Vonnegut Hardware Company Site

120 E Washington St Indianapolis

Vonnegut's Indianapolis/Vonnegut Hardware Company Site
Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library
Written By Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library

A parking garage now occupies the site of the Vonnegut Hardware Co. The garage replaced a surface parking lot created after the Vonnegut Hardware Company building was wrecked decades ago. Generations before "Slaughterhouse Five" made “Vonnegut” a famous name around the world, it had been ingrained in the everyday life of Indianapolis. “You can get it at Vonnegut’s” was the slogan of the hardware company known by all. Clemens Vonnegut (1827-1906) of Westphalia arrived in Indianapolis in 1851 and became a partner in Vollmer & Vonnegut, a general store. Vollmer left for the goldfields of California and in 1852 Vonnegut focused on hardware.

Generations of Vonneguts worked in the retail and wholesale firm. Young Kurt Jr. worked in the store two summers under the direction of his great uncle Franklin. “My idea of hell was shaped by that experience. Hell is running an elevator throughout eternity in a building with only six floors.” Vonnegut Hardware Company operated 12 stores in the city and also manufactured the famous Von Duprin (Vonnegut, DuPont, Prinzler) panic bar found on public egress doors around the country. The Vonneguts sold their hardware business to Schlage Lock Co. in 1965. The local stores continued to be part of the streetscape through the 1970s under different ownership.

Kurt wrote of this in Palm Sunday:

"Seventy-four years later, the Vonnegut Hardware Company exists no more. The ‘Mile Square’ in the heart of Indianapolis, where it once had its bustling main store, is a desert of parking lots now. At night, the Mile Square is as eerily desolate as East Berlin. The retail outlets of the Vonnegut Hardware Company were ruined by perfectly fair competition—by discount stores… the name Vonnegut was synonymous with hardware in Indianapolis. That story will be lost forever, if I do not now take it out of my perishable head and write it down."

Cover image: The Vonnegut Hardware Co. and employees as photographed in 1906. Image: Mclauvi, CC-BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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