Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Studebaker… and then Some
By Gary Ledbetter
1857: James Buchanan was inaugurated as the 15th US President. William Howard Taft was born. Mark Twain began his apprenticeship to become a river boat captain. The National Deaf Mute College was established in Washington DC; later to be renamed Gallaudet University. Elisha Otis's first elevator was installed in New York. Joseph Gayetty developed and marketed something each and everyone of us use every single day! It was sold in packages of flat sheets costing $.50 a box, and originally contained aloe as a lubricant. It was marketed as an anti-hemorrhoid medical treatment - today we call it toilet paper. The world saw the very first Studebaker vehicle...a wagon.
This was a difficult one. I started out writing about my two favorite Studebakers – the 1954 Champion Regal Starliner and the 1956 Golden Hawk. Fortunately, or some may think unfortunately, I got caught up in the Studebaker history. So, for now, I will be discussing history.
Were gonna go back here; in fact were going to go waaay back to 1736. It was in September of that year that the ship Harle, from Holland docked at the Port of Philadelphia carrying five members of the Studebecker family: Peter (Sr. and Jr.), Clement, Henry, Anna Margetha, and Anna Catherine. For reasons unknown to this writer (although I have my suspicions) they changed the spelling of their last name from Studebecker to Studebaker. Peter Sr. and Peter Jr. were wagon makers, which were what the entire Studebaker corporation was based.
We are now going to skip down a few years. John, who was the son of Peter had sons with his wife Rebecca. John, in turn taught his boys to make wagons. Surprisingly all five boys went into the business or related business and, as we all know, it grew into a very large corporation. The five sons were named (in order) Henry, Clement, John Mohler, Peter Everest and Jacob Franklin. There were also five sisters. Now, I never claimed to be a math whiz, but in my books that equals TEN kids! (Makes me wonder what good old John did in his spare time!). Clement and Henry became blacksmiths and initially made the metal parts for the wagons. Later on they made the whole enchilada.
One of the things that bolstered Hank and Clem's business was the California Gold Rush of 1849. John M. was already out in California making wheelbarrows . Somehow John managed to agglomerate $8000, a goodly sum in those days, with his California business. Then, in 1858 he simply quit and moved out to finance the vehicle manufactured by H & C Studebaker. This business was already rapidly expanding due to big wagon orders from the U.S. Army. A year earlier they built their first carriage; and claimed the following about it... I quote, "fancy, hand-worked iron trim, the kind of courting buggy any boy or girl would be proud to be seen in"....or in other words something like the '54 Starliner or the "56 Golden Hawk.
About this time John bought out Hank. Hank was willing to sell for three primary reasons: First, Henry (Hank) didn't think their product should be used to aid in the war effort; Second, Henry was getting tired of the wagon business and wanted to go into farming, and Three, the business was growing rapidly and he didn't want any part of it. (I have a hard time understanding that one.) To illustrate just how fast the business was growing, it is estimated that during the western migration, about half of the wagons used were Studebakers!
Remember Peter Everest? He did not originally go into the wagon business. He became a haberdasher, (for you younger whipper-snappers out there, that's a dealer in mens clothing). Somewhere along the line he decided he would add to his business by becoming a dealer for the wagons. When the Civil War came along orders exploded. By 1860 they had $350,000 in sales. Now, that may not sound like a lot today but if we factor in inflation that would be equivalent to $9,667,232.49 in 2016...a figure I have a hard time getting my head around! That year the three older brothers formed the Studebaker Brother Manufacturing Company. Clem became the president, Peter the secretary and John M. the treasurer.
By the year 1875 the brothers decided to bring in the youngest brother, 30 year old Jacob. Jake was responsible for the carriage factory which manufactured sulkies and five-glass landaus. Ok, enough poking fun at the whipper-snappers, even us old codgers probably don't know what a sulkie or a Fiveglass landaus is. A Sulky is a light two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle for one person used chiefly in harness racing and a fiveglass landaus is a carriage fitted with a front glass windscreen and two windows on each side which included a retractable window on Studebaker plant around the turn of the century the doors – in other words a wagon for thevery well healed!
In 1874 a major fire destroyed about 2/3 of the factory, but the brothers rebuilt in solid brick... the thing covered 20 acres! It then became known as the largest vehicle house in the world.
