Studebaker Corporation, or simply Studebaker, was a United States wagon and automobile manufacturer based in South Bend, Indiana. Originally, the company was a producer of wagons for farmers, miners and the military, founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1868 under the name of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company.
Studebaker badge on cars produced between 1912 and 1934
Studebaker entered the automotive business in 1902 with electric vehicles and in 1904with gasoline vehicles, all sold under the name "Studebaker Automobile Company". It partnered with other builders of gasoline-powered vehicles—Garford and E-M-F—until 1911.
The first gasoline cars to be fully manufactured by Studebaker were marketed in August 1912. Over the next 40 years, the company established an enviable reputation for quality and reliability.
Studebaker's "Lazy S" logo
In 1954, after a dramatic and unexpected fall in sales, Studebaker merged with the Packard Motor Car Company, forming the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. The final Packard-designed cars were built by the company in Detroit in 1956, and the last Packards with Studebaker bodies were built in 1958. "Packard" was then dropped from the company's name as Studebaker rapidly diversified, buying up companies such as Schaefer, which made commercial refrigerators, STP, which made automotive oil treatments, and Paxton Products, which made automobile superchargers. Even a commercial airline, Trans International Airlines, founded by Kirk Kerkorian, came into the corporate fold in the early 'sixties.
1905 advertisement for Studebaker electric and gasoline-powered cars
By 1963, however, the company's mainstay products, automobiles and trucks, were selling very poorly. The South Bend plant was closed and cars were built solely at the satellite plant in Hamilton, Ontario until March 1966.
The Studebaker brothers—founders of what would become the Studebaker Corporation. Left to right, (standing) Peter and Jacob; (seated) Clem, Henry and John M.
Studebaker merged with Worthington Corporation to become Studebaker-Worthington in 1967. McGraw-Edison purchased Studebaker-Worthington in 1979, eliminating the century-old Studebaker name from the corporate landscape.
19th century wagonmaker
Studebaker Brothers carriage on display in the Studebaker show room, Salt Lake City, 1908
1908 Studebaker Brothers limousine
Studebaker Speedster 1916
Studebaker Touring 1916
Studebaker's Big Six Touring Car, from a 1920 magazine ad.
Studebaker Seis Cilindros (Six), classic advert in Seville
1928 Studebaker GB Commander crossing the continent of Australia on unmade roads in 1975
A UK-imported right-hand-drive 1936 Studebaker 4-door sedan
1938 Studebaker Bus
1948 Studebaker M16 52A Truck
Studebaker 4-Door Sedan
1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner, showing the streamlined design of the 1950s Studebaker.
Even as financial difficulties continued to mount in 1963, Studebaker offered a full range of models, including the Avanti, Hawk, Wagonaire and Lark-based Cruiser, Commander, and Daytona convertible.
Henry Studebaker was a farmer, blacksmith, and wagon-maker who lived near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the early 19th century. His blacksmith trade was a family occupation passed down since the days of living in the famous blade-making town of Solingen in Germany. A forebear Peter Studebecker, is reported to have migrated with three brothers from Holland to Philadelphia in 1736 and settled in Pennsylvania. However, it is more likely that Clement Studebaker (1700-1762) was the immigrant "founding father". Henry's father John Studebaker had moved to Ohio in 1835 and taught his five sons to make wagons. They all went into that business as it grew to gigantic proportions with the country. The five sons were, in order of birth: Henry (1826-1895), Clement (1831-1901), John Mohler (1833-1917), Peter Everst (1836-1897) and Jacob Franklin (1844-1887). Their father was named John (1799-1877), their mother Rebecca (née Mohler) (1802-1887). The boys had five sisters. Photographs of the brothers and their parents are reproduced in the company history published by Albert Russel Erskine in 1919, after he became president, in memory of John M. Directors Fred S Fish and Henry Goldman (son of Marcus Goldman) are also pictured in the book.
