On February 16, 1852, Henry and Clement Studebaker opened the H & C Studebaker blacksmith shop at the corner of Michigan and Jefferson Streets in South Bend, Indiana. Younger brothers Peter, John Mohler and Jacob would later join the firm, and the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, as it would later be known, became the world’s largest manufacturer of wagons and buggies.
The Electric Car
The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company entered the automobile market with an electric car in 1902. Thomas Edison purchased the second electric car produced by Studebaker. Gasoline powered models arrived in 1904 as Studebaker offered a full line of horse drawn and self-propelled vehicles until 1920. During this era, Studebaker automobiles were produced in Detroit, while the South Bend plant remained devoted to horse drawn vehicles. The company’s name changed once again in 1911 to The Studebaker Corporation.
Horse drawn production ended in 1920, and during this decade Studebaker began shifting automobile production from Detroit to South Bend. Although the 1920s were very profitable years for Studebaker, the effects of the Great Depression saw Studebaker enter receivership in 1933. Company Vice Presidents Paul Hoffman and Harold Vance were appointed receivers and led Studebaker back to solvency by 1935.
Photo shows Thomas Edison, left, who purchased the second electric car produced by Studebaker.
In 1936, Studebaker retained Raymond Loewy Associates to oversee its design department. Loewy and his team created many Studebaker icons – the 1939 Champion, the 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1950 “Bullet Nose”, the 1953 Starliner Hardtop and the 1963 Avanti.
The Amphibious Weasel
The onset of World War II saw Studebaker produce military vehicles and equipment, just as it had for every conflict since the Civil War. While previous wars relied on horse drawn vehicles, Studebaker’s World War II defense contracts called for B-17 Flying Fortress engines, US6 6x6 military trucks and the M29 and M29C “Weasel”.
Pictured is the amphibious M29C Weasel
The 1950 “Bullet Nose” Land Cruiser
Following the war, Studebaker introduced all-new styling for the 1947 model year and established itself as a styling leader. The 1950 models introduced the famous “bullet nose” styling, while 1951 marked the introduction of Studebaker’s V8 engine.
Despite its reputation as styling leader, Studebaker faced stiff competition in the 1950s along with falling sales. A merger with the Packard Motor Car Company came in 1954, but Studebaker-Packard would fare no better. Strong losses continued, and the Packard brand was terminated in 1958.
Pictured is a 1950 “Bullet Nose” Land Cruiser
1959 Lark Regal Hardtop
Studebaker rebounded in 1959 with the compact Lark. However, the competition introduced their compacts in 1960, pushing Studebaker back into the red.
Pictured is a 1959 Lark Regal Hardtop
1963 Studebaker Avanti
Studebaker introduced the sporty Avanti in May of 1962 in an attempt to reverse its slide. However, Studebaker’s financial problems continued, and in December of 1963, Studebaker closed its South Bend plant. Production continued at Studebaker’s Hamilton, Ontario factory until the last Studebaker was completed on March 17, 1966.
Pictured is a 1963 Studebaker Avanti
The Studebaker National Museum History
The Studebaker National Museum traces its roots to the late 19th century when Clement Studebaker purchased the Lincoln and Lafayette carriages. By the 1960s, the collection numbered 37 vehicles and included four presidential carriages, the first and last automobiles built in South Bend, and the last Studebaker ever built.
Pictured is The Studebaker Corporation’s Museum ca. 1920.
The Studebaker Corporation donated its collection and Archives to the City of South Bend in late 1966. The collection was housed at a number of South Bend locations thereafter, including Studebaker’s former Administration Building, the City of South Bend Water Works Maintenance Shop, the former Drewery’s Brewery, Century Center’s Discovery Hall and the former Freeman-Spicer Studebaker dealership building.
The Studebaker National Museum opened its new home in October of 2005 adjacent to the Center for History at the corner of Thomas and Chapin Streets in downtown South Bend.
Pictured is the new Studebaker National Museum.
The Studebaker National Museum Archives contain the surviving corporate archives of the Studebaker Corporation, the Packard Motor Car Company and other local industries. The Archives holds manuscripts, still and moving images, engineering and production records, financial records, advertising materials and corporate publications. The Archives opened its new home across the street from The Studebaker National Museum in October of 2007.
The Studebaker National Museum operates as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation.
History of the Collection
The Studebaker National Museum’s collection traces its roots back to the late 1880s when Clement Studebaker purchased the Lafayette and Lincoln carriages. These carriages were initially displayed at Studebaker’s Chicago Repository located on Michigan Avenue (now known as the Fine Arts Building) and later housed at the company’s South Bend Administration Building following its completion in 1910. The Studebaker Corporation’s collection grew to 37 vehicles when automobile production ended in March of 1966. These 37 vehicles are referred to as the “Original Collection.”
Later that year, The Studebaker Corporation’s collection and company archives were given to the city of South Bend. The agreement stipulated that the city provide a “suitable home” to house and display the vehicles. The collection had several different homes during the next forty years including the former Studebaker Administration Building, South Bend’s Century Center convention center and the former Freeman-Spicer Studebaker dealership. In October of 2005, The Studebaker National Museum opened its new state-of-the-art facility in South Bend’s West Washington Street Historic District.
Today, The Studebaker National Museum’s collection boasts over 120 vehicles, with approximately 70 on display at one time. Most of the vehicles are owned by the City of South Bend and The Studebaker National Museum, with a few being on loan from other museums and private individuals.