By: J.L. Jacobson

    Studebaker began doing business in February, 1852, when Henry and Clem Studebaker opened a blacksmith shop in a small Indiana town located on the "south bend" of the St. Joseph River, near the Michigan border. On that first day of business, they made 25 cents profit for shoeing one horse, but by the end of that year they had built and sold two wagons. Three more brothers soon joined the business, most notably John M. Studebaker, known as "Wheelbarrow Johnny." He made a fortune ($8,000) producing and selling wheelbarrows to miners during the California gold rush, and brought much needed capital back to South Bend. John ran the company long after the other brothers passed away, and survived until March, 1917. He took the company into the auto business, although it continued building wagons until 1920. If you ever saw a Budweiser beer wagon pulled by Clydesdale horses, then you probably saw a Studebaker wagon.

    Peter Studebaker took charge of sales by writing an offer in which he agreed to sell "all the wagons my brother Clem can make" and received a promise from Clem who agreed to make "all the wagons my brother Peter can sell." Fortunately, no attorneys were involved in that transaction, and as a result Studebaker soon became the world's largest manufacturer of horse-drawn wagons, buggies and carriages. By 1878, their 98-acre factory in South Bend had the capacity to build 75,000 vehicles annually with gross sales of over a million dollars a year at a time when the average American worker was paid a few dollars a day. Of more than 6,000 wagon manufacturers operating in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, only Studebaker made the successful transition to building automobiles and trucks.

    The point of the foregoing historical information is that Studebaker began as a family business that grew into a giant corporation but remained operating as a family business in many ways. In its best calendar year of production (1950) Studebaker built 268,099 autos and 52,146 trucks for a total of 320,245 vehicles. To give you some idea of the size of that accomplishment, 50 years later, GM decided to quit developing new models of Oldsmobiles because sales could not be sustained at a rate of at least 300,000 vehicles per year.

    In 1952, at the beginning of Studebaker's second century, Studebaker was America's fourth largest auto company. It had three automobile assembly plants in North America (South Bend, Los Angeles, and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) plus a jet engine plant in New Jersey for building B-47 jet engines. There were also distributor-owned assembly plants in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland, Egypt, South Africa, India, and the Philippine Islands. Studebaker had 2,815 dealers in the United States, which is approximately equal to the number of counties in the 48 states or the number of dealers that Dodge has now. There were approximately 23,000 employees on the payroll, including one descendant of the original Studebaker family who signed all the employees' checks every week. In 1952 the corporation issued a Centennial Report, including the following pages.

    Although Studebaker became a huge corporation, it called its workers a "Family of Craftsmen" and treated them as valued members of a big family. It financed thousands of single-family homes on the west side of South Bend, some of which were occupied by my relatives until the 1980's. During the great depression it opened a large grocery store for its South Bend employees. It also made movies about its workers including, "A Family of Craftsmen" "A Partnership of Faith" and "Beyond a Promise." Numerous employees became instant movie stars in these factory-sponsored films, which are available for less than $10 each. The most complete selection is at Studebaker International but some are also available from the Studebaker National Museum and Studebaker Autoparts Sales Corporation . All three organizations are located in Indiana and are operated by descendants of Studebaker Craftsmen. The last two operate out of buildings which were formerly part of the Studebaker factory.

    The three advertisements below are examples of Studebaker proudly telling the world about its skilled father and son teams. There is also a copy of a pay envelope in which my grandfather received his weekly salary in March, 1926. He received $27.20 after a $4.50 deduction was made for "wood." That notation refers to scrap wood which was delivered to workers' homes where it could be burned in place of more expensive coal. The "wood wagons" were discontinued before my time, but I do recall my grandfather shoveling coal into the furnace located in the basement of his house at 313 Johnson Street in South Bend. The pay envelope also contains some sound advice, "Safety First. Do not neglect small injuries. See the company doctor. Blood poisoning is painful and dangerous - often cripples people for life."

    Every five years, Studebaker gave its employees a pin, a handshake, and a letter of congratulations for a job well done. They were then invited to have lunch with the biggest "wheels" of the corporation, including Harold S. Vance who led Studebaker out of the great depression of the 1930's and was both the corporation's president and chairman of the board. My grandfather was a foreman at Studebaker and I have all the pins he was given between 1921 and 1962, shown at the first page of this site. I also found the document package he was given in 1951, his 30th year at Studebaker. Harold S. Vance is at the far left of the photo where all the men are standing. (He is the only man wearing white shoes.) My grandfather is the third from the right in the same photo. I wonder if any auto companies honor their workers this way today. Come to think of it, I wonder if any of the others ever did.

    Before viewing the photos below, click on the sound clip under the photos to start the sound. Click the "back" button on your browser to return to the photos. The sound clip describes the awards ceremony and makes a reference to Harold S. Vance.

    Sound Clip - "Partnership of Faith" [click here]

    Studebaker's thoughtful and considerate treatment of its workers should never be forgotten. That's one of the reasons why until December, 1996, the only cars I owned were Studebakers. ( I said CARS. I did own a couple of three-wheel vehicles, but those should not be counted against me since I owned those when I was too young to drive or lived at a location where Studebakers were not available. )

    GO TO PAGE ONE - Studebaker Stories Introduction
    GO TO PAGE THREE - Builders of Champions...Commanders and Larks
    GO TO PAGE FOUR - Avanti
    GO TO PAGE FIVE - Hello Commander, Goodbye Avanti
    GO TO PAGE SIX - Rolling Along for One Hundred and Fifty Years

    2001-2013 by J. L. Jacobson
    This copyright pertains to all text and images created by the author of this website
    and applies to any associated webpage and/or any webpage bearing the same copyright.
    The author of this web site will provide a list of non-copyright materials by E-mail upon request.


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