South Bend operation
Clement and Henry Studebaker Jr. became blacksmiths and foundrymen in South Bend, Indiana in February 1852. They first made metal parts for freight wagons and later expanded into the manufacture of complete wagons. At this time, John M was making wheelbarrows in Placerville, California. The site of his business is California Historic Landmark.
The first major expansion in Henry and Clem's South Bend business came from their being in the right place to meet the needs of the California Gold Rush which began in 1849. From his wheelbarrow enterprise at Placerville, John M had amassed $8,000. In April 1858, he quit and moved out to apply this to financing the vehicle manufacturing of H & C Studebaker which was already booming because of a big order to build wagons for the US Army. In 1857, they had also built their first carriage —"Fancy, hand-worked iron trim, the kind of courting buggy any boy and girl would be proud to be seen in".
That was when John M bought out Henry's share of the business. Henry was deeply religious and may have had qualms about building military equipment. The Studebakers were Dunkards, a religion that viewed war as evil. Longstreet's official company history simply says "Henry was tired of the business. He wanted to farm. The risks of expanding were not for him". Expansion continued from manufacture of wagons for westward migration as well as for farming and general transportation. During the height of westward migration and wagon train pioneering, half of the wagons used were Studebakers. They made about a quarter of them, and manufactured the metal fittings for other builders in Missouri for another quarter century.
The fourth brother, Peter E, was running a successful general store at Goshen which was expanded in 1860 to include a wagon distribution outlet. A major leap forward came from supplying wagons for the Union Army in the Civil War (1861-65). By 1868, annual sales had reached $350,000. That year, the three older brothers formed the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company—Clem (president), Peter (secretary) and John M (treasurer). By this time the factory had a spur line to the Lake Shore railroad and, with the Union Pacific Railroad finished, most wagons were now despatched by rail and steamship.
World's largest vehicle house
In 1875, the youngest brother, 30-year-old Jacob, was brought into the company to take charge of the carriage factory, making sulkies and five-glass landaus. Following a great fire in 1874 which destroyed two-thirds of the entire works, they had rebuilt in solid brick, covering 20 acres (81,000 m2) and were now "The largest vehicle house in the world". The best people were buying Studebaker sulkies, broughams, clarences, phaetons, runabouts, victorias and tandems. The wealthiest could buy for $20,000 a four-in-hand smart enough to carry a dozen swells in style, with red wheels, gold-plated lamps, yellow trim; and the driver cracked a 15 ft (4.6 m) braided whip over the fashionably cropped tails of four or even six matched horses.
In the 1880s, roads started to be surfaced in tar, gravel and wooden blocks. In 1884, when times were hard, Jacob opened a carriage sales and service operation in a fine new Studebaker Building on Michigan Boulevard, Chicago. The two granite columns at the main entrance, 3 feet 8 inches (1.1 m) in diameter and 12 feet 10 inches (3.9 m) high, were said to be the largest polished monolithic shafts in the country. Three years later in 1887, Jacob died—the first death among the brothers.
In 1889, incoming President Harrison ordered a full set of Studebaker carriages and harnesses for the White House. As the twentieth century approached, the South Bend plant "covered nearly 100 acres (0.40 km2) with 20 big boilers, 16 dynamos, 16 large stationery engines, 1000 pulleys, 600 wood- and iron-working machines, 7 miles (11 km) of belting, dozens of steam pumps and 500 arc and incandescent lamps making white light over all". The worldwide economic depression of 1893 caused a dramatic pause in sales and the plant closed down for five weeks, but industrial relations were good and the organised workforce declared faith in their employer.
Family association continues
The five brothers died between 1877 and 1917 (when John Mohler was the last to go). However, their sons and sons-in-law remained active in the management. "Col. George M Studebaker, Clement Studebaker Jr, J M Studebaker Jr, and Frederick Studebaker Fish served apprenticeships in different departments and rose to important official positions, with membership on the board." Erskine adds sons-in-law Nelson J Riley, Charles A Carlisle, H D Johnson and William R Innis.
