Studebaker was a United States wagon and automobile manufacturer that was incorporated on February 16, 1852. The Company left the automobile business in 1966.
Henry Studebaker was a farmer, blacksmith, and wagon-maker who lived near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the early 19th century. By 1840 he had moved to Ohio and taught his five sons to make wagons. They all went into that business as they grew westward with the country.
Clement and Henry, Jr. became blacksmiths and foundrymen at South Bend, Indiana. They first made metal parts for freight wagons and later expanded into the manufacture of wagons. John made wagons in California and Peter in St. Joseph, Missouri. The first major expansion in their business came from their being in place to meet the needs of the California Gold Rush in 1849.
When the gold rush settled down, John returned to Indiana and bought out Henry's share of the business. They brought in their youngest brother Jacob and incorporated in 1852. Expansion continued to support westward migration, but the next major increase came from supplying wagons for the Union Army in the American Civil War. After the war they reviewed what they had accomplished and set a direction for the company.
The reorganized into the Studebaker Brother's Manufacturing Company in 1868, built around the motto of "Always give more than you promise". By this time the railroad and steamship companies had become the big freight movers in the east. So they set their sights on supplying individuals and farmers the ability to move themselves and their goods. Peter's business became a branch operation. During the height of westward migration and Wagon Train pioneering, half of the wagons were Studebakers. They made about a quarter of them, and manufactured the metal fittings to sell to other builders in Missouri for another quarter.
The company experimented with motor vehicles as early as 1897. Early in the 20th century they began to make trucks. They also brought their sons, sister's husbands, and nephews into the business, reorganizing again in 1911 into the Studebaker Corporation. By the 1920s they were manufacturing automobiles, trucks, and parts.
Studebaker auto, from 1920 magazine ad
From the 1920s to the 1960s many style and engineering innovations came off the South Bend and other assembly lines. Studebaker continued to build models that supported the average American and their need for transportation and mobility. But in the 1950s it stopped being a family owned company after four generations. 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.
1953 Studebaker Commander, showing the streamlined design of the 1950s Studebaker
The company merged with the Packard Motor Car Company in 1956, and was named Studebaker-Packard through 1962, although the Packard line of cars had been dropped in 1958. Financial constraints dictated that new models, including the compact "Lark" (1959) and "Avanti" sports car (1963) be based on old chassis and engine designs, and were not enough to stop the financial bleeding. The company closed its operations in South Bend in December 1963, and continued production at its Canadian factory in Hamilton, Ontario until May, 1966, when it left the automobile business. The company continued as Studebaker-Worthington until being acquired by McGraw-Edison in 1979, and McGraw-Edison was in turn acquired in 1985 by Cooper Industries, which sold off all its auto-parts divisions to Federal-Mogul some years later. There is apparently also some affiliation to a closed investment firm that has undergone many name changes. What is left today is a museum in South Bend, Indiana.The Avanti models have been produced by other owners off and on since Studebaker folded,but no longer in South Bend.
See also: List of automobiles