17 Incredible Facts About The History of Indianapolis

Have you been itching to know more about Indianapolis? This capital city, lovingly called the “Crossroads of America,” sits right at the heart of the state. It’s also where the world-renowned Indy 500 motor race takes place each year. While that might be the most obvious claim to fame that Indianapolis has, this city sure does have a few surprises up its sleeves!

We’re about to reveal some of Indianapolis’ best-kept secrets and plenty of hidden gems. We are even going to bring Santa Claus into the picture! So buckle up, folks!

Ready to take a deep dive into the history of Indianapolis and learn some fun facts along the way? We are about to cover all things Indianapolis, and we sure are excited to do it! Let’s wave that checkered flag high— ready, set, go!

The History of Indianapolis

The History of Indianapolis
Photo Credit – indycm

#1 – Well, You Weren’t There First…

Indianapolis was founded in 1820 in the area originally home to the Lenape, a tribe of Native Americans. They were pushed out of their homeland by expanding European colonies, Indianapolis included! In present day, most of the Lenape now reside in Oklahoma. It’s worth noting that the Lenape people belong to the Delaware Tribe of Indians, and follow a matrilineal clan system. #GoLadies

#2 – Two Men and A Plan

Alexander Ralston and Elias Pym Fordham were responsible for formulating the grid pattern for the city of Indianapolis. The plan extended outward from the Governor’s Circle in the middle of town. This early grid pattern is still evident in the center of Downtown Indianapolis and is a lovely place to see some of Indianapolis’ most beautiful architectural gems.


History of Indianapolis Roads

History of Indianapolis Roads
Photo Credit – teara.govt.nz

#3 – Got Roads?

The first major highway in Indianapolis was the National Road. Built between 1811 and 1837, the National Highway was a 620 mile swatch of roadway that was a major transportation route to the West for thousands of settlers! The official National Road marker is located on the south side of the Indiana State Capitol building if you are curious and wanted to stop by a snap a photo.

#4 – All About Indiana 

Michigan Road was built in the 1830s and 1840s and connected Madison, Indiana to Michigan City, Indiana. Although Madison is a popular city in Wisconsin, and Michigan is a whole other state, this roadway was all about Indiana! However, it was a pretty solid roadway. In fact, it helped over fifty-percent of the pioneers to settle in northwestern Indiana.


History of Indianapolis Railways

History of Indianapolis Railways
Photo Credit – abandonedonline.net

#5 – A First Time For Everything

The Indianapolis Union Railway Company was first organized in May 1850. However, on September 20, 1853 they opened their doors as the Indianapolis Union Station and became the absolute first union railroad station in the world! There really is a first time for everything!

#6 – Someone Get Us A Railroad…

Indianapolis has more than one nickname. While it is most often referred simply as Indy, or as the “Crossroads of America,” it is also called “Railroad City.” The arrival of railroads first began in 1850, and paired with the town’s mills turned Indianapolis into a major manufacturing and transportation hub! Sometimes, you just need a good railroad…


The History of Indianapolis Population

The History of Indianapolis Population
Photo Credit – forbes.com

#7 – Surprise, Surprise!

Did you know that Indianapolis is actually the 13th largest city in the USA? It’s also not too bad in terms of rankings. Forbes named it as one of the best downtowns in the United States in terms of arts, parks, and entertainment. Way to go Indianapolis!

#8 – By The Numbers

The first census was apparently taken in 1840, and reported the population of Indianapolis at just over 2,500 inhabitants. The numbers rose exponentially as the decades flew by, from 8,000 in 1500 to 18,000 in 1860. Today, the population is estimated at 875,929.


MUST READ! We’ve organized the best places to stay in Indianapolis for all types of trips!

The History of Indianapolis’ Name

The History of Indianapolis’ Name
Photo Credit – 123rf.com

#9 – What’s In A Name?

Who gets to name a city? Apparently a man by the name of Jeremiah Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan was a judge from the Indiana Supreme Court who borrowed the word for city from the Greeks: “polis.” Therefore Indianapolis translates to Indiana City. We all do like to borrow things from the Greeks from time to time— gyros and tzatziki included!