Studebaker Automobiles 1897-1966
In 1895, John M's son-in-law Fred Fish urged for development of 'a practical horseless carriage'. When, on Peter's death, he became chairman of the executive committee in 1897, the firm had an engineer working on a motor vehicle. At first, Studebaker opted for electric (battery-powered) over gasoline propulsion. (See main article Studebaker Electric (automobile).) But in those days there was no future for a slow car dependent on heavy, primitive batteries. While it attempted to manufacture its own electric vehicles from 1902 to 1911, the company entered into body-manufacturing and distribution agreements with two makers of gasoline powered vehicles, Garford of Elyria, Ohio, and the Everett-Metzger-Flanders (E-M-F) Company of Detroit. Beginning in 1904, Studebaker began making gasoline-engined cars.
Under the agreement with Studebaker, Garford would receive completed chassis and drivetrains from Ohio and then mate them with Studebaker-built bodies, which were sold under the Studebaker-Garford brand name at premium prices. Eventually, vehicles with Garford-built engines began to carry the Studebaker name. Garford also built cars under its own name and, by 1907, attempted to increase production at the expense of Studebaker. Once the Studebakers discovered this, John Mohler Studebaker enforced a primacy clause, forcing Garford back on to the scheduled production quotas. The decision to drop the Garford was made and the final product rolled off the assembly line by 1911, leaving Garford alone until it was acquired by John North Willys in 1913.
Studebaker's marketing agreement with the E-M-F Company was a different relationship, one John Studebaker had hoped would give Studebaker a quality product without the entanglements found in the Garford relationship, but this was not to be. Under the terms of the agreement, E-M-F would manufacture vehicles and the Studebakers would distribute them through their wagon dealers. Now company president, Fred Fish purchased one-third of the E-M-F stock in 1908 and followed up by acquiring all the remainder from J. P. Morgan in 1910 and buying E-M-F's manufacturing plants at Walkerville, Ontario, Canada, and across the river in Detroit.
Studebaker marque established
In 1911, it was decided to refinance and incorporate as the Studebaker Corporation. The company discontinued making electric vehicles that same year.:p.71
The E-M-F gasoline-powered cars had proved disastrously unreliable, causing wags to say that E-M-F stood for Every Morning Fix-it, Easy Mark's Favorite and the like. Compounding the problems was the infighting between E-M-F's principal partners, Everett, Flanders and Metzger. Eventually in mid-1909, Everitt and Metger left to start a new enterprise. Flanders also quit and joined them in 1912 but the Metzger Motor Car Co could not be saved from failure by renaming it the Flanders Motor Company. After taking over E-M-F's facilities, to remedy the customer dissatisfaction, Studebaker paid mechanics to visit each disgruntled owner and replace defective parts in their vehicles at a total cost of US$1 million. The worst problem was rear-axle failure. Hendry comments that the frenzied testing resulted in Studebaker's aim to design 'for life'—and the consequent emergence of "a series of really rugged cars. . . the famous Big and Special Sixes". From that time, Studebaker's own marque was put on new automobiles produced at the former E-M-F facilities as an assurance that the vehicles were well built.
The 1913 six-cylinder models were the first to employ the important advancement of monobloc engine casting which became associated with an economy production drive in the years of World War I. At that time, a 28-year-old university graduate engineer, Fred M. Zeder, was appointed chief engineer. He was the first of a trio of brilliant technicians, with Owen R. Skelton and Carl Breer, who launched the successful 1918 models, and were known as "the Three Musketeers". They left in 1920 to form a consultancy, later to become the nucleus of Chrysler Engineering. The replacement chief engineer was Guy P. Henry who introduced molybdenum steel, an improved clutch design and presided over the six-cylinders-only policy favoured by new president Albert Russel Erskine who replaced Fred Fish in July 1915.
