Studebaker was founded on February 16th, 1852 in South Bend, Indiana as the H&C Studebaker Blacksmith Shop. They did the things you would expect of a blacksmith shop, including building wagons. One of the Studebaker brothers, John Mohler Studebaker went out to California to make his fortune in the gold rush. He would wind up in Hangtown, (now Placerville) and did make his fortune … making and selling wheelbarrows to the miners. They called him “Wheelbarrow Johnny”. He came back and put his money into the family business. Studebaker really started hitting it big by making wagons and gun carriages for the Union army in the Civil War and making wagons for the westward expansion of the United States.
Studebaker was the largest manufacturer of wheeled vehicles in the world at the turn of the last century, and the only one of the old wagon makers to survive the transition to automobiles. During WW2
they supplied a vast quantity of trucks, many of which were sent to the old Soviet Union, possibly saving that country from the Nazis. They also supplied bomber engines and a wonderful little tracked vehicle called the Weasel (sometimes you see them in the newsreels on MASH).
Studebaker was the first major auto manufacturer to bring out a totally new and fresh car design after WWII, the famous “which way is it going” cars. In 1950 and 51 Studebaker built the bulletnose cars, as seen as police cars in one of the Batman movies, and Fozzie Bear drove one in a Muppet movie. In 53 Studebaker came out with the Commander Starliner, to this day widely regarded as the most beautiful mass produced American car. That car led to the Hawks, and in 1963 Studebaker came out with their last new car, the Avanti, the fastest production car on the planet at the time.
Studebaker announced the closing of the South Bend plant on December 9th, 1963, production of Lark sedans and wagons continued in Hamilton, Ontario until March of 1966.
Studebaker did NOT go out of business, they merged with Worthington Corporation, diversified by purchasing many other companies, such as Onan, Gravely, Clark and essentially merged themselves out of existence. If you had a 100 shares of Studebaker stock in 1963 it would be worth quite a bit of money today, although I’m not really sure what company that would be anymore!
Studebaker built wheeled vehicles continuously for 114 years, a record unmatched by any other company even today, 40 years after the last new Studebaker rolled off the assembly line. As you might imagine any company around for as long as Studebaker, with as many varied and interesting vehicles, would attract quite a following and they did.
To this day there are many thousands of Studebaker fans around the world. 13, 000 of us are members of the Studebaker Drivers Club (http://www.studebakerdriversclub.com) It is called the Studebaker Drivers Club for a reason, most of us really DRIVE our cars, that is what they were built for, and that is the best way to enjoy them. Even today, in the 21st Century, there are people who drive Studebakers every day!
If you have read this far you may well want to learn more. Follow some of the links on this page, explore the world of Studebakers on the Internet, and if you are really interested come to a local meet and see some of these cars and trucks in real life and meet some of the people that care for them, Studebakers are like nothing else on the road today.