#10 – Naptime? No, it’s Naptown.

One of our favorite nicknames for Indianapolis is “Naptown.” This isn’t because Indianapolis is a sleepy city. Leave your assumptions asides folks! This nickname was actually coined by jazz musicians in the late 1920s and 1930s. The first recorded example of this nickname is in 1929 by Leroy Carr, who sang: “When you get to Naptown, the blues won’t last very long. Because they have their pleasure, and they sure do carry on.”


History of the Indy 500 in Indianapolis

History of the Indy 500 in Indianapolis
Photo Credit – smithsonianmag.com

#11 – The Bigger The Better

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is ridiculously huge. We mean huge. It covers 253 acres and actually includes a golf course! In fact, the speedway is the world’s largest spectator sporting facility. It has over 250,000 permanent seats! Vatican City, the Colosseum, Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs, and the Rose Bowl, apparently would all fit snugly inside the Indy Oval. We did say it was huge, didn’t we?

#12 – Life in the Fast Lane At The Brickyard

Why is the Indy 500 called the Brickyard? Good question! Back in 1908 when the track opened, the track was composed of crushed stone and tar. This was a big problem for drivers! So they quickly replaced the track with 3.2 million paving bricks. Things are built brick by brick after all…

#13 – Glass of Champagne? No thanks. Got Milk?

Ever seen those photos of race car drivers drinking milk after a win? Well, this tradition of drinking milk at the Indy 500 began way back in 1936 with the winner Louis Meyer. Apparently, he drank milk after he won because he was following his mother’s advice. She told him that a glass of buttermilk was the perfect drink on a hot day.


History of the Indianapolis’ Wonder Bread

History of the Indianapolis’ Wonder Bread
Photo Credit – historicindianapolis

#13 – We Put The Wonder in Wonder Bread

It’s quite likely you’ve enjoyed a slice or two, or maybe two hundred pieces of Wonder Bread in your lifetime. This bread was actually created by Indianapolis-based Taggart Baking Company back in 1921. They were the first major company to sell and distribute sliced bread to the people of America! We sure do have Indianapolis to thank for America’s most common lunches— ah, the sandwich!


History of Indianapolis’ Famous People

History of Indianapolis’ Famous People
Photo Credit – onlyinyourstate

#14 – The King of Rock n’ Roll’s Last Show

The last concert that Elvis Presley ever gave was in Indianapolis, just a mere three months before his death in 1977. He performed at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977 to a crowd of 18,000 people. Tickets were $15. Today, that’s nearly $60. Regardless of inflation, that’s quite a deal to see the King!

#15 –  What People Like About Me Is Indianapolis

The famous author Kurt Vonnegut was born and raised in Indianapolis. He wrote some of the most popular classics in the literary canon from Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. Once, he wrote: All my jokes are Indianapolis. All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business. What people like about me is Indianapolis.”


The History of Indianapolis and Christmas

The History of Indianapolis and Christmas
Photo Credit – mentalfloss.com

#16 – The Tallest Christmas Tree

The world’s largest Christmas tree calls Indianapolis it’s home. Indianapolis has proudly held this title since 1962. The Christmas tree has over 5,000 lights and stands 284 feet high!

#17 – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

There is a town in Southwest Indiana that actually changed its name to Santa Claus Town. While this fun fact isn’t precisely about Indianapolis, it was simply too juicy not to share! This town changed its name in 1854 from Santa Fe to Santa Claus. Their post office receives thousands of letters to Santa each year and a group of volunteers responds to every child’s letter. They may not be elves, but they sure are good helpers!


Final Thoughts on the History of Indianapolis

Whether you call Indianapolis Indy, Naptown, Railroad City, or the Crossroads of America, Indianapolis sure has its fair share of claims to fame! As the birthplace of Wonder Bread and the home to the Indy 500, Indianapolis really is quite a city.

One last fun fact is that the song, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” was written by an Indianapolis native! Sorry, if we have now cemented that song in your head for the rest of the night. It sure is a catchy tune. Alright folks, we’re off to make ourselves a sandwich, a Wonder Bread sandwich…

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Lily Allen-Duenas