – a news bureau.

The news bureau sent out “swift and accurate reporting [on] the facts ‘… [as] the best way to offset vacuums of curiosity that would be filled with rumors.”vii The head of the bureau eventually became director of Ford’s public relations department.viii

When Steve took over publicity at Ford, he recommended to Edsel that the company stop further publicity about the B-24 until the bomber “started to roll off the assembly line.”ix Next, Steve moved to stop rumors about the plant by making his news bureau the “sole source of news” about the B-24.x Then, he took the big leap into Ford Company politics with the following letter to Charles Sorensen and Harry Bennett, Henry Ford’s bodyguard and main advisor, whose charge was to put the kybosh on decisions made by his son.

“Today the nation has the general impression that bombers are rolling off the assembly line at the rate of one an hour. This is not yet true. When it is, we will tell the story with newsreels, radio, press association stories, and pictures, in its full bloom.”xi

Because of the depth of the publicity problems at Ford, Steve’s counsel about publicity was accepted. No further stories on the bomber were released until November of 1942, when large scale production began.

Soon after Steve took over press relations in June 1942, he convinced Ford to resume radio advertising that Henry Ford had stopped years earlier. The ads were part of “Watch the World Go By,” a Ford produced program that explained Ford Motor Company’s contribution to the War effort.xii

The steps that Steve took at Willow Run reduced press clamor about the B-24 until Dutch Kindleberger through-in his two cents. Kindleberger, head of North American Aviation,2 condemned… the political cowards who are withholding from the American people the full ‘true facts’ about the auto industry’s production problems.”xiii Soon after Kindleberger’s, charge press attacks on B-24 production resumed in full-blooded fervor. The March of Times, a newsreel service, played before featured movies, “lambasted Willow Run.”xiv Next in line to attack the pace of production at the plant was Life magazine, a large photo news weekly, whch led with the story “Detroit Is Dynamite?”xv To the surprise of the news media, neither Ford nor the Pentagon responded to the charges. The Company shuttered the plant to inspection by the press and took a ‘no comment policy’ on production of the B-24.xvi

On January 29, 1943, the War Production Board (WPB), the federal agency charged with coordinating War production, for the War effort, acknowledged that “there had been disappointments and that even … [a non-Ford plant] was far from full production.”xvii For all of 1942, Ford only produced 56 aircraft.xviii This piddling amount illustrates the scale of the failure at Ford’s Willow Run plant that had been constructed to produce one plane an hour, not four planes a month.

Several weeks after the WPB report, the Office of War Information (OWI) issued the following statement that “widespread, conflicting stories, reporting [Willow Run’s] output” were creating confusion about the plant.xix However, OWI said that exact production numbers would be held for “military security.’

Coincident with the OWI statement Steve let loose a barrage of photographs and press releases about operations at Willow Run. The pictures and stories were printed throughout the country. Of course, Steve being Steve, the pictures were populated with ‘attractive young women’.xx By the end of 1943, Ford achieved its 1943 goals, though they were much lower than originally estimated.xxi By the end of 1944, the problems were completely resolved, and Ford produced nearly 5,000 B-24s exceeding its original goal of one bomber an hour.

The scale of production at Willow Run at full throttle is evident from the following picture where nearly-completed B-24’s stretch far into the distance at the final assembly stage.


Inside Willow Run xxii

(Showing the long-line of B-24s nearing the end of the production line)

The publicity campaign was a huge triumph for Steve and Hannagan Associates. However, Steve would not be around at the end of the War to celebrate Ford’s success. Steve had been hired by Edsel Ford, and as noted earlier, Henry was never enthusiastic about any decision that his son made. By 1943, Edsel was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed in mid-year. Immediately, Henry Ford re-entered the political fray at Ford as President. His personal enforcer of company discipline, Henry Bennett, was given full sway.

Even though Charles Sorenson fully supported Steve’s retention, Harry Bennett fired Steve four days after the death of Edsel. The firing had nothing to do with the quality of the work; Bennett was ridding the company of people hired by Edsel. Next, he fired Sorenson, whose manufacturing genius produced a mighty stream of B-24 bombers…. By early 1944, Bennett moved from simply being the enforcer to Henry Ford’s consigliore.

Despite being shoved out by Bennett’s power play, Steve told his friends that his time helping Ford was the best year of his career. Bennett’s reign of terror would last only a year, when Henry Ford’s grandson, became President and fired him.


Harry Bennett xxiii

Henry Ford’s Thug Who Dominated Edsel Ford and

Ford Motor Company from the Mid-1930s to the Mid-940s



1 Alfred Kahn designed many large factories for automobile and airplane manufacturers prior to the War and for the war.

2 James ‘‘Dutch’ Kindleberger was president of North American Aviation the Company that produced the iconic P-51 Mustang fighter during World War II.


i Photograph of Henry Ford and Barney Oldfield in “999” (1902); (Retrieved August 27, 2012);

ii “Henry Ford and Racing into the Future” (Retrieved August 27, 2012);

iv Hyde, Charles (2013); Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II; Wayne State University Press; Detroit; p. 89.

vi Hyde, Charles (2013); Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II; Wayne State University Press; Detroit; p. 100.

vii Photograph of Ford’s Willow Run (Retrieved October 3, 2014); Plant Retro Kimmer Blog:

viii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 257.

ix Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 257.

x Photograph of Henry and Edsel Ford before A Ford (Retrieved October 5, 2014); Byron Reginos Weblog:

xi Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Powert; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p. 269.

xii Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc;. p. 269.

xiii Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc; p. 269.

xiv Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc;. p. 270.

xv Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p; 270.

xvi Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p. 270.

xvii Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p. 270.

xviii Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p. 270.

xix Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p. 270.

xx Cutlip, Scott (1994) The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p 270

xxi Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p. 270.

xxii Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p. 270.

xxiii Cutlip, Scott (1994) The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc;. p. 270.

xxiv Hyde, Charles (2013); Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II; Wayne State University Press; Detroit; p. 102.

xxv Hyde, Charles (2013); Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II; Wayne State University Press; Detroit; p. 102.

xxvi Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.; p. 270.

xxvii Hyde, Charles (2013); Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II; Wayne State University Press; Detroit: p. 103.

xxviii Photograph of B-24 production at Willow Run (Retrieved October 1, 2014); Retro Dimmer Blog;

xxix Photograph of Harry Bennett (Retrieved October 5, 2014); Vintage Ford Facts;

xxx Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc. /Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

In this issue, Steve deals with death and destruction at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since the technology in the 1920s and 1930s of the cars and Speedway was primitive, death and severe injuries were real possibilities whenever drivers took to the track for a test drive, qualifying runs, or the race. For example, guardrails were wood. Drivers who lost control of their cars easily crashed through the wood barriers sending the car flying into trees or into the crowd. Cars were inherently dangerous because brakes and suspensions were inadequate for high-speed driving. Also, the cars were fueled with highly flammable gasoline that acted like a bomb when sparked during a wreck.

