The Studebakers were wagon makers and blacksmiths when they arrived in America from Holland. They trained their sons in that same tradition.
Founded in 1852 as the H & C Studebaker blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana, the organization was incorporated in 1868 under the name of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. Their business was as a producer of wagons for farmers, miners, and the military.
The Studebaker brothers, Henry and Clement, began in business as horse drawn wagon makers and achieved a great deal of success. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company built horse drawn wagons at a time that the American population was on the move.
The 1850′s were a time of great western expansion and there were many of the Studebaker brother’s products that made the trek over the popular Overland Trail. In a large way the California Gold Rush and it’s demand for transportation launched to Studebaker brothers into the wagon building business. Studebaker wagons became known as some of the most reliable of their kind and were the chosen way to cross the continent from East to West.
Studebaker was a major contractor to the Union Army during the American Civil War. It’s also believed that the very first chuckwagon was designed and built by legendary Texas rancher Charles Goodnight. Goodnight reportedly used a surplus Studebaker wagon from the Civil War for his first chuckwagon.
After years of constant urging by a Studebaker family member who thought it was time to enter the horseless carriage business, Studebaker the carriage maker entered the new automobile business in 1902. An interesting side note is that Studebaker had the distinction of manufacturing electric powered cars during their first two years in business. At the time the Studebaker brothers felt that electric was the way to go. The company switched to gasoline power just a few years later in 1904. On February 14, 1911, the company was organized into the Studebaker Corporation.
An interesting note is that the Studebaker’s were building all types of wagons from simple farm wagons to elaborately built closed carriages.Some of these wagon models were named the Phaeton, the Victoria and the Brougham and these same style names were used by various automobile makers during the 1900’s.
The 1920’s Meant Major Changes for Studebaker
Studebaker ended their horse drawn carriage business in 1920. The 1920’s also saw the company moving it’s production from Detroit Michigan to South Bend Indiana. The 1920’s were a very good decade for the Studebaker Manufacturing Company. Studebakers were popular throughout the ’20s and the company usually ranked among the top 10 auto makers. The 1930’s were a different matter. As was the case with several other automakers, the Great Depression took it’s toll. Studebaker had to go into receivership in 1933. Company Vice Presidents Paul Hoffman and Harold Vance were appointed receivers and led Studebaker back to solvency just two years later in 1935.
Some of the icon Studebaker models included the 1939 Champion, the 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1950 “Bullet Nose”, the 1953 Starliner Hardtop and the 1963 Avanti. Another important fact was that Studebaker was the first automaker to introduce new post war designs in 1947.
The Studebaker National Museum
Visiting the Studebaker National Museum offers you a very unique historical experience. Learn all about the company that began building wagons that were used by pioneers and successfully transitioned into an automaker whose brand continued into the 1960’s. If you are into antique cars this museum is definitely a must see. The museum grounds are beautiful and you’ll be able to explore three floors of history and cars
The Studebaker National Museum is home to four of the presidential carriages: The Grant, Harrison, Lincoln and McKinley carriages can be seen at the museum.
For children the museum features an interactive exhibit named the Studebaker Super Service Center. This exhibit allows children to pretend to work on automobiles and is designed for children ages 3 to 10.
The Studebaker National Museum is located at 201 Chapin St, South Bend, IN.
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A very good book regarding the Studebaker brothers and their wagon and automobile business is Studebaker: The Complete History by author Patrick R. Foster.
Studebaker’s Last Days
Studebaker production in the U.S. ended in 1963. The company had been in financial trouble ever since the 1950’s and had merged with Packard in 1954.
The last cars produced by Studebaker were the 1964 model year GranTurismo.
(Article and photos copyright 2014 Trips Into History)