The History of Studebaker Automobiles

April 15th, 2024 by

Updated: April 15, 2024

Have you ever heard of Studebaker? Do you know the rich history behind this iconic American automobile brand?

Studebaker was once one of the biggest names in the automotive industry, manufacturing cars for over 100 years. From its humble beginnings in the mid-1800s as a wagon manufacturer, to its heyday in the 1950s and 60s as a leading innovator in car design, the Studebaker brand has a fascinating story to tell.

The History Of Studebaker

The History Of Studebaker

In this article, we will dive into the history of Studebaker, exploring its rise to fame, its contributions to the automotive industry, and the factors that led to its eventual demise. Whether you’re a car enthusiast or simply curious about the history of the American industry, this article is sure to provide an interesting and informative look into one of the most iconic names in automotive history.

The Studebaker Timeline 

H & C Studebaker Blacksmith shop opens – 1852

In 1852, brothers Clement and Henry Studebaker opened a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. They made wagons for farmers and the military, and their business thrived during the Civil War.

John M. Studebaker joins the firm – 1858

John M. Studebaker, of the iconic Studebaker automotive family fortune, became a pivotal member of the family enterprise in 1858 when he purchased Henry’s share of their existing business. Prior to John’s arrival, the firm had been heavily involved in creating and repairing wagons for communities around Pennsylvania and Virginia. Although his brothers Peter and Clement remained active in the company during this period, John’s experience working at a forge and finishing wagon wheels near Pittsburgh propelled him to take over Henry’s portion of their partnership.

Studebaker Electric – 1902

In 1902, Studebaker entered the automobile market with the introduction of the Studebaker Electric, a battery-powered car that was ahead of its time. However, it was not until 1904 that Studebaker began to produce gasoline-powered cars.

Studebaker acquires Everitt-Metzker-Flanders Company – 1911

In 1911, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company acquired the Everitt-Metzker-Flanders Company of Detroit in order to form The Studebaker Corporation. This acquisition created a powerhouse for the automotive industry, allowing for greater manufacturing capabilities as well as strong financial backing. With its newfound strength, the company was able to successfully introduce a line of gasoline and steam cars that quickly became popular across multiple countries, including the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Light Six is Studebaker’s first South Bend-built automobile – 1920

During the 1920s, Studebaker became a major player in the automobile industry, thanks to the introduction of the successful Studebaker Big Six. In 1928, Studebaker acquired luxury automaker Pierce-Arrow, which added to its prestige. However, the Great Depression hit the company hard, and Studebaker was forced to lay off thousands of workers.

In the 1930s, Studebaker introduced the Studebaker President, a luxury car that became an instant classic. The company also began to experiment with new designs, such as the bullet-nose styling that became a signature look for Studebaker in the 1940s.

Studebaker enters a five-car team at the Indianapolis 500 – 1932

In 1932, Studebaker made history by becoming the first automobile manufacturer to enter a five-car team at the Indianapolis 500. The factory-backed team included Cliff Bergere in the #22 Domino Special, Leon Duray and Wilbur Shaw in #21 and #18 Bergdahl Specials, respectively, Zeke Meyer in #6 Liberty Motor Special, and Lou Moore in the Martz Spl.

Studebaker begins retooling for wartime production – 1942

During World War II, Studebaker shifted its production to military vehicles, such as the famous Studebaker US6 truck. After the war, Studebaker continued to innovate, with the introduction of the popular Studebaker Starliner and the Studebaker Hawk in the 1950s.

Studebaker is “First by Far with a Postwar Car” – 1946

Studebaker had been a leader in the automotive industry prior to World War II, but their greatest breakthrough came with the release of their first postwar car – the 1947 Champions and Commanders. Released in May of 1946, Studebaker made sure that they were first by far when it came to introducing a car after wartime manufacturing restrictions had lifted. The Commanders and Champions feature an all-new design that was radical compared to what was typically seen on American roads at the time. This bold redesign was thanks to Raymond Loewy Associates and their extensive focus on creating an aesthetic that symbolized modernity and no-nonsense efficiency while still maintaining a distinct “American” style.

By going “first by far,” Studebaker established itself as a pioneer in postwar car design, quickly becoming recognized for their stylishly efficient models. The boldness of Studebaker’s styling for 1947 caught the public’s attention, with America showing its appreciation for not only this design type but also for being ahead of the curve. This early lead is what paved the way for Studebaker to be successful throughout much of the 1950s and beyond. 

However, by the 1960s, Studebaker was struggling to compete with the larger automotive companies. In 1961, Studebaker merged with Packard, but the partnership was short-lived. In 1963, Studebaker announced that it would cease production of passenger cars, and in 1966, the company closed its doors for good.

Despite its eventual demise, the Studebaker name remains a beloved part of American automotive history. Today, Studebaker cars are highly sought after by collectors, and the company’s legacy lives on in the memories of those who owned or admired these iconic vehicles.

The history of Studebaker is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of American entrepreneurs. From a small blacksmith shop to a major player in the automotive industry, Studebaker left an indelible mark on the world of cars and trucks. While the company may be gone, its legacy lives on in the hearts of car enthusiasts around the world.

Take A Ride Through Automobile History with the Studebaker

La Fontaine Classic Cars offer a unique opportunity to experience the thrill of owning and driving vintage and classic cars. It is the perfect destination for car enthusiasts and collectors with a wide selection of iconic models. Contact us today to explore our inventory of classic vehicles.

Alternatively, you can also sell us your classic vehicle. We can pick up your car from any location in the U.S.

 Image Credit: Ben Mater – Shutterstock

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