Moreover, drivers believed that safety rules somehow diminished their heroic virility. It was not until 1935 that drivers started to wear helmets. Barney Oldfield was the first driver to devise a seat belt harness in 1922, but seat restraints were not mandatory until 1951. Because drivers and car owners ignored driver safety, a wreck of any velocity usually meant that the driver and mechanic, if there was one, were thrown from the vehicle. There is a picture of a car flying off the track and the driver flying in tandem with the car.

Danger and Wrecks

The accompanying pictures show what could happen to an Indianapolis race car in a wreck. In most cases, the extent of the driver’s injuries or death of the driver was simply a matter of chance. One of Steve’s more onerous jobs was to prepare press releases and meet with officials and members of the press whenever a driver was seriously injured or killed. Steve had a basic rule at the Track; stories of a driver’s death could not be released until he had released his report to the press.i News reporters tried to get around the Hannagan rule by arranging for someone at the hospital to signal waiting sports writers if a driver died.

Louis Fontaine’s wreck in lap 33 of the 1921 raceii

Milt Jones was killed in this wreck prior to 1933 Memorial Day Race.iii

Steve Spin on Safety

Steve took umbrage if anyone claimed that the race was unsafe, which commonly occurred after a particularly deadly crash. Even the highly regarded Barney Oldfield, known for his speed records, claimed in 1933 that “automobile racing had outlived its usefulness. It has become merely a morbid and brutal spectacle. The carnage should end.”iv This statement by Oldfield raised Hannagan’s hackles; he took it as a personal insult. Steve was ready with a statement affirming the Speedways’ founding principle steeped in what he believed was the validity of the race.

“Indianapolis has had a tremendous influence on the development of motors and our equipment. It is the laboratory of the industry and countless improvements have come from its long series of races. It is not as dangerous, comparatively, as football. Why for ten years there hasn’t been a fatality. And as equipment improves, due to the testing of the races, we expect that there will be even less danger.”v

There were twelve drivers killed during Steve’s tenure at the Track from the early 1920s to the last race run before World War II. The Track’s management professed and Steve asserted that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway sought the highest level of safety; but the reality was and is that racing is a deadly business. Steve Hannagan believing that true stories had to be printed released the stories of the deaths and severe injuries of drivers.



i Ross, Edward Ellis;Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 53.

ii Photograph of the wreckage of the 1921 race car driven by Louis Fontaine at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Retrieved June 18,2012);

iii Photograph of the wreck of the1932 race car Milt Jones car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Retrieved August 23, 2012);

iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; pp. 53 – 54.

v Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 54.

vi Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc. /Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

In this issue get a feel for Steve’s love for his job at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Steve’s love of the race is readily apparent by his pictures in the 1926 Chrysler shown below and with his close friend Ralph DePalma, 1915 Speedway Champion. As a side note, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1926 was Louis Chevrolet, the namesake of today’s Chevrolet.

What is amusing about Steve’s affection for a race of supremely designed mechanical equipment is that he never exhibited any interest in machines. This deficiency is surprising because his father was a master metal worker.

Steve in the 1926 Chrysler Pace Cari

Steve and Ralph DePalmaii

Hannagan’s fondness for the Track was directly related to his abiding respect for Carl Fisher. Hannagan believed that “Fisher was the greatest and most-natural press agent who ever lived. He had a real public touch.” iii While Fisher brought his considerable marketing creativity to his enterprises, his stunt promotions did not translate into an understanding of how newspapers work. He needed a Steve Hannagan, who knew how to work with news editors, to devise publicity campaigns that attracted larger audiences.

Steve’s Writing Style

Steve wrote in a style typical of sports writing. He used snappy over-the-top leads and short descriptive sentences. Here is one example of Hannagan’s writing style from his lead to a headline story printed in the May 27, 1923 Sunday edition of the Pittsburg Press:

“The wings of Mercury, god of speed, are spread over Indianapolis. The hum of racing motors, the recounting of famous racing exploits, words of praise for heroes, heated speculative arguments – all tempered with speed are heard at every turn.”iv

Steve was a fast writer. His typewriter usually perched on a wooden box in the back seat of his car.v He used the internet of the day; teletype machines to quickly send his press releases to editors and radio stations across the country. He often reworked several smaller press releases into a full-length article for the slick weekly and monthly magazines of the day like the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and Redbook. His magazine articles added to his track income.

New Kid on the Block

Steve had a soft-spot for neophyte reporter assigned by their editors to write stories about an event which they did not understand. He took them under his wing, introduced them to the Track, and helped edit their stories. Later these neophytes showed their appreciation by sending his press releases to their editors.

For example, Stephen Richards was assigned to the Track by United Press.. Richards’ headed to Pop Myer’s office when Steve intercepted him. Steve accompanied Richards to the interview and sat to the side. Steve did not think that the kid’s interview was going well. He leaped in and told the kid;

“Instead of [Pop] answering all your questions, I’ll write your piece for you … with this lead: Looking toward the fastest speed in history, the Grand (sic) Prix of American racing ….”vi

The next time Richards saw Steve, he asked if his piece had been published. Richards said that it had. However, Mark Wright the Indianapolis Editor of United Press, “….did not like a lead to begin with a clause.”vii Steve was not happy to hear that UP edited his lead. Even though he eventually worked for UP, he never liked their interference with his work.