John M Studebaker had always viewed the automobile as complementary to the horse-drawn wagon, pointing out that the expense of maintaining a car might be beyond the resources of a small farmer. As a result, the manufacture of horse-drawn vehicles was not wholly ceased until Erskine ordered removal of the last wagon gear in 1919. To the cars, Studebaker added a truck line, which later replaced the horse-drawn wagons. Buses, fire engines and even small rail locomotives were produced using the same powerful six-cylinder engines.
In 1925, the corporation's most successful distributor and dealer Paul G Hoffman came to South Bend as vice-president in charge of sales. In 1926, Studebaker became the first automobile manufacturer in the United States to open a controlled outdoor proving ground on which, in 1937, would be planted 5,000 pine trees in a pattern that spelled "STUDEBAKER" when viewed from the air. Also in 1926, the last of the Detroit plant was moved to South Bend under the control of Harold S Vance, vice-president in charge of production and engineering. That year, a new small car, the Erskine Six was launched in Paris, resulting in 26,000 sales abroad and many more in America. By 1929, the sales list had been expanded to 50 models and business was so good that 90 per cent of earnings were being paid out as dividends to shareholders in a highly competitive environment. However, the end of that year ushered in the great depression which saw many layoffs and massive national unemployment for several years.
From the 1920s to the 1960s, the South Bend company originated many style and engineering milestones, including the Light Four, Light Six, Special Six, Big Six models, the record-breaking Commander and President, followed by the 1939 Champion. During World War II, Studebaker produced the Studebaker US6 truck in great quantity and the unique M29 Weasel cargo and personnel carrier. After cessation of hostilities, Studebaker returned to building automobiles that appealed to average Americans.
Plant facilities in the mid-'twenties
Studebaker's total plant area was 225 acres (0.91 km2), spread over three locations, with buildings occupying seven-and-a-half million square feet of floor space. Annual production capacity was 180,000 cars, requiring 23,000 employees.
The original vehicle plant continued to be used for small forgings, springs and making some body parts. Separate buildings totalling over one million square feet were added in 1922-23 for Light, Special and Big Six models. A total of 5,200 bodies were in process at any one time. South Bend's Plant 2 made chassis for the Light Six and had a foundry of 575,000 sq ft (53,400 m2), producing 600 tons of castings daily.
Plant 3 made complete chassis for Special and Big Six models in over 750,000 sq ft (70,000 m2) of floor space. Plant 5 was the service parts store and shipping facility, plus the executive offices of various technical departments. All of the Detroit facilities were moved to South Bend in 1926.
Here, at Plant 7, complete cars were assembled from South Bend, Detroit and locally-made components for Canadian and British Empire (right-hand-drive) trade. By siting it there, Studebaker could advertise the cars as "British-built" and qualify for reduced tariffs.
Studebaker prepared well in advance for the anticipated post-war market and launched the slogan First by far with a post-war car. This was substantiated by Virgil Exner's designs, notably the 1947 Studebaker Starlight coupé, which introduced innovative styling features that influenced later cars, including the flatback "trunk" instead of the tapered look of the time, and a wrap-around rear window. Exner's concepts were spread through a line of models like the 1950 Studebaker Champion Starlight coupe. The new trunk design prompted a running joke that one could not tell if the car was coming or going.
Ballooning labor costs (the company had never had an official United Auto Workers (UAW) strike and Studebaker workers and retirees were among the highest paid in the industry), quality control issues, and the new car sales war between Ford and General Motors in the early 1950s wreaked havoc on Studebaker's balance sheet. Professional financial managers stressed short-term earnings rather than long-term vision. There was enough momentum to keep going for another ten years, but stiff competition and price-cutting by the Big Three doomed the enterprise. There was also a labor strike at the South Bend plant in 1962.
