The Studebaker Corporation produced its first automobile in 1902 – an electric model with a range of 30 miles and a top speed of 20 MPH. Its final U. S. Car rolled off the line in 1966. Much of production took place in South Bend, Indiana.
At its peak in the 1950s, the Studebaker Corporation ranked as one of the top ten automobile manufacturers in the United States in terms of sales volume. In 1950, Studebaker was the sixth-largest car manufacturer in the country, and in 1959, it was the 10th largest. During this time, Studebaker was producing a range of popular models, including the Champion, Commander, and the stylish Avanti sports car.
In 1901, the Studebaker Brothers partnered with engineer Colonel Albert Pope to create the first all-steel automobiles, the Studebaker Electric. The vehicle was well-received by the public and went on to become a very successful model for the company.
In 1904, the Studebaker Brothers released their first gasoline-powered automobile, the Studebaker Landaulet, and continued to produce both electric and gasoline-powered vehicles. Development and Expansion In 1911, the Studebaker Brothers established the Studebaker Corporation, essentially combining the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company and the Pope Motor Company. The new corporation focused on improving the existing Studebaker automobiles as well as developing new models.
One year later, the Studebaker Corporation opened a new factory in Detroit, Michigan, to better serve the growing Midwest automobile market. At this time, Studebaker was one of the leading automobile manufacturers in the United States—the company produced some of the most popular cars in the country.
Soon, Studebaker was exporting its vehicles to other countries, and by 1915 had sold over 12,000 cars abroad. In the 1920s, Studebaker expanded its presence further, entering the commercial truck market as well as the luxury car market. The company also built a new manufacturing facility in Indiana, where it produced the successful Studebaker Line-Eight and Studebaker President models.
By the 1930s, the Studebaker Corporation was in financial trouble. The Great Depression had caused a sharp drop in sales, forcing the company to introduce a new, more affordable model—the Studebaker Champion. Although the Champion was a success, its sales did not make up for the losses suffered during the Depression. In 1940, the company made the decision to focus on producing military vehicles for the United States during World War II. Studebaker produced more than 5,400 military vehicles during the war and earned contracts to produce aircraft engines and armaments.
After the war, Studebaker returned to automobile production, introducing the 1947 models of the Champion and Commander. The 1950s were a period of growth and innovation for the Studebaker Corporation. The company introduced a wide range of cars, including the stylish Starlight Coupe, and experimented with new designs such as the avant-garde Avanti sports car.
Although Studebaker was able to stay profitable during this period, the company was unable to compete with the larger manufacturers like Ford and General Motors. In 1966, the Studebaker Corporation ceased automobile production.
A Company of Innovation
Studebaker introduced several innovations to the automobile industry over the years, including:
Electric Cars: Studebaker was one of the first American companies to produce electric cars, beginning in 1902.
Four-Wheel Brakes: in the 1920s, Studebaker and Duesenberg were among the the first companies to offer four-wheel hydraulic brakes on their cars.
Hill Holder: Studebaker introduced the Hill Holder system in 1936, which kept the car from rolling back on an incline when starting from a stop.
Automatic Transmission: In 1950, Studebaker was one of the first car manufacturers to offer an automatic transmission, which they called the “Automatic Drive.”
Seat Belts: Studebaker was one of the first car makers to offer seat belts as a standard feature on their vehicles in 1950.
Front-Wheel Drive: Studebaker introduced front-wheel drive on their cars in 1963, making them one of the first American manufacturers to do so.
Avanti Design: The Studebaker Avanti, introduced in 1962, was designed by famous industrial designer Raymond Loewy and featured a sleek, aerodynamic body style that was ahead of its time.
The Studebaker Family and Their Businesses Before Automobiles
The German forebears of the brothers that would form the automobile company were named Studebecker. The name change came later.
Peter Studebecker, age 38, stepped off the Dutch ship Harle in 1736 at the port of Philadelphia, along with members of his family. Records show was was a wagon-maker back in those days. So it was a natural progression for his descendants to migrate to automobiles.
The family moved west to Ohio and eventually Indiana. The Studebaker brothers, Henry and Clement, started the H&C Studebaker company in South Bend, Indiana, in 1852, which produced high-quality wagons and carriages.
Over time, the company grew and expanded its product line to include other transportation-related items, such as harnesses and buggies. The Studebaker company became known for its durability, quality, and innovation, and it eventually became one of the largest wagon manufacturers in the United States.
During the American Civil War, the Studebaker company supplied wagons to the Union Army, which helped to establish its reputation as a reliable and patriotic company. After the war, the company continued to expand and innovate, introducing new products and developing new markets.
The Studebaker company also produced bicycles for a short period of time. In the late 1890s, the popularity of bicycles was growing rapidly, and many companies that had previously been involved in other forms of transportation began to produce bicycles as well. The Studebaker company was no exception, and they introduced a line of high-quality bicycles in 1897.
Studebaker’s bicycles were marketed as being reliable and durable, much like their wagons and carriages. However, the company’s foray into the bicycle market was short-lived, as they decided to focus more on the rapidly growing automobile industry.
The Studebaker Corporation changed ownership several times throughout its history. Here is a brief overview of its corporate ownership over the years:
1852-1911: Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, founded by brothers Henry, Clement, and John Studebaker, was a major manufacturer of wagons and carriages in the United States. The company began experimenting with automobiles in the early 1900s and officially entered the automobile market in 1902.
1911-1933: The Studebaker Corporation was formed in 1911 when the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company merged with several other companies to form a larger corporation. During this time, Studebaker continued to produce automobiles and also expanded into other lines of business, including military vehicles and refrigeration equipment.
1933-1954: In 1933, Studebaker went into receivership and was purchased by a group of investors who reorganized the company as Studebaker Corporation. During this time, Studebaker became a major producer of military vehicles during World War II and experienced a period of significant growth in the post-war era.
1954-1967: In 1954, Studebaker merged with the Packard Motor Car Company to form Studebaker-Packard Corporation. However, the merger was not successful, and the company struggled financially in the 1960s. In 1962, the company discontinued the Packard brand and focused on the Studebaker brand. In 1967, Studebaker-Packard sold its automobile division to the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which continued to produce the Avanti model until 1966.
1967-present: After selling its automobile division, Studebaker-Packard changed its name to the Studebaker Corporation and continued to produce other products, including diesel engines and industrial equipment. The company went through several mergers and acquisitions in the following years and ultimately became part of the McGraw-Edison Company in 1979. The Studebaker brand is no longer in use, and the company is no longer in operation.
- Year Started: 1902
- Year Ended: 1966
- Origin Of Name: Family Name
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Studebaker Family
- Owner While In Use: Publicly Traded
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Tesla
- Naics Code: 336110
- Location Headquarters: South Bend, Indiana, USA