Drivers preparing for the Indianapolis 500 usually arrived early in May to practice. Steve sent press releases with biographical information about each driver. The daily parade of press releases kept the Speedway in front of the race fans, and drivers liked having their names bandied about in the press. This practice continued after Steve turned the Speedway account over to his associate Joe Copps.viii

On the day of the race, Steve worked the press box located in the five story wooden pagoda like a politician at a political convention 1 (picture shows the pagoda as Steve would have first seen it)ix It was one of the largest press boxes in the world.

Steve catered to the whims and needs of 300 members of the press attending the Race. Press photographers had access to a dark room on the ground floor so that pictures of dramatic events could be sent immediately to their news.

The Press box also held the latest technology – phone switchboards, telegraphic wires, and radio transmitter –that connected journalists, radio announcers, and telegrapher to their newsrooms and radio stations.. He greatly enjoyed playing the role of the server at the altar of racing.

Steve Just One of the Fellows at the Track

Steve’s affection for the track was steeped in tradition, gossip, and good will just like a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Steve wanted to be accepted as one of the boys among men who were often little more than big boys themselves.

The next story is hard to believe but is part of the lore of Steve Hannagan at the Speedway. In the early 1920s, he took several of Indy’s top race drivers for an old fashioned Irish dinner at his mother in Lafayette. The dinner covered the range of Irish cooking from A to Z – chicken livers, white chicken gravy and overcooked vegetables. However, Steve’s father almost ruined the meal when he fed the chicken livers for the cats.x

Aunt Jo was mortified by Uncle Billy’s foolishness and was only mollified by a good stiff glass of bourbon. After dinner, he escorted the drivers to a vaudeville show and cigars all around. Of course, Steve’s racing friends thought that the visit to his Mom was worth several days of ribbing of the boy wonder press agent.

Steve’s affection for each drivers was evident, when Steve walked the starting line-up on the day of the race and shook the hand of each driver. In some instances, the last cars were already moving when Steve reached out to touch the driver.xi He did his walk knowing that in some cases he would never see the driver live again.

Don’t Cross Steve

Even though Steve idolized the race drivers, he had little patience for prima donnas. One driver made the mistake of trying to get some cheap publicity by telling some of the press boys that he was going to install a beer box in his car. He became a press magnet, as the reporters tried to find out where and if he was going to actually put the box in the car. Steve fixed the driver by sending a letter to sports editors telling them of a hoax perpetrated by one of the drivers. He said rules would never permit the driver to have the box. This cooled the beer box hysteria and chastened the driver who was publicly identified as the perpetrator of a hoax.xii

Another driver encountered Hannagan’s treatment for dealing with prima donna’s. This driver whose name has been lost to history, asked Steve to stop mentioning him so much and to publicize the other drivers. It was not an altruistic move by the driver; it was a left handed way of telling Steve that he wanted more coverage. To the driver’s chagrin, Steve issued a press release saying this would be the last time that the driver’s name would be included in press releases at the request of the driver.xiii It is assumed that the driver was forced to mollify Steve to get back in his good graces.



1 The pagoda was built by Carl Fisher in 1913; it burned in 1925, and a new, more elaborate pagoda was built.


i Photograph of Steve Hannagan in the 1926 Pace Car; (Retrieved June 28, 2011); copy from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photograph Library.

ii Photograph of Ralph DePalma (Retrieved July 1, 2012);

iii Miami Heritage (September 10, 2008); (Retrieved August 18, 2012) (

iv Hannagan, Steve (May 27, 1923); “Hard Task before American Drivers”; Pittsburgh Pres (Retrieved 8/21/2012);,3784137.

v Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 47.

vi Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook; source: New York University Archives; p. 48.

vii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 48.

viii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook; source: New York University Archives; p. 52.

x Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 51.

xi Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 52.

xii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p, 52.

xiii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 52.

xiv Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc. /Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

In this issue Steve Hannagan’s meets the Big Four journalists of the popular media. Early on while at Russel Seeds, Steve was assigned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to work with Pop Myers, General Manager of the Speedway. At the Speedway, Steve met four major figures in the popular press: Roy Howard, President and General Manager of United Press Association; Odd O. McIntyre, widely known Broadway columnist; Ray Long, Editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine; and James Quirk, Editor of the Hollywood celebrity watching publication, Photoplay Magazine. They, like Carl Fisher, opened new doors for Steve.

O.O. McIntyre

O .O. McIntyrei wrote a nationally-syndicated column with fifteen million readers. His weekly columns profiled political, entertainment, and social elite of New York City and Hollywood. Like Steve Hannagan, he lived on Park Avenue, and like Steve he died when he was fifty-three. Upon his death, he was taken home and interred on a high bluff overlooking the Ohio River.







Ray Long

Ray Longii published Cosmopolitan Magazine, which was a magazine of novellas, short stories, serials, and special features. Like Howard and Hannagan, Long was a Hoosier from Lebanon, Indiana, just up the road from Indianapolis. Sadly, he committed suicide in 1934 after he left Cosmopolitan and opened a publishing house that failed during the depression.






James Quirk

James Quirkiii was editor of Photoplay Magazine that covered film stars and movies from Hollywood and New York, the early home of major movies. The magazine was sought after by the public for its colorful artwork of movie and Broadway stars. Like Steve, Quirk lineage ran through Ireland, and Steve always enjoyed the company and friendship of someone from an Irish family.