Merger with Packard
Hoping to stem the tide of losses and bolster its market position, Studebaker allowed itself to be acquired in 1954 by Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit. The merged entity was called the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. Studebaker's cash position was far worse than it led Packard to believe and, in 1956, the nearly bankrupt company signed a 3-year management contract with aircraft maker Curtiss-Wright to improve its finances. C-W's president, Roy T. Hurley, attempted to cure Studebaker's ruinously lax employment policies. The company became the American importer for Mercedes-Benz, Auto Union, and DKW automobiles and many Studebaker dealers sold those brands as well. C-W gained the use of idle car plants, and tax relief on their aircraft profits while Studebaker received further working capital to continue car production. C-W sold the Detroit Packard plant and the famous Packard proving grounds at Utica. The 1958 model year would be the last for the Packard brand, although the company continued to bear the Studebaker-Packard name through 1962.
With an abundance of tax credits in hand from years of financial losses, at the insistence of the company's banks and some members of the board of directors, Studebaker-Packard began diversifying away from automobiles in the late 1950s. While this was good for the corporate bottom line, it virtually guaranteed there would be little spending on Studebaker's automobiles.
The automobiles that came after the diversification process began, including the ingeniously-designed compact Lark (1959) and even the Avanti sports car (1963), were based on old chassis and engine designs. The Lark, in particular, was based on existing parts to the degree that it even utilized the central body section of the company's 1953-58 cars, but was a clever enough design to be quite popular in its first year, selling over 150,000 units and delivering an unexpected $28 million profit to the automaker.
See also Studebaker Canada Ltd.
On August 18, 1948, surrounded by more than 400 employees and a battery of reporters, the first vehicle, a blue Champion four-door sedan, rolled off of the Studebaker assembly line in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The company was located in the former Otis-Fenson military weapons factory off Burlington Street on Victoria Avenue North, which was built in 1941. Having previously operated its British Empire export assembly plant at Walkerville, Ontario, Studebaker settled on Hamilton as a post-war Canadian manufacturing site because of its steel industry. The company was known for making automotive innovations and building solid, distinctive cars. 1950 was its best year, but the descent was quick. By 1954, Studebaker was in the red and merging with Packard, another troubled car manufacturer. In 1963, the company moved all car operations to Hamilton. The Canadian operation had always been profitable and Studebaker sought to curtail disastrous losses. The plant introduced a second shift, lifting production from 48 to 96 cars daily.
The last car off the line was a turquoise Lark cruiser on March 16, 1966. Studebaker announced the shutdown of its last car factory on March 4. It was terrible news for the 700 workers who had formed a true family at the company, known for its employee parties and day trips. It was a huge blow to the city, too. Studebaker was Hamilton's tenth largest employer at the time.
By the early 1960s, Studebaker had begun to diversify away from automobiles. Numerous companies were purchased, bringing Studebaker into such diverse fields as the manufacture of tire studs and missile components.
The company's 1963 annual report listed the following divisions:
Clarke - Floor Machine Division, Muskegon, Michigan
CTL - Missile/Space Technology Division, Cincinnati, Ohio
Franklin - Appliance Division, Minneapolis, Minnesota (home office; other locations also in Minnesota, Iowa and Ontario)
Gravely - Tractors Division, Dunbar, West Virginia and Albany, Georgia
International - South Bend, Indiana (handled business matters for all divisions doing business overseas)
Onan - Engine/Generator Division, Minneapolis, Minnesota
STP - Scientifically Treated Products Division, Des Plaines, Illinois and Santa Monica, California
Schaefer - Commercial Refrigeration Division, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Aberdeen, Maryland
Studebaker of Canada - Automotive Manufacturing, Hamilton, Ontario
SASCO - Studebaker Automotive Sales Corp., South Bend, Indiana
Studegrip - Tire Stud Division, South Bend, Indiana, Jefferson, Iowa and Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Franklin Appliance Company manufactured home appliances such as refrigerators until its sale to White Consolidated Industries.
