In 1937, Chicago-based Stewart-Warner Corporation, which manufactured automobile and aeronautic heaters, purchased the old Nordyke-Marmon plant at 1514 Drover Street on the city’s near southside. Early the next year, the company moved its refrigerator manufacturing operations from Chicago to Indianapolis. 

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The Stewart-Warner Reporter, the company employee newsletter, 1944 Credit: Indiana Division, Indiana State Library View Source

Stewart-Warner expanded production at the local plant during world war ii, making aircraft heating units, rockets, field stoves, bomb detonating mechanisms, and aircraft engine gear assemblies for the U.S. Army. In 1943, Stewart-Warner moved its heater division, which produced the South Wind gasoline car heater, to the Indianapolis plant, which then became known as the South Wind Division.

By the late 1950s, the plant employed 1,000 people making heating equipment for both commercial and military aircraft. Stewart-Warner closed an out-of-state plant in 1962 and transferred its production to Indianapolis, adding 300 jobs. 

During the mid-1960s, the South Wind Division developed a heat exchanger used by NASA in the Apollo space program. In spring 1966, the company announced that it had developed a fuel-to-helium heat exchanger in Indianapolis that would “play an important part in getting our first astronauts to the moon.” The exchanger made it possible for NASA’s Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) to touch down on the moon’s surface.

In September 1987, Stewart-Warner became a wholly owned subsidiary of the British conglomerate BTR PLC. Company officials announced the closure of the Indianapolis plant the next year, citing facilities that were too large and too expensive to maintain. Critics charged that lower labor costs elsewhere fueled the move. Despite city and state financial incentives, including property tax abatement and job training, 250 union employees lost their jobs as Stewart-Warner moved production facilities to Troy, Indiana, in 1989. In 1991, heat exchangers developed at the South Wind Division of the company became the first sale of Hoosier-made products resulting from Indiana’s “sister state” relationship with Zhejiang Province in China.

After the plant’s closure, the South Wind Division maintained corporate headquarters and laboratory facilities on the city’s southwest side, employing about 100 people. The division continued to design aerospace heat exchangers, combustion heaters, and transmission oil coolers. Its design engineers worked at the office in Indianapolis. It maintained a corporate office in Indianapolis until early 1999.

In 2004, Meggitt Corporation, a developer and manufacturer of products for aerospace, including heat exchangers, acquired the Stewart-Warner South Wind Division. Headquartered in Coventry in the United Kingdom, Meggitt continues to operate the Troy, Indiana, plant.

Revised February 2021
 

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