Roy Howard

Roy Howardiv was from Indianapolis who started at the Indianapolis Star. From there he moved to Scripps-Howard and up the ladder to President of United Press. He was a pioneer in building an association of international reporters who regularly filed stories from throughout the United States and from foreign capitals. Steve Hannagan briefly worked for United Press







The Howard, McIntyre, Long, and Quirk Club

In their day, Howard, Long, Quirk, and McIntyre cut a wide swath across the news and entertainment capitals of America. Howard, McIntyre, Long, and Quirk were fashionable, sophisticated boulevardiers who enjoyed bespoke clothes, food, wine, and conversation. They only let someone into their circle if that person shared their pleasures and was a witty conversationalist. Steve easily qualified for their rarely extended membership. These four editors were precisely whom Steve wanted to emulate. He did not want to be seen as a Hoosier hayseed or a Mick from the back alleys of an Irish ghetto. Three of these luminaries from the print media would provide Steve with entrée into Hollywood and with new opportunities. As Steve wrote, “Roy Howard gave me a job and good advice; McIntyre showed me Broadway; and Jimmy Quirk was my guide to Hollywood.”v The first time that he turned to one of the four took place when he had to reach the Hollywood Star, Wallace Reid, for the Stutz Bearcat promotion.

Steve Receives National Recognition

Steve reputation began to spread beyond the confines of Indiana newspapers after Damon Runyon wrote a amusing piece in his nationally syndicated column about Steve becoming the voice of the Indianapolis 500 (Photo is of Runyonvi). Below is a quote from the piece.

“Out in Indianapolis the citizens find themselves in ferment this early in the semester without knowing why. They are vaguely conscious of a simmering and a bubbling going on among them, but no Indianapolitian, if that’s what he is, could place his finger on the exact cause. Yet I, a stranger [from New York,] detect it at once. It is due to the sudden injection into their midst of an ingredient known as the Stephanus Hannaganus, or more commonly, Steve Hannagan.”vii

Runyon’s brief comment is every neophyte publicist’s dream – recognition by a writer of considerable esteem who is read nationally. Essentially, Steve Hannagan’s career was launched when Russell Seed sent him to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


i Photograph of O. O. McIntyre (retrieved August26, 2012);

ii Photograph of Ray Long; Unattributed.

iii Photograph of James Quirk Editor of Photoplay (retrieved August 26, 2012);

iv Photograph of Roy Howard of United Press (retrieved August 24, 2012);

v Ross, Edward Ellis;Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 41.

vii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 45.

viii Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc. /Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

In this issue Carl Fisher hands publicity for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Steve Hannagan. By 1919, attendance at the Indianapolis 500 was flagging, and Carl Fisher needed a new publicity campaign to reinvigorate the Track. The existing campaign focused on cars, engines, and the technology of racing, and it was not drumming up enough new ticket sales. In order to get a different perspective on the race, he asked for Russell Seeds best press agent. Steve was assigned to work with Pop Myers, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway General Manager. Seeds knew that Steve would file stories that sports editors would run in their papers. Seeds also recognized that with Steve’s nose for news, he might even get front page news coverage about the Track.

Hannagan knew from his experience that editors and readers preferred stories about people and not things. So he changed the focus of the Speedway stories from cars to drivers and their heroics. The public craved heroes like race drivers who seemingly did the impossible. According to the notes of Edward Ross, the conduit for Steve’s stories were the” Nearly three hundred sports writers [who] covered the race each year. Very quickly, Steve got to know all of them.”i

Steve began to feed the public stories about drivers and their fears, successes, failures, hopes, families, and superstitions. Many race fans were especially interested in stories about the driver’s superstitions which they believed protected them during the race. . Superstitions often involved rituals, such as wearing the same socks, cap, pants, or shirt for each race. Other rituals could involve how the driver got into the car or who they talked with immediately before the start of the rates. Besides rituals, some drivers believed that certain actions would jinx their car or their chance of winning. A jinx could happen if a woman touched the car, the color of the car, or its number. For years, drivers at the 500 refused to drive green cars; it was not until the British invasion in the mid-1960s that this prejudice ended.

Because these stories piqued the interest of readers as they turned to his byline for the latest news from the Track. It was not long before his editors were including his columns beyond the borders of Indiana but throughout the mid-west, and into the east.

Here is a small sample from several newspapers that indicate Steve’s growing reputation at the Speedway.

  • From the Miami Daily News: “Spring may officially begin on March 21, but it is not an accepted fact until the day comes that marks the arrival of Steve Hannagan, publicity director for the 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”ii
  • From the Detroit Evening News: … [Hannagan is] the press agent has been greatly responsible for the success of the Indianapolis event each year.”iii
  • Indianapolis Star: “Steve Hannagan, who out-groundhogs all groundhogs as a sign of spring, arrived in Indianapolis over the week-end with a new enthusiasm to add to the weather and the 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway [on] May 30.”iv
  • Florida Star: Some editors, such as the Florida Star’s, printed Steve’s stories without editing. For example, the Star printed this headline and his press release without a change: “HANNAGAN GIVES “LOW-DOWN ON 500 –AUTO CLASSIC.”v

Press Clippings, Conflict, and Bigger Job

When the press clippings began to arrive by the bushel at Pop Myers Speedway Office, Steve expected the Pop Myers to show his appreciation. One day, after a particularly successful set of press releases, Steve ran over to Pop Myers Office and harangued old Pop that the Speedway did not appreciate Steve’s efforts. During the middle of Steve’s diatribe, Carl Fisher stepped into Myers office, and Myers told Steve to get out. Fisher wanted to know why Steve was ranting at Myers. Steve told Fisher, whom he did not know, what he had done for the Track and how well his campaign was working. Fisher’s response was classic Carl, “From now on [you are] publicity boss around here.”vi

The press clippings about the Speedway included a side benefit to Steve. His name was front and center as the by-line on each clipping. The clippings were a very neat way of building his reputation throughout Indiana, the mid-west, and nationally.