The Studebaker customer could chose from Sulkies, Broughams, Clarences, Phaetons, Runabouts, Victorias, and Tandems (you can Google those). If you happen to have an extra $20K (that's $418,240.69 today...and you thought that Lamborghini was expensive!) you could buy a "four-in-hand" which could handle up to a dozen passengers, and sported red wheels, gold-plated lamps and yellow trim.
New technology of the 1880 changed the roads by surfacing them with tar, gravel, and wooden blocks. Even though the economy was slowing, that didn't stop the Studebaker brothers from expanding even more. Jacob opened a carriage sales and service operation in the new "Studebaker Building" on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. The building sported two granite columns at the main entrance that were 3 feet 8 inches in diameter and nearly 13 feet high. It was said they were the largest polished monolithic shafts in the country. Old Jacob didn't get to enjoy it too much, though; he died three years later. It was the first death among the brothers.
Studebaker wagons were becoming so popular that President Harrison ordered a full set of carriages and harness for the White House. As the 20th Century approached, the South Bend plant "covered nearly 100 acres with 20 big boilers, 16 dynamos, 16 large stationary engines, 1000 pulleys, 600 wood and iron working machines, 7 miles of belting, dozens of steam pumps, and 500 arc and incandescent lamps.
Most of us probably didn't know but in 1893 a worldwide depression hit and caused a significant jolt in sales. It was so bad that Studebaker closed down the plant for 5 weeks but had so much support that the workforce maintained their loyalty showing their faith in their employer.
1920: Big news---You can't produce or consume alcohol; or in other words Prohibition started! This was the only decade with a nickname: the "Roaring Twenties". The League of Nations was established. The US had a women de-facto president... First Lady Edith Wilson serving out Woodrow's 1.5 year remaining term. J. Edgar Hoover began his ascent. Women gained the right to vote. The mass media was born. A guy named Ponzi started experimenting. Jazz was the rage. People were listening to Makin Woopee by Eddie Cantor, and Old Man River by Paul Robeson. Bread was 12¢/loaf, butter 70¢/pound, milk 33¢/gal, and round beef steak was 41¢/pound. A house set you back $3000. A school teacher made $970 per year. By 1925 that really cool little Ford Fliver you had your eye on will set you back $300.
Between 1887 and 1917 all the brothers died with John Mohler being the last. Not wanting to leave their business high and dry the sons and sons-in-law continued building the business and were instrumental in taking it to the next step...motor cars. An "outsider" and worse yet a lawyer, Fred Fish married into the family and along with the sons served as apprenticeships in various departments and rose to high places in the corporation. (sidebar...Did you know that some scientist are no longer using lab rats in their experiments. They using attorneys instead...there's just some things a rat won't do!)
In 1895, the very distinguished (trying to redeem myself here) lawyer Fish began pushing for a horseless carriage. Fish was apparently quite persuasive for upon the death of Peter Studebaker, Fish became chairman of the executive committee. About this same time the firm had an engineer working on a horseless carriage. Initially they went the electric route and manufactured the Studebaker Electric from 1902 to 1911. About this same time they went into the body-manufacturing and distribution business with two companies that were making gasoline-powered vehicles - Garford and the Everitt-Metzger- Flanders (E-M-F) companies. As a result of this union in 1904 Studebaker begin making gas powered cars with Garford.
The honeymoon with Garford didn't last too long. The Studebaker/Garford agreement stated that Garford would would receive the complete chassis and drive trains from an out of state company and then would assemble them under the Studebaker body. This culminated in the Studebaker-Garford brand, which was an upscale product. Somewhere along the line, Garford also started making their own engines and put the Studebaker name on them. About 1907 Garford began building and marketing their own cars which of course took a bite out of Studebaker. Once this came to light, John Mohler stepped in and put a stop to the contract violation, and to later terminate the contract with Garford. Although my research doesn't exactly so indicate, I suspect that the decision to drop Garford's contract stemmed from Garford's questionable business practices. The last Garford product was produced in 1911. Garford was left hanging in the wind until it was acquired by John North Willys in 1913
Things didn't go exactly peachy with EM- F either. John had high hopes that the relationship with E-M-F would blossom into a relationship that would provide his company with a quality product without the problems that were associated with Garford. John's agreement with E-M-F stated that the latter would manufacture the product and John and his company would sell them exclusively 1908 Studebaker- Garford through his wagon dealers. Initially things moved along very well, but within a fairly short time the E-M-F engine started failing...badly
EDITOR'S NOTE: AT THIS POINT WE WILL HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON AND TELL YOU MORE OF THE STORY IN THE NEXT ISSUE OF CRUZIN.