The Studebaker wagon paved way for carriages, then cars and trucks.
Local hauling contests always made news, and the Studebakers tried to ensure their wagons were represented as often as possible. Once, in a Kokomo, Ind., weight contest, a Studebaker and a Webster wagon were loaded with progressively heavier loads of wheat. At 14,320 pounds, a spoke on the Studebaker cracked, and the Webster dealer thought he'd won.
They kept going, though, and at 19,260 pounds, the Webster's front axle cracked. More wheat was brought, and both wagons limped 82 more feet with 20,665 pounds aboard. The Studebaker dealer threw on six more bushels and moved another 20 feet. The Webster dealer gave up at that point but claimed victory because none of his spokes had cracked. The Studebaker man was just as sure he was the victor because his axles held up and he moved the load the furthest of the two.
Disastrous fires hit the South Bend, Ind., Studebaker factory in 1872 and 1874, but in 1875, the firm still advertised itself as 'The Largest Vehicle House in the World.' It reported $1 million worth of business.
Studebaker built more than wagons, too. The company's carriages came in every style, from sulky carts to luxurious five-window landaus, and after Clement Studebaker himself traveled to Europe to open up the market there, and President Hayes and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant began using Studebaker landaus in this country, orders poured in from all over the world for both Studebaker carriages and wagons.
In 1915, a Mrs. Smith from Natron, Ore., wrote the company: 'In the fall of 1878, we needed a wagon to haul our wheat. Mr. Smith arose early one morning and riding one horse and leading another, he went to Eugene, Ore., and bought a Studebaker wagon from an agent there. I well remember him getting home at midnight, for I sat up and kept his supper warm for him. My oldest child, born in June, was three months old. My baby is now 35 years old. The old Studebaker wagon is still our favorite wagon, and it is still in good condition.'
Studebaker furnished 500 wagons, on very short notice, for the U.S. Army to use in the Spanish-American War, and U.S. forces hauled their equipment on Studebaker wagons in China and in the Philippines. The British Army also ordered large numbers of Studebakers for use in the Boer War in South Africa.
By 1901, John Mohler was the only one of the five Studebaker brothers still living. At 68, he could see the possibilities of the new-fangled horseless carriages that were sometimes seen sputtering along the streets of South Bend, where company headquarters were located. Younger men in the firm were enthusiastic about them, too, especially Fred Fish, J.M.'s son-in-law, who had attended the first U.S. auto show, held in 1900 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The company also had furnished bodies to a couple of early electric car builders, and in 1902, made and sold its own first cars — battery-powered electric models that looked more like carriages without shafts than modern automobiles. Battery technology of the day made electric cars impractical, though, and gasoline engines were preferred in the automotive industry. Fish soon made a deal with the Garford Co. of Elyria, Ohio, that resulted in the 1903 introduction of Studebaker-Garford cars. Garford was to furnish the chassis and 8-hp, two-cylinder engines, and Studebaker was to make the bodies. The cars sold well; more than $7 million of sales were recorded in 1907 by Studebaker, and a large chunk of that revenue came from the cars.
As a result, the decision was made to produce more automobiles. Fish then bought a third of the stock of E-M-F Co., and Studebaker dealers sold the E-M-F cars as E-M-F Studebakers. After the E-M-F owners had a falling out that ended up in court, Fish managed to acquire the rest of the firm's stock, and from that point, the cars carried only the Studebaker name.
In 1911, the Studebaker firm incorporated, becoming Studebaker Corp.; the following year, Fish opened a New York City export office, and soon Studebaker was furnishing 37 percent of all U.S. cars sent abroad.
In 1913, John Mohler Stidebaker turned 80. In conjunction with his birthday celebration, he offered a prize for the oldest Studebaker farm wagon still in continuous use. The winner was Dave Clark, a Gilenton, Wis., farmer who bought his wagon in 1865. Clark wrote to J.M., 'From that day to this, that old wagon has been hauling my grain and potatoes and truck to market.' He figured the cumulative load at a minimum of 14,000 tons, '... over good roads and bad.' Also as part of the birthday celebration, the Studebaker shops shut down early and all the employees, along with most of the residents of South Bend, attended a reception in J.M.'s honor.
By the time World War I began in 1914, Fish was president of Studebaker, and he went to England to see what the British Army needed for its war effort. The British order included 3,000 wagons, 20,000 sets of harness, 60,000 saddles and blankets, ambulances and artillery wheels; Russia and France placed orders too.
In 1915, Albert R. Erskine was named Studebaker's president, and, in 1916, the firm reported $61 million worth of business. It also broke ground for a new plant capable of putting out 700 cars a day.
On March 17, 1917, old J.M. died. The United States was just entering the war in Europe at the time, and the Studebaker Corp. 'went to war' along with the rest of the country, turning out all kinds of military wagons in addition to ambulances, gun carriages, artillery shells, and harness.
In 1919, Erskine sold the firm's dump wagon business to Western Wheeled Scraper Co., but continued to make farm wagons for another year. Early in 1921, Studebaker sold its farm wagon line to Kentucky Wagon Manufacturing Co. of Louisville, and from that point on, the Studebaker emphasis was on cars and trucks. FC