Dealing with Recalcitrant Editors

Steve was a wily publicist, who could use guile to get what he wanted from editors who refused to publish his press releases. For example, the managing editor of the Detroit Times, Joe Mulcahy, did not like press agents. He ignored their press releases, which meant that he ignored Steve’s releases.vii Steve responded by flooding all the Detroit papers except the Times with colorful stories about the Speedway. After several weeks Steve visited Mulcahy and turned a little game of praise to damn the editor. Steve’s gambit worked as follows, as reported by Edward Ross:

“I hope you don’t mind, said Steve, his mint-blue eyes all innocence, if I tell you I think your lay-out on page one was swell. Two days later he called Mulcahy on the phone: Just wanted to tell you that was a grand yarn you broke today. A few days later he popped his head inside Mulcahy’s office to grin: Good looking paper you have today!”viii

After the last exchange between Steve and Mulcahy, he snarled at Steve:

“Say, you’ve been handling me a lot of crap about what a great paper we’re putting out, but if you’re so crazy about this sheet, how does it happen that you’re breaking all your race stuff in the other papers?”ix

The next day the Times ran a three-quarter page story on the Speedway. Steve’s gambit worked. Steve and Mulcahy became lasting friends because he appreciated Steve’s dance to get the Times to report on the Speedway. From then forward, Mulcahy regularly published whatever Steve sent him.

Most News Editors printed Steve’s stories not to scratch the back of a friend. They published Steve because his stories were good copy that caught eye of the reader

Steve Becomes Synonymous with the Speedway

After several years as the Speedway’s publicist, Steve made the track a household word on Memorial Day, the day of the Indianapolis 500. For example, The Detroit Evening News said that Hannagan was the “the press agent who has been greatly responsible of the success of the Indianapolis event each year”.x

Although Carl Fisher invented the idea of the Speedway, many in the news business agreed that it was Steve who made the track and the 500 mile race famous and something more than an event held in the back waters of a prairie town in the mid-west.

Steve hawked the race as an event that lived up to Carl Fisher’s assertion that the track would be a test bed for designing more reliable and safer automobiles for the consumer market. In reality, a few years after the first 500 mile race, major auto manufacturers abandoned the idea of testing cars at the race. They opened their own test tracks because they needed a facility where they could continuously test their product. Consumers expected on-going improvement to their autos and a race run only once a year did not provide this kind of information.

The Hannagan Way’ Starts to Takes Shape

The ‘Hannagan Way’ (HW) describes Steve’s successful methods for generating publicity for his campaigns. Steve used his experience as a reporter, city editor, and Speedway publicist to frame HW. Here are several of the early components: :

    • Hang out with journalistsxi
    • Smooze editors
    • Write personal stories.


i Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 50.

ii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 46.

iii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 46.

iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 46.

v Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 47.

vi Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 40.

vii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 46.

viii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; pp. 46 – 47.

ix Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 47.

x Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 46.

xi Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 307.

xii Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc. /Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

[xyz-ips snippet=”older-entries”]

When Steve Hannagan left Lafayette, the Journal & Courier reported that he was going to Indianapolis to take a job at the Russel Seeds Advertising Agency. Russel Seeds ran a well-respected advertising firm in Indianapolis.


Russell Seedsi


Russell Seeds came into advertising by way of his political career in Indiana Republican politics in the nineteenth century and as the City Editor of the Indianapolis Star. He like many presidents of small companies of the era did not brook mistakes or shoddy work. Steve Hannagan not only survived stern supervision, and Seeds showed his appreciation of Steve’s work by trusting him with greater responsibilities.

Even though Steve wanted to stay at the Star, the Russel Seeds Agency offered the chance to make more money. Russel Seeds was a well-respected marketing agency for auto and auto parts manufacturers (see the nearby advertisement for National Motor Vehicle Company).ii Seeds ‘clients included Stutz Motor Company, National Motor Vehicle Company, and other major automobile companies in Indianapolis. While the Seeds Agency clients were located in Indianapolis, their advertisements were published in national magazines. The Stutz endorsement campaign discussed later is an example of how Seeds put together a national campaign.

When Steve was offered the job at Seeds, he asked his friend Tom Johnston back at Purdue for advice. Tom recommended that Steve take the roll of the dice and go with the new job.iii Steve decided to take the job with Seeds to parlay the advertising work and to learn how a former city editor operated at a major newspaper.

Initially, Steve found the work at Seeds boring. He gave up the thrill of reporting on sports to write advertising copy about cough syrup and Chinese tonics for improving egg production. Nevertheless, within a short time Russel Seeds was sufficiently impressed with Steve’s work that he assigned Steve to the Stutz account and then to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to devise a new publicity campaign. (A later issue will recount Steve Hannagan’s experience at the Speedway.)

Stutz Bearcat Account

The Stutz Bearcat admired for its elegant styling and reliability. (See accompanying picture of a 1921 Stutziv) Stutz’s were not mass produced like Ford’s Model T. The Stutz like many sports cars of the era were handmade and often customized for each customer.

The Stutz Bearcat was a snazzy roadster weighing more than two tons, powered by a four cylinder engine that had a top speed of eighty miles per hour.v A later version of the Super Bearcat built in the early 1930s had a top speed of one hundred miles per

Steve Hannagan drove a Stutz, but it is not clear whether he owned the car or whether he was assigned the car to promote. There are pictures of him visiting his friends and relatives and showing off his Stutz.

Russel Seeds sent Steve to Hollywood to solicit an endorsement of the Stutz Bearcat from Wallace Reid. Reid was a major star whose films included “Birth of a Nation,” and major films of daring do. Seeds believed that men wanting to emulate Reed by buying a Stutz, despite the fact that 99% of American working men could not afford the car. The plan was to place Reid’s endorsements in national magazines and Photoplay, a popular magazine about Hollywood. Photoplay was an unusual magazine to reach a males because its target audience were women.

Steve faced two challenges before he could ask Reid to do a publicity photo shot for the Stutz. First, Steve had no cache in Hollywood and second he was from Indianapolis of all places. Even Steve’s unabashed personality was not enough to open doors. So Steve quickly turned to James Quirk of Photoplay, his Speedway friend to gain entrée to Reid. Quirk told Steve that Adela Rogers St. Johns, his western editor for Photoplay, could reach Reid.

