Saturday, July 22, 2023

Studebaker Museum

The same day we toured the Indiana State capitol in Indianapolis, we continued north to visit South Bend, Indiana.  We were looking forward to seeing the University of Notre Dame and the Studebaker Museum.

Along the way we decided we couldn’t do both in the afternoon and chose to see the Studebaker Museum that day and then see Notre Dame the next morning before we left town for Lansing MI.

Once inside a museum, we paid the admission and proceeded through artifacts on display.
At the start was the orientation video, 
which provided an overview and / or basic layout of the museum.  
The museum has three stories with an upstairs and a basement, all housing different items.  We stopped near the beginning of the self guided tour trail to see the brief film.  

The video described the history of the Studebakers who migrated from Europe (Germany) in 1736 and landed in Philadelphia.  By the 1850’s the family descendants were in Southbend and worked as blacksmiths, and carriage and wagon builders.  The family was long associated with the transportation business including road building, wagon and various carriage designs.  Who knew?  

The Studebaker company was actually founded in 1852 when the Studebaker brothers built their first two wagons for business owners and for traveling throughout the country.  The American West was full of Prairie Schooners and Conestoga wagons built in the Studebaker factory in South Bend.
One of the first displays showed a summary of the Studebaker story.
The Studebaker land holdings and factories of the wagon and horse drawn carriages industry continued to expand throughout the region in the mid to late 1800s. 

At the turn of the century, the Studebaker company transitioned to the automobile and became “ the automobile with a reputation behind it".  It was a big gamble.  It was highly success company with wagon and carriages and then it looked to the future and took on a whole new challenge.

Wikipedia says, "The Studebakers 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. In 1918, the annual capacity of the seven Studebaker plants was 100,000 automobiles, 75,000 horse-drawn vehicles, and about $10,000,000 worth of automobile and vehicle spare parts ($194,557,522 in 2022 dollars). In the preceding seven years, 466,962 horse-drawn vehicles had been sold, as against 277,035 automobiles, but the trend was all too clear. The regular manufacture of horse-drawn vehicles ended when Erskine ordered the removal of the last wagon gear in 1919. To its range of cars, Studebaker would now add a truck line to replace the horse-drawn wagons. Busesfire engines, and even small rail locomotive-kits were produced using the same powerful six-cylinder engines.

 Not too far from the beginning one of the many carriage models caught our eye:  The 1857 Studebaker Phaeton.  
Fast forward to the RV industry and Tiffin Motorhomes-- the maker of the Allegro Bus motorhome which we drove around the country for 10 years.  Tiffin also made the wildly successful Phaeton model which was introduced in 2001 as the company’s industry level diesel pusher. I had never heard the name  Phaeton before we started RVing and I wonder if somehow they derived the name from the Studebakers?

Back to the museum:

In the late 1800’s, the Studebaker company continued to grow and expand and had contracts with the government to build military and related vehicles during World War I.  It, like the world wide economy, ran into tough times during the Great Depression and made its way back in part from government contracts during World War II.

The museum was a mind-boggling because of so many makes and models of wagons, carriages, and then automobiles--it was astonishing.  Read about it the list of all their makes and models through the years here.  You might be interested to know they built electric cars (battery) from 1902-1912!

Here’s a sampling of the photos of I took of the amazing cars:

Our family bought a Studebaker in the 1960’s which was some variation of the Lark model.

As we walked through the three floors of the museum I was struck by just how many models the comnpany had made over the years.  I spent six years working for Electronic Data Systems (EDS) after my Air Force career and joined just after a new CEO was hired.  The EDS was on the decline and one of the first things the new boss did was have an “all-hands” meeting and announce the company was going to downsize.  He said the company was going to shed its non-essential segments that did not contribute to its "core values".  We had so many different and completely unique divisions and business units, we had lost our identity. Our profitable was suffering because of it.  So he fixed it and a few years later the company was sold to Hewlett-Packard.

I wondered if the large number of makes and models was a not a major issue for the Studemaker company in the 1950’s and 1960’s?  It faced declining sales and lower market share to the point where it produced its last vehicle in 1966.
We thought the museum was very well organized and worth seeing.  We are glad we stopped by and learned a little more about one of the car companies that was once a leader in the industry.


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