Having built the Wright R-1820 under license during World War II, Studebaker also attempted to build what would perhaps have been the largest aircraft engine ever built. With 24 cylinders in an "H" configuration and a bore of 8 in (203 mm), stroke of 7.75 in (197 mm), displacement would have been 9,349 cubic inches (153.20 L), ergo the H-9350 designation. It was not completed.
Studebaker subsidiaries also manufactured STP automotive additives, Gravely power lawn and garden implements, Onan Electric generators, and Clarke floor machines.
Exit from auto business
Lark sales began to drop precipitously after the big three manufacturers introduced their own compact models in 1960-61. The Lark had provided a temporary reprieve, but nothing proved enough to stop the financial bleeding. Continuing media reports that Studebaker was about to leave the auto business became a self-fulfilling prophecy as buyers shied away from the company's products for fear of being stuck with an "orphan". After poor initial sales of the 1964 models and the ousting of president Sherwood Egbert, the company announced the closure of the South Bend plant on December 9, 1963, and produced its last car in South Bend on December 20. The engine foundry remained open to supply the Canadian plant until the end of the 1964 model year, after which it was also shuttered. The Avanti model name, tooling and plant space were sold off to Leo Newman and Nate Altman, who owned a Studebaker dealership in South Bend. They revived the car in 1965 under the brand name "Avanti II". (See main article Studebaker Avanti.) They likewise purchased the rights and tooling for Studebaker's trucks, although they were never again built after Studebaker fulfilled its remaining orders in early 1964, along with the company's vast stock of parts and accessories.
Automotive production was consolidated at the company's last remaining production facility in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where Studebaker produced cars until March, 1966 under the leadership of Gordon Grundy. It was projected that the Canadian operation could break even on production of about 20,000 cars a year, and Studebaker's announced goal was 30,000-40,000 1965 models. While 1965 production was just shy of the 20,000 figure, the company's directors felt that the small profits were not enough to justify continued investment. After rejecting Grundy's request for funds to tool up for 1967 models, Studebaker left the automobile business on March 16, 1966 after a turquoise and white Cruiser sedan rolled out the door, the last of less than 9,000 1966 models. In reality, the move to Canada was a method by which production could be slowly wound down and remaining dealer franchise obligations honored.
After the final closure, Studebaker turned its focus to the company's myriad of profitable, wholly owned subsidiaries.
Many of Studebaker's dealers either closed, took on other automakers' product lines, or converted to Mercedes-Benz dealerships following the closure of the Canadian plant.
Studebaker's proving grounds were acquired by its former supplier, Bendix Corporation, which later donated the grounds for use as a park to the St. Joseph County, Indiana, parks department. As a condition of the donation, the new park was named Bendix Woods. The grove of 5,000 trees planted in 1937 that spelled out the Studebaker company name still stands and has proven to be a popular topic on such satellite photography sites as Google Earth. Today, the former proving ground is owned by Robert Bosch GmbH and it continues to be active some 80 years after it was built. Its General Products Division, which handled defense contracts, was acquired by Kaiser Industries and continues to this day as AM General.
After 1966, Studebaker continued to exist as a closed investment group, with income derived from its numerous diversified units including STP, Gravely Tractor, Onan Electric Generators, and Clarke Floor Machine. Studebaker was acquired by Wagner Electric in 1967. Subsequently, Studebaker was then merged with the Worthington Corporation to form Studebaker-Worthington. The Studebaker name disappeared from the American business scene in 1979, when McGraw-Edison acquired Studebaker-Worthington. McGraw-Edison was itself purchased in 1985 by Cooper Industries, which sold off its auto-parts divisions to Federal-Mogul some years later.
Attempt to perpetuate the Studebaker name
A series of vehicles was manufactured and identified as Studebakers by the purchasers of the Avanti brand and surplus material from Studebaker at South Bend. (See article section on Avanti II and XUV.)
The remains of the auto maker still exist as Studebaker-Worthington Leasing, a subsidiary of Main Street Bank - Kingwood Texas, which provides leasing services for manufacturers and resellers of business products and industrial products.