Adela Rogers St. Johnvii

Adela Rogers St. John like Steve was young, but unlike Steve, she already was a recognized figure in Hollywood because of her Hollywood interviews, screen plays, books, and her peevish sense of humor. One of her most famous sayings about Hollywood and life in general was; “I just want to live long enough to see how it all turns out.”viii

Adela grew up in Hollywood and knew everyone worth knowing in Tinseltown. Even better, Adela was godmother of Reid’s son. Steve’s soon charmed Adela into introducing him to Reid. Not only did she make thee introduction, she persuaded Reid to endorse the Stutz.ix Steve’ owed Adela big time for doing his heavy lifting in his first major assignment outside of Indianapolis. Though, Adela was not particularly happy about promoting his career. Yet, as time passed, Adela and Steve became good friends. They kept each other in the loop about the latest gossip in Hollywood and New York, after Steve moved there in the 1930s.

Wallace Reid Manic Star and ‘Wanna Be’ Indianapolis Driver

Reidx showed his appreciation for the Bearcat that Steve delivered to him from Stutz Motor Company by introducing him to the hard-drinking, fast-living world of Hollywood. Steve was enthralled by the movie stars, directors and moguls that he met. While Steve was in Hollywood, he squired around town several of Mack Sennett beauties. It was not long before Steve would have his own ‘bathing beauties’ to promote Miami Beach. In addition, Steve would return to Hollywood to work some of the same moguls and directors to promote Coca-Cola.

Twenty-year old Steve was cautious about partying with his new found Hollywood friends. He soon grasped that he was little more than a “little brother to the rich”. Steve’s ambition was not to match drink for drink with the celebrities. Rather, he wanted to protect his most important goal – climbing the ladder of success. Getting dead drunk had propelled many a press agent into the gutters. The good news for Steve is that Reid posed for the pictures that Seeds wanted.

Several of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beautiesxi


Reid – Fancies Himself as Indy 500 Driver

Steve had something that Reid wanted more than a Stutz; he wanted to drive in the Indianapolis 500. Reid was not a neophyte in running fast cars. He was a respected amateur, a forerunner of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. He soon turned one of Steve tools for getting what he wanted. Reid became a daily caller, pleading with Steve to get him in the race.

When Steve returned to his office at Seeds, he had a call waiting for him from Reid. Reid said that he was ready to buy a car and enter the race. Immediately after hanging up, Steve called Adela asking for her help. He moaned, “I can’t say to Wally, “We don’t want you,” But he’s not a professional driver. He’s a Hollywood Star.”xii

Although Steve knew that Reid lacked the skills to race in the premier sports car race in America, Reid saw himself differently. He firmly believed that he had sufficient training because he had driven at breakneck speeds around Dead Man’s curve at the Santa Monica Race Track for the movie, Roaring Road.xiii Steve knew differently because an Indianapolis driver had to do more that run fast without competition. In his mind, Steve could see Reid killing himself bequeathing Steve with a horrendous public relations fiasco. Fearing the death of a famous movie star, Steve turned to resolving the conundrum of putting the kibosh on Reid’s desire without upsetting his ego.

Steve turned once more to Adela to find a way to convince Reid to back off his pursuit of entering the big race. Steve wanted to avoid being the bad guy because Reid had willingly done the endorsement for Stutz and befriended this greenhorn from Lafayette. Adela told Steve that she had no good ideas on what to do.xiv Nevertheless, Adela, once more helped Steve by calling Reid’s and asking for her help in putting the kibosh on Reid’s deluded fantasy. His wife agreed because she thought Reid’s dream was reckless. She begged him to no avail not to drive in the 500, but he ignored his wife. Mrs. Reid next hauled out the heavy wood and met with the head of the studio. She pointed out that Reid’s contract did not allow him to take unnecessary risks.xv The studio agreed to step-in and told Reid’s that he could not pursue his dream. He never knew that Steve was involved.

Within two years, Reid was dead; dying from alcoholism and morphine addiction. Ironically, Reid addiction to morphine happened after a train-car accident during the filming of “Valley of the Giants.” He died in a rehabilitation center in 1923.xvi The endorsement ads for Stutz were barely dry before he was gone.

The Stutz campaign pleased Russell Seeds who gave Steve his biggest opportunity – working at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The tale of Steve Hannagan and the Speedway is wrapped up in the personality and history of Carl Fisher, America’s premier entrepreneur and marketing madman of the early twentieth century


i Photograph of Russel M Seeds (retrieved July 12, 2012;)

ii Russel M. Seeds Company (retrieved June 19, 2012); 1911 National 40 Sales Catalog; Hollenbeck Press; ;

iii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 34.

iv Photograph of Stutz Bearcat (retrieved June 19, 2012);

v Lexa W. Lee (retrieved June 19, 2012) “What is a Stutz Bearcat” EHow;

vi Lexa W. Lee (retrieved June 19, 2012) “What is a Stutz Bearcat” EHow;

vii Photograph of St. Johns, Adela Rogers (retrieved June 18, 2012);

viii St. Johns, Adela Rogers (retrieved June 18, 2012);

ix Beauchamp, Cari (1997) Without Lying Down; University of California Press; Berkeley, CA; p. 195

x Photograph of Wallace Reid (Retrieved September 25, 2016);

xii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 44.

xiii Fleming, E.J. (2007); Wallace Reid; McFarland & Company, Inc, Jefferson, North Carolina; pp. 137-138.

xiv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 44.

xv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 44.

xvi Wallace Reid (Retrieved September 25, 2016);

xvii Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc. /Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

This issue talks about Steve Hannagan’s move to Indianapolis and how Dot Rice, his Lafayette girlfriend, facilitated the move. Steve Hannagan was born on Bloody Plank Road in Lafayette, Indiana in the Irish Ghetto. As a young lad in high school, he was the City and Sports Editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, the local newspaper. While working for the paper he parlayed his sports writing at the Lafayette Courier & Journal into a stringer job for the Indianapolis Star. His articles covered the high school scene around Lafayette and Purdue’s games within the state. Three articles about Purdue’s teams during World War I surfaced during a search of the Indianapolis Star. In one article in April of 1918, he reported that the military draft during World War I was depleting the major teams. He set a patriotic tone as he reported that

“… Athletes have been dropping out of school to fight for Uncle Sam and to help make the world safe for democracy. Immediately after war was declared the athletes – the cream of the youth of the land – responded in groups [.]… One sees them marching away with manly stride, set jaws, denoting that same determination that makes them a success in athletics-and life.”i

In an October 13th, 1918 article, Steve reported that “Purdue in Same Boat as Others; Unable to Play.”ii The football teams schedule was disrupted when the football team, who had joined the army but remained at Purdue, could not leave military training for more than half-a-day. The half day rule meant that the team did not have enough time to travel to away games. As a result, Purdue could not travel to away games and many home games were cancelled because traveling teams could not field a full team.

