Native Hoosiers Walter and John Brant were raised in Indianapolis. While Walter was earning his Electrical Engineering degree at Purdue University, brother John worked as a test driver for the Packard Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan. Upon Walter’s graduation in 1910, the brothers became partners by starting Brant Brothers Automobile Agency. They started off strong by quickly securing franchise rights for Lozier and Chandler Automobiles. But by 1914, as tensions in Europe threatened automobile sales, the Brant brothers looked for another entrepreneurial venture.
They found it in 1915 when they combined their engineering and sales talents to form Indiana Oxygen Company, the first industrial gas production plant in the state of Indiana, located on S. Harmon Street in Indianapolis. The new process of electrolytic separation of water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen had only been introduced in America just eight years earlier, and no such plant yet existed in Indiana.
One of Indiana Oxygen’s first customers was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They provided compressed air during the Speedway’s “500” Mile Race – completely eliminating the need to hand-pump every tire. Today, over 100 years later, Indiana Oxygen still services the Indy 500, providing nitrogen gas for operating on-board air jacks and pneumatic tools for changing tires, as well as providing welding operations required by the race teams for their racers. Indiana Oxygen remains the oldest continuous accessory sponsor at Indy.
In the 1920s, the primary use of gases was for welding metals. Indiana Oxygen produced oxygen and hydrogen to facilitate welding projects and stop the practice of blacksmithing. Over the years, the convenience, safety and mobility of welding using compressed gas won out. Today, compressed gas cylinders are found in nearly every business and many households. Besides producing welding gases for bridge, road and building construction, Indiana Oxygen provides gases for food preservation, hospital surgeries, beverage carbonation, helium balloons, lasers, automobile assembly, pharmaceutical production and more.
It wasn’t long before the Brant Brothers expanded their entrepreneurial efforts to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where they built a second electrolytic oxygen/hydrogen plant, known as Wisconsin Oxygen/Hydrogen Company. However, by 1925, the brothers – tired of the constant rail travel back and forth between Indianapolis and Kenosha – sold the Wisconsin Oxygen/Hydrogen Company.
That wasn’t the end of the Brant Brother’s expansion efforts, however. When they sold the Wisconsin plant, they used the proceeds to build an acetylene generating plant in the Indianapolis suburb of Beech Grove. That facility remains today one of the safest and most efficient plants of its kind in the country.
By 1930, business was booming and Indiana Oxygen moved to a larger building at 435 S. Delaware St. At the same time, technology had also advanced, and Indiana Oxygen turned to a new process known as Atmospheric Air Separation, which allowed them to produce a full array of atmospheric gases.
In 1937, Robert “Bob” Brant, Walter’s son, joined the company upon leaving Purdue after his freshman year. Disappointed that Bob didn’t complete his degree, Walter assigned Bob to drive trucks for the company for nine years before promoting him to sales. He went on to become Director of Operations before eventually becoming President. Bob was serving as Chairman of the Board at the time of his death in 2006.
The employee labor force was organized under the Teamsters Union Local #135 in 1948. Six years later (1954-55), the company endured a violent work-stoppage strike. Both sides suffered, but there were mutual lessons learned which resulted in a stronger, more cooperative teamwork—and still exists today.
In 1960, the old air separation plant was replaced by new liquid oxygen, nitrogen, argon and CO2 pumping systems. With this change, Indiana Oxygen began producing specialty gases (Spec Gas) and research laboratory-grade high purity blends.
In 1979, Walter “Wally” Brant II, Robert’s son, joined Indiana Oxygen, after graduating from Purdue and then serving seven years as a Navigator on a B-52 combat crew during the Vietnam War. Under Wally’s leadership, the Indiana Oxygen team fostered unparalleled growth to become the largest independent gas and welding supply company in Indiana.
As Indiana Oxygen grew, it began to open satellite branch stores, the first in Muncie in 1978. The increased demand for gas products required Indiana Oxygen to move again in 1991 to a new state-of-the-industry palletized cylinder fill plant on Indianapolis’ northwest side, located on I-465 near west 71st Street. Its automated fill operation enables the highest quality and production of any national company.
Today Indiana Oxygen has locations in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Muncie, Marion, Fishers, Bloomington, Cincinnati, Seymour, Vincennes, Elkhart and Beech Grove. Plus, Indiana Oxygen boasts one of the largest Internet sales divisions in the country!
The fourth generation of Brants – Anne Brant Hayes and Jay Brant – joined the family business in 2010. As an independent, family-owned, four-generation company, Indiana Oxygen is large enough to meet any demand, yet flexible to meet any immediate or custom need. And, through its affiliation with its most renowned purchasing consortium and the support of its key vendors, Indiana Oxygen is able to purchase in quantities sufficient to compete with any national chain and still pass cost savings to its customer-partners.
Today, the Brant Family continues to be involved in the communities in which it serves. Integrity and ethics have always guided Indiana Oxygen’s way of conducting business. Nobody has dedicated their lives, passion and focus to this business like the team of employees at Indiana Oxygen. With diverse experiences and perspectives, they’ve created a culture that delivers the best for generations to come.