The world’s oldest manufacturer of highway vehicles was founded in a blacksmith shop.
The Studebaker fortunes were founded and consolidated over a hundred and fifty years ago by the five Studebaker brothers--Henry, Clem, John Mohler, Peter and Jacob. But the only one still alive when the first Studebaker gasoline car appeared in 1904 was John Mohler, or JM, as he was known.
The title of “the world’s oldest manufacturer of highway vehicles” rightly belongs to the Studebaker Corporation, whose colorful start dates back to February, 1852, when two of the brothers, Henry and Clem, opened the doors of a modest blacksmith and wagon-building shop in South Bend, Indiana. In their first year of business, aside from shoeing horses, they built and sold three wagons. By 1856, they had completed a pleasure carriage. The following year, they were given their first big order: a Government contract for 100 wagons, to be used by Federal troops in Utah.
When John Mohler finally joined Henry and Clem in 1858, theirs was a rapidly expanding enterprise; but he brought them more than energy and goodwill. JM invested into the business $8,000--hard-earned and carefully saved over a period of five years, while making wheelbarrows and doing repair jobs for gold miners in the far West.
Next, Peter Studebaker came into the organization. It was 1860 and by that time the company had a capital of $10,000.
Peter took the job of chief salesman. The original smithy had now turned into a big shop, with facilities for building both wagons and carriages. There was also a “showroom” where company products were placed on view.
During the next seven years, business prospered so greatly that the four brothers were faced with the need of immediate reorganization. The firm’s assets amounted to over $223,000. The Civil War brought a further boom to the company. It was kept working at top pressure, building carts and wagons and making harness sets for the Union armies.
In 1868, therefore, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was formed, with Clem as president, JM as treasurer, and Peter holding the job of secretary. The payroll had grown from two to 190 employees and there was work for many more.
By 1870, a branch was opened in St. Joseph, Missouri. That same year, a fifth brother, Jacob, threw in his lot with the company and became manager of the carriage division.
By 1874, Studebaker sales had reached the $1,000,000 mark and the company’s facilities were such that a completed horse-drawn vehicle was rolling out of the factory every seven minutes. In 1878, the Studebakers went after the European market by displaying a range of carriages and wagons at the International Exposition in Paris. Again they were highly successful, winning numerous awards.
It was only logical that the company should at last explore the possibilities of the “horseless carriage.” So in 1897, experiments were begun with an electric car. By 1902, the first self-propelled Studebaker was on the market in the form of an electric runabout, and 20 of these were built and sold.
Two years later came the first gasoline-powered Studebaker, known as the Studebaker-Garford. Right away it proved to be a hit, even though motoring was still for the hardy and auto-buggies in general were the object of hostility and ridicule. The very first production gas-powered Studebaker was delivered at the factory gates to a Mr. H. D. Johnson of South Bend, who paid $1,750 for it in cold cash, while a band struck up a popular tune of the day: “There’ll Be a Hot Time in The Old Town Tonight!”
In 1905, the gasoline-powered line was increased to two types by the addition of Model No. 9503, the company’s first four-cylinder car. It sold for $3,000. A year later, the volume of business had reached $7,000,000 and the first limousine was put on the market. Supply had now become a rather serious problem.
The agreement between Studebaker and the Everett, Metzger and Flanders Company of Detroit, made in 1908, helped considerably to ease the supply situation. This firm had originally been incorporated for the purpose of building and marketing a car of its own design, but was without any distribution outlets. It faced a serious problem. Studebaker offered to absorb and sell the company’s entire output. The new car was to be known as the Studebaker E-M-F, combining both the well-known Studebaker name and the initials of Everett, Metzger and Flanders. During the remainder of 1908, the E-M-F 30 (Model A), offered as a touring car, demi-tonneau, tourabout or roadster, accounted for only 172 units in the total of Studebaker gasoline car sales; the bulk of sales still went to the Garford models H, A and B, whose chassis were built by the Garford Company, of Ohio, and were then shipped to South Bend for assembly.
But by 1909, the picture was different. Nearly 8,000 E-M-F 30 and 20 cars were built that year and the over-all sales volume reached $9,500,000. This brought with it fantastic profits, added problems and some internal company clashes.
In 1910, despite jealous criticisms by competitors--who claimed that the initials E-M-F stood for “Every Mechanical Fault”--these two models sold nearly 9,700 units, aside from the Studebaker-Garford cars and trucks. The following year, Studebaker bought out the E-M-F firm for a million dollars and a new company was incorporated in New Jersey in January, 1911, with assets of $25,000,000.
Thus, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company made way, after a magnificent record, for the Studebaker Corporation. During the 43 years of the old company’s existence--1868 to 1911--over a million vehicles of all types had been built. From 1904 to 1911, Studebaker-Garford models alone, most of them high-priced ($3,500 to $5,000), had sold 2,481 units, while the electric cars, discontinued in 1912, accounted for 1,841 satisfied Studebaker customers.
The typical Studebaker Electric, both pleasure and commercial models, was equipped with batteries of between 40 and 80 volts and of 24 amps. They varied from 24 to 36 cells. The car-range was 40 miles with a speed of 3 to 18 mph, and weight varied between 1,500 and 2,350 pounds.
After August, 1912, the name plates E-M-F and Garford were dropped entirely and all models became known simply as Studebaker.
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