Studebaker Bros Carriages and Wagons

It was St. Patrick’s Day 1966 when the last Studebaker rolled off their final assembly line.  But interestingly, Studebaker today is much more respected than it was in its last year of production. Like many long-lived carmakers, Studebaker had suffered through some trying times,  including receivership in 1933, a near meltdown in 1958 and the final plant closing in 1966. It was easy for  journalists, in   hindsight, to blame management’s “wrong decisions” for the failure of the company’s automotive division. In truth, Studebaker had had to make many correct decisions in order to survive for 114 years.

Studebak er’s hometown was South Bend, Indiana, but in December 1963, the assembly lines in South Bend closed and production moved to Hamilton,  Ontario, Canada. With the closing of South Bend, production of Hawk, Avanti and truck lines stopped, and only “Lark” models were built in Canada. In March 1966, the Hamilton plant also closed and the end of Studebaker was at hand.  The Studebaker Family National Association (SFNA) has a specific starting point for its American Studebaker history in 1736.

In 1736, a small family group with the surname Stutenbecker left Solingen, Germany, and sailed from Rotterdam, Holland, to Philadelphia on the ship Harle.  The English-speaking agent who filled out their papers Anglicized their surname to Studebaker. All the Studebaker cousins that the SFNA has traced are     descendants of that original group.

For generations, Stutenbeckers in the Solingen area had been involved with blacksmithing, many as producers of fine cutlery. Those who came to America in 1736 brought with them their metalworking skills.  The ability to form metal was essential to the construction of early Conestoga wagons. One of the immigrants, Clement Studebaker, reportedly built his first wagon in America around 1750.

Bronson Wagon by Studebaker

In February 1852, two of Clement’s great grandchildren, Henry and Clement, opened the H&C Studebaker blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. During their first year of operation, they built two horse-drawn farm wagons.  In 1853, with the help of younger brother John M., they constructed a sturdy wagon that John provided to a wagon train as payment for his overland passage to California’s gold fields.

From 1853 to 1858, John earned a small fortune in Hangtown, now called Placerville, making wheelbarrows and other gold-mining tools. In 1858, John returned to South Bend and invested his earnings in his brothers’ business. The Studebaker Brothers built hundreds of wagons for the North during the Civil War and, by the time the United States was 100 years old, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Co. was the largest producer of horse-drawn vehicles in the world. By then, brothers Peter and Jacob had also joined the company.

Studebaker entered the car business by building an electric in 1902 and, two years later, brought out its first gasoline automobile, a two-cylinder, 16 horse-power touring car.  In 1911, the company purchased the Everitt-Metzger-Flanders Co. of Detroit and formed the Studebaker Corp. The corporation marketed the E-M-F 30, the   Flanders 20, the Studebaker-Garford 40 and Studebaker electrics. By 1913, these models had been replaced by four- and six-cylinder automobiles, all of which bore just the name Studebaker.

During 1913, Studebaker became the third largest producer of automobiles in America, after Ford and Overland. That year, all Studebaker automobiles were produced in Detroit, but in 1920, after Studebaker stopped making horse-drawn vehicles and car production shifted back to South Bend where they lasted until the company was ended.

Studebaker made many types of wagons, carriages and other horse drawn vehicles throughout their history, a few among them are the Phaeton, the Victoria and the Brougham.  In our collection we have a wicker Phaethon that was made in 1901 in Chicago.  The photo here is the Phaethon in use at the Tecolote Ranch around 1930.

Studebaker Phaethon Deborah Pelissero Tecolote Ranch circa 1930

This Bronson Wagon in our collection was made by Studebaker but the informal vehicle style was developed by James Brewster for his friend Fredric Bronson.  This wagon style was coined the Bronson Wagon, and by 1900 it became the most popular sporting wagon for country gentlemen. The wagons can seat four people comfortably and is usually drawn by a single horse and driver. This carriage came to our collection in 1976 and was donated to the museum by the Childs family, well known in Santa Barbara for donating the Child’s estate to the city to build our city’s zoo.

The beautifully framed and paneled sides were said to be the inspiration for the “woodie” station wagons that were popular from the late teens through the 1950s.  Brewster & Company was an American custom carriage maker and automobile coachbuilder founded by James Brewster in 1810 and active for nearly 130 years.  Brewster began in New Haven, Connecticut and quickly established a reputation for building America’s finest carriages. He opened his first New York City showroom at 52 Broad Street in 1827 eventually James retired, with his younger son Henry running the New York branch, which became Brewster & Co. and his elder son, James B., running the rival firm of J.B. Brewster & Co. In 1883, Henry’s 17-year-old son William joined his business. After traveling about Europe to see and learn from the finest coachbuilders, William came home with a discerning eye, scraping an ‘X’ with a pen knife on  finished body panels that showed any imperfection destroying the craftsman’s work and requiring a complete re-finish at the craftsman’s expense.  Later William adopted the slogan “Carriage Builder for the American Gentleman”.