| November 2002

Studebakers launch their fortune with wagons

This year would mark the 150th anniversary of the Studebaker Corp., of South Bend, Ind., if the company were still in operation. Long prominent among car and truck manufacturers, Studebaker closed its doors in 1966, no longer able to keep up with competition from Detroit and foreign companies - but wagons were the firm's first true claim to fame.

Production of Studebaker wagons stopped about 1920, but they played a major role in the United States' westward expansion and had a major impact on North American farmers. They helped the North win the war against the South, helped the British defeat the Boers in South Africa, greatly aided in the defeat of German Emperor Wilhelm II, known as 'Kaiser Bill,' during World War I, and even helped crush the Axis powers during World War II.

The Studebaker story begins in the summer of 1736, when three German families named Staudenbecker left Rotterdam, Netherlands, on the sailing ship Harle. After landing Sept. 1 in Philadelphia, brothers Clement and Peter, their cousin Heinrich, and the men's families began farming on the frontier in southern Pennsylvania. The area was so unsettled that even 20 years later, in March 1756, Heinrich and his wife and baby were killed and their three older children were captured in an Indian raid.

By 1798, the United States was almost 20 years old, John Adams was president and the wild frontier had been pushed west of the Miami River in Ohio Territory. The Staudenbecker family name had been Americanized to 'Studebaker,' and descendants of the original three families were living in York County, Pa., where they worked as blacksmiths and woodworkers.

In 1820, 21-year-old John Studebaker married Rebecca Mohler of Lancaster, Pa., and moved west to Adams County, Pa., to set up shop as a blacksmith and wagon builder. The couple lived near the tiny village of Getty's Town, later renamed Gettysburg.

By 1834, John and Rebecca had three sons: Henry, Clement and John Mohler, the baby. Times were hard, so the family decided to move west again. John, the father, and the older boys built a Conestoga wagon for the trip, and the family traveled to Ashland, Ohio, where John built a new home and blacksmith shop. Legend has it that he hung a homemade sign over the door that read: 'Owe No Man Anything But to Love One Another.'