From horses to horsepower
John Studebaker had a knack for building anything with wheels. Born in 1833 in South Bend, Indiana, Studebaker was the third of five sons. His older brothers Henry and Clement opened a blacksmith shop in South Bend 1852. One day, a customer came to the brothers and asked them to build him a wagon. They took on the job, and constructed a wagon which they painted red and green with large yellow letters on the side that read “STUDEBAKER.” That wagon would be the first of millions to carry the Studebaker name.
Meanwhile, John Studebaker was digging for gold in California. He found wealth, not from gold, but by building wheelbarrows for the gold-diggers, earning him the nickname “Wheelbarrow Johnny.” Studebaker returned to South Bend in 1858 and bought one of his older brothers out of their company. The business continued to grow thanks to contracts from the U.S. Army and soon became the world’s largest carriage maker. However, by 1900, it was becoming clear that the horse-carriage would be replaced by the automobile. Clem Studebaker passed away in 1901, leaving John in control of the company. Though he realized the automobile was the future, Studebaker thought that electricity would be the fuel of choice. He designed and engineered his first electric vehicle in 1902. Studebaker carriages were still outselling Studebaker automobiles in 1908, but the automobile side of the business was growing quickly and far more profitable. Studebaker then learned of a new company being formed in Detroit called the Everitt-Metzger-Flanders Company. He purchased a third of E-M-F’s stock and entered into a distribution agreement to sell Flanders automobiles through Studebaker’s vast sales network.
Studebaker sold $9.5 million worth of automobiles the following year and bought all the remaining E-M-F stock. The company stopped selling electric cars in 1911 and became the Studebaker Corporation. Studebaker was reluctant to stop building carriages altogether, but even he believed “the automobile has come to stay.” John Studebaker passed away in 1917 at the age of 83. He was still serving as the Studebaker Corp.’s honorary president and lived to see his company firmly entrenched in the modern world.