A week later, Hannagan reported that the 1918 influenza pandemic forced the cancellation of classes through October at Purdue. Even though classes were canceled, the football team remained at school to practice. Apparently the possibility of resuming play later that semester was more important than the health of team.

Steve continued his stringer assignments for the Star after he was hired by an Indianapolis public relations firm. The stringer assignments brought in extra cash and kept his hand in journalism which he loved. Later to Steve’s chagrin, he was told that while journalism may be his first love; he was not a very good writer.

Steve Learns to Count

Early in Steve’s life, he learned a valuable lesson about money from a cobbler. Steve needed two tacks replaced in a pair of shoes and took them to the family’s cobbler. Like many a naïve boy, he thought cobblers, bakers, and others small tradesmen did their work for free. Somehow his mother would be given a doughnut at the bakers and he never noticed that money exchanged hands. When he returned to the cobbler for his shoes and was leaving without paying, the cobbler called him back and said “I want to tell you something [young man] don’t ever do anything for anybody unless you get paid for it. Now, give me a nickel”.iii Later on when Steve had made his mark, he said that he lived by the old cobbler’s rule.iv This rule would hold him good stead when he promoted an auto thrill show on the edge of Lafayette.

Picture of Barnstorming Challenge Racev

The “Old Professor” Bill McCarney and Bill Pickens staged barnstorming auto shows in small towns throughout the mid-west. McCarney was an impresario of the track and Pickens was from the P.T. Barnum School of press agency, where a sucker is born every minute. The first sucker that they found was Steve promising him a cut of the ticket sales to promote the shows.

McCarney who ran publicity for the team was ill and Pickens was too busy to do publicity and set-up the show. Hannagan was recommended even though he appeared to be wet behind the ears. Pickens thought that Steve’s enthusiasm would help build a crowd, and maybe they could bamboozle him, when it came time to parcel out the cash. They discovered that Steve though maybe new to the scene of barnstorming race events was not a fool. .

McCarney and Pickens’ other goal was to lighten the pockets of the rubes who came to see daredevil jumps, flying car wrecks, two-wheel races, and races challenging the locals to beat the shows drivers. Most of the challengers left the track without their cars because they lay in a heap on the racecourse.

When it came time to split the ticket sales, Steve was there with his news clippings to show the work that he had done to sell people on coming to the show. Pickens could care less about clippings now that the race was over, and it was time to pack and head to the next town. As Steve said, he learned that his clippings were worthless, and he was the one clipped. He went over to Pickens, and told him. “On our next job I’ll count the tickets”vi. Pickens response was, “Son, if you’ve learned that [lesson] this early, you’re coming along fast”.vii

Steve’s Swan Song at the Journal & Courier

When Steve left Lafayette, the Lafayette Journal & Courier reported that he taking a job at the Russel Seeds Advertising Agency in Indianapolis. Russel Seeds ran a well-respected advertising firm in Indianapolis. The news column reported that Steve was the top newspaper man in Indiana and said that no one knew more than Steve Hannagan about running “every phase” of a newspaper.”viii Even though the article is not by-lined, it is obvious that Steve probably wrote it as the City Editor.

When Steve moved to Indianapolis, he did not immediately take the Russell Seeds position. Even though Steve could make substantially more money at Seeds than in the news business, he wanted to continue to be a reporter. He saw reporting not advertising as his route to success. Steve believed that his credentials as a stringer for the Indianapolis Star and as City Editor of the Journal & Courier established his bona fides for a full-time position with the Star.ix

Nevertheless, Steve did not leave his fate with the Star to chance; he asked his friend Tom Johnston, the Director of Publicity at Purdue and a former editor for the Star, to set-up a meeting with an editor at the paper. Tom came through for Steve with a letter of introduction to Ralston Read, the Sport’s Editor at the Star,x While Steve pursued the Star connections, he kept Dot’s offer in the back of his mind.

Steve Prepares for Indianapolis

When Steve arrived in Indianapolis, he immediately had a professional photographer take a business picture of him (Adjacent picture of Steve Hannagan,xi). Steve’s picture clearly states that he was not a rube, nor an untutored Irish kid from Bloody Plank Road, but rather a young man ready to make his way in the big city. (The photograph is in the archives of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.)

Steve Arrives in Indianapolis

Steve’s first meeting with the Star editor recommended by Tom Johnson, mirrored his brash style with the President of the Lafayette Journal & Courier. As Steve remembered it, he demanded $30 a week because he was a City Editor and not just rube from a small town. The paper hired him at the rate that he demanded.

Several weeks later, after a good review by editor, Steve said he deserved a $5 a week raise or he would quit. Steve got his raise and a lesson. The editor told Steve, “You are too lippy. … I could have given you $35 a week when I hired you, but you shot off your mouth and demanded $30.”xii Steve learned nothing about humility from the dressing down. However, Steve told his friends that what he did learn was to never underestimate his value. It was unlikely that Steve would undervalue himself with his view of his own worth and his belief in his own destiny.

While Steve was pushing his way into the Indianapolis scene, he lived at the downtown YMCA. Steve never owned a permanent residence; a homestead was not what he wanted. He usually lived in a hotel room as his income went up the quality of the room improved. His only requisites remained the same: a place to lay his hat, spread out his work papers, and a flat surface to type press releases.


