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Studebaker   Part 2: 1915-1925

By John Bentley

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

First to use molybdenum steel in cars, this was a boom-company after the World War I era.

BY 1915, Studebaker was ready to reap the harvest of sound financial planning and forward-think­ing automobile design. The Studebaker Corporation, organized three years earlier to acquire the assets of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company and the E.M.F. Company, had recently paid an annual dividend of $708,750 on preferred stock--more than twice as much as the annual dividends of the old com­pany. Nearly 2,000 Studebaker dealers from coast to coast were handling the 1915 line of five body styles on two chassis--a Four and a Six--and the year’s total sales of 45,855 cars was just double that of 1911 under the former management.

E. R. Erskine (who later gave his name to a Stude­baker model) became president of the corporation after four years as treasurer, while John Mohler Studebaker, only survivor of the five founder brothers, took the title of “honorary president.”

The corporation’s financial status was further strengthened in 1915 by the sale of 20,684 shares of $100 common stock certificates for which the buyer paid $110 with confidence.

That this confidence was well founded showed up in the 1916 sales of 69,596 units for the four- and six-cylinder models. That year, Studebaker was the first manufacturer to produce a seven-pas­senger, four-cylinder car with a 40 hp out­put, selling for under $1,000. This was the Series 18-Four with a $950 tag. There were six body styles for the six- and three for the four-cylinder job, and sales climbed to over $60,000,000.

As the shadow of World War I length­ened toward the U.S., Erskine offered the manufacturing facilities of the Studebaker Corporation to President Woodrow Wilson. The offer, along with those of many other automobile manufacturers, was accepted, and by 1917 Studebaker swung into pro­duction of gun mounts and more intricate components for the 4.7-inch artillery pieces destined to be used in France by General Pershing. Half of the corporation’s manu­facturing facilities were quickly devoted to this work, and though J. M. Studebaker did not live to see the close of 1917, he had the satisfaction of watching his firm play a valuable part towards furthering the war effort. With his passing went the last mem­ber of the first of only three management teams destined to direct Studebaker dur­ing a century of existence.

War contracts naturally had a marked ef­fect on the production of Studebaker cars which slumped to 43,731 in 1917 and 18,198 for 1918. The low profit rate on government contracts also was reflected in gross earn­ings during those two years, but even so, two new Studebaker passenger cars made their appearance in limited quantities. These were the Light Six and Big Six with L-head engines that developed 40 and 60 hp, available with five- and seven-pas­senger touring bodies.

By August 1918, Studebaker was mass-producing complete gun carriages and had got into gear with an extensive munitions program that was abruptly halted three months later with the signing of the Armi­stice. Company engineers, meanwhile, had continued a limited amount of steady re­search dedicated to the improvement of passenger cars, and in 1919 Studebaker was the first manufacturer to make extensive use of pressed steel in automobile construction. Chassis frames, rear axle casings, oil pans and a dozen other components all were produced in this stronger, faster and less costly manner, the innovation being intro­duced on all three 1919 production models--the Four, and the continued Light and Big Six. The 38,550 Studebakers built that year more than doubled the 1918 output as the firm strove to readjust to consumer needs. Further improvements followed in 1920, when the Studebaker Four was dropped, its place being taken by a Special Six avail­able in five body styles. Studebaker “firsts” for that year included an intake manifold cast integrally with the cylinder head; the invention and use of an internal hot spot for mixture heating; and the introduction of 20-per-cent-inclined, silent-operating valves. The year’s sales boomed anew to 53,735 cars, and after a 60-year period in the manufacture of horse-drawn vehicles, Studebaker abandoned this field for good, to become exclusively an automobile manu­facturer.

In 1921, the firm again scored by being the first to develop and patent molybdenum steel and to produce a car in which it was used. It thus got the jump on the sensational Wills St. Claire car, announced that year, which played up the use of molybdenum steel as a big selling point. Some 68,092 motorists bought 1921 Studebakers in seven different models, the largest seller of which was the Light Six with 30,447 customers.

Still on a sharply rising curve, 1922 sales topped the $100,000,000 mark and saw 109,226 cars delivered to eager buyers, with the Light Six again the best seller.

This upward trend continued in 1923 when Studebaker’s 150,349 car output was nearly 50 per cent greater than during the previous twelve months, and sales of the Light Six reached an all-time high of 79,541 units. By this time, the company could look back with pride on more “firsts.” It was the first to produce a 50 hp automobile at less than a $2,000 figure; the first to establish a uniform, international service system for owners, which operated all over the world where Studebaker exports were now reaching.

A clear index of Studebaker prosperity during the years 1922 through 1925 could be found in the number of stockholders and employees. In 1922, the company had 5,166 stockholders and 17,663 employees, whereas by 1925 the figure had risen to 15,132 stock­holders and 21,977 workpeople. The 20 per cent increase of workers compared with the enormous upward jump in production re­flected, of course, more efficient machinery and manufacturing methods. This was evi­dent from the fact that whereas in 1922 it took 21,199 men to build 109,226 cars, a year later 21,136 employees produced 150,349 Studebakers.

To the manufacturing facilities in South Bend, Indiana, and Detroit, Michigan, was added another plant located in Walkersville, Ontario, and by 1924 sales amounted to $161,362,945, with dividends for the first time at $4 per share. A new model, styled the Standard Six was introduced that year, which proved the company’s second highest seller after the Light Six, which was discontinued.

The 1925 range of three models included the Big Six, offered as a five-passenger Brougham and the Standard and Special Sixes, each with a choice of 10 different bodies covering every possible need.

So ended a decade that probably wit­nessed the most rapid progress in all Studebaker’s long history.

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