SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WPTA) - They were a common sight 150 years ago: wagon trains snaking their way west, carrying pioneers to new lives in new lands. These intrepid settlers weren’t just traveling in covered wagons, they were riding in Studebakers.
Among the Great American car companies of the 20th century, only Studebaker truly changed the world. It’s a story best told at the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana. The company was born in 1852 when the Studebaker Brothers built a foundry in South Bend and began making horse-drawn vehicles. The Conestoga wagon was their best seller, producing 150,000 of them. One displayed at the museum is an original, and just a stone’s throw away, a fleet of fine Studebaker buggies.
In 1904, Studebaker became the only company to successfully transition from the horse-drawn to the modern automobile era with this, the first combustion engine Studebaker car.
In the following years, Studebaker became known for its quality and innovative designs, which were further elevated by hiring renowned industrial designer Raymond Loewy. The 1938 sedan was Lowey’s first design.
In 1950, he produced the champion, nicknamed the bullet nose. Studebaker’s biggest commercial success ever, followed by Lowey’s finest creation, the 1953 Starliner, still considered the most beautiful mass-produced American car ever made.
Studebaker wasn’t just a car company. It produced army trucks in the First and Second World Wars, amphibians, transports, and even engines for b-17 bombers. By the late 1950s, the company was in trouble, edged out by behemoth General Motors and Ford, Studebaker couldn’t compete. Its final success, though, was huge.
In 1962, the futuristic Avanti was introduced, a breathtaking Raymond Lowey design, and 70 years later, looks thoroughly modern. Though, it wasn’t enough to save the company. In 1964, the last Studebaker built in South Bend rolled off the assembly line, and two years later, the last Studebaker assembly plant in Hamilton, Ontario, closed its doors.
It was a humble end for a company admired around the world for its ingenuity and design, whose cars and trucks were part of daily life in seventy countries. Studebaker was a uniquely American experience that was part of our daily lives, almost from the very beginning.
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