The YMCA in Indianapolis xiii

The Indianapolis Star

The Star was published downtown among the local watering holes favored by reporters. Among outsiders, Indianapolis was a prairie town where nothing happened and the good folk went to church and otherwise lived a life of drudgery. However, as we will see with another part of Steve’s story, Indianapolis was more than “Naptown”, as it was nicknamed by people passing through to somewhere else. Under the surface the city was a hot mix of Germans, Italians, Irish, African-Americans, and whoever was cast on the banks of the White River passing through the center of the city.

While working at the Star, Hannagan did not hang out in his YMCA room reading the bible or taking correspondence courses. He frequented nearby saloons gravitating to the money men. There he met the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the owners of major car makers like Stutz, Marmon, Empire, Duesenberg, and National.

Steve’s new monied friends opened his eyes that they needed someone who knew the ins and outs of the newspaper business to promote their products. This insight meant that he could make more money being a press agent than working as a lowly reporter. Money and lots of it is what Steve wanted more than anything else. It was a simple yardstick to measure his success. At this moment, he was ready to take advantage of his beloved Dot Rice’s offer to introduce him to her uncle at Russel Seeds. Steve was edging away from direct involvement in the news business.


i Hannagan, Steve (April 14, 1918);” Purdue Sports Are Hit by War” Indianapolis Star; Proquest Historical Newspapers: Indianapolis Star (1903-1922); p. A3.

ii Hannagan, Steve (October 13, 1918); ” Purdue in Same Boat as Others; Unable to Play” Indianapolis Star; Proquest Historical Newspapers: Indianapolis Star (1903-1922); p. A4.

iii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 22.

iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 22.

vi Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 34.

vii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 34.

viii “Resigns Work As City Editor” (circa 1920); Lafayette Journal & Courier

ix Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; pp. 24 and 25.

x Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; pp. 24 and 25.

xi Photograph of Steve Hannagan; taken approximately 1923; Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

xii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 35.

xiii Photograph of YMCA (retrieved 7July 12, 2012) ;

xiv Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc. /Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

In this issue, Steve turns over publicity at the Indianapolis 500 to his top assistant Joe Copps, and then at the end of World War II, says goodbye to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. By the mid-1930s, Steve’s public relations business was expanding far beyond his ability to serve his first love of the Indianapolis 500. He needed someone as his surrogate at the Speedway well. He assigned his top assistant Joe Copps who had partnered with Steve since the mid-1920s.

Steve initially brought Joe to the Speedway to help him expand his publicity efforts there. He also knew that Copps had the style to be an effective representative of the Speedway with the government and leading citizens of Indianapolis. It did not take long for Copps to endear himself with the citizens of Indianapolis and to the ownership of the Speedway.

Joe’s fondness for the Speedway was evident when he and his wife chose to be married by the Speedway Chaplain at St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Miami. Eddie Rickenbacker, by then the owner of the track, showed his admiration of Joe and his new wife by hosting a wedding breakfast at the fashionable Indianapolis Athletic Club (the Club is now a condominium).

Steve’s relationship with Copps blossomed into a strong friendship with Copps asking Steve to be his best man at his 1939 wedding to Ruth Recops.

Steve was the Best Man at Joe Copps Wedding to Ruth Edith Recops.1

Steve’s Mother Admonishes Steve

Steve’s mother, the famous Aunt Jo, was at the wedding breakfast and heard Steve complain about his sore knees. Steve had to kneel on cold marble during several periods of the famously too-long high Catholic Mass conducted during the wedding. His mother “looked at … [Steve] sharply and said: [Stavia, as Aunt Jo called him], it’s probably because you haven’t had enough practice [kneeling] lately.”i

Joe Copps Daughter Kathleen

By 1940, even Copps’s daughter, Kathleen, had joined her father in the headlines of the Indianapolis Star.ii The paper announced the news of the birth of Joe’s daughter back in Florida.

Joe Copps was an outstanding press agent and knew how to navigate the labyrinths of the Speedway, the Indianapolis news media, and the city’s social circuit. Joe followed the Hannagan principle and flooded the newsprint media with press releases about the Speedway and its drivers. Copps, like Steve, became synonymous with the Speedway.

Rickenbacker Sells the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Steve was the chief publicist at the Speedway for nearly twenty years until racing ended when the United States entered World War II. The Track closed during the War. During World War II, the Speedway was a fallow field on the outskirts of Indianapolis. Pictures at the time showed weeds growing on the main straight in front of the checker flag stand.

When the war ended, Eddie Rickenbacker had to decide whether or not to reopen the track. Rickenbacker had owned the track since 1927 and was now pursuing the development of Easter Airways, where he was President, into a national powerhouse. Rickenbacker determined that renovating the Speedway and restarting the Indianapolis 500 would divert him from his business goals at Eastern. He decided to either sell the Speedway or close it.

Rickenbacker found a buyer for the Speedway in 1946. Tony Hulman, the starch-king of Terre Haute agreed to purchase the Track. When the Speedway passed to Hulman, Steve ended his involvement there. Steve’s career had taken a different trajectory. Coca-Cola was now his major client and he and the Speedway believed that it needed someone new to act as Director of Publicity.

Sale of the Track Ended Steve Hannagan’s Connection

Pop Myers (left rear) at Sale of Track to Anton Tony Hullman (left), Captain Eddie Rickenbacker (seated) and Wilbur Shaw, Speedway President (seated right)iii

Steve Leaves the Track

Steve greatly enjoyed the Speedway. He craved the excitement, the drivers, and the crowds. Of course, Steve’s biggest kick was the attention he garnered from the press as he roamed the Speedway during racing season.

When Steve left his beloved track, friends from the press gave him a parting present – “Ye Olde Hokum Bucket. ” The bucket was a play on the Old Oaken Bucket2 football game played between Steve’s quasi alma mater Purdue University and Indiana University.


1 The maid of honor is the bride’s sister, Gay Recops Zehner.

2 The Old Oaken Bucket was supposed to be a relic from the famous raid of Southern Indiana during the Civil War by the notorious Southern Cavalier, John Morgan.


i Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 55.

ii Copy of Picture in the Indianapolis Star of Kathleen Copps with Joe Copps; date according to picture: April 2, 1940; copy provided from the private collection of Kathleen (Copps) Katz (Received on June 18, 2012).