Studebaker, based in South Bend, Indiana, has been manufacturing cars for over 100 years and is renowned for their superior quality and dependability.
They initially produced buggies, harnesses, and carriages before venturing into the automotive industry.
Under President Albert Erskine in the 1920s, Studebaker began to focus on automobile production. They produced some low-priced six cylinder Champion cars and military trucks during World War II.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression was a global economic catastrophe that devastated most countries across the globe. Banks failed, people lost their jobs, homes and farms.
The Great Depression began in the fall of 1929, when the stock market crashed. Although this did not cause it, it did result in an economic downturn that lasted four years.
In the United States, however, the depression was particularly long and severe than other countries due to its start at the same time as America had abandoned gold standard currency and yet to fully recover from World War I’s effects.
At one point in time, many families were uprooted or relocated from their homes in search of work. Shanty towns called “Hoovervilles” sprouted across America out of packing crates and abandoned cars, as gangs of unemployed youths rode the rails as hobos searching for employment.
As the Great Depression hit, Studebaker found itself struggling to stay afloat. This was because their models could not compete with those made by Ford and General Motors; therefore, they had no choice but to close their doors.
Thankfully, Studebaker was able to regroup and find success again. They hired an accomplished woman who helped them design new cars that were more affordable for Americans.
The Great Depression was a trying period for America, but not the first time it had occurred. There had been other devastating economic crises before but none quite compared to what occurred during the 1930s Depression.
Studebaker was one of the largest automobile companies in the 1920s, producing a wide range of cars and trucks with legendary durability and dependability. They even produced some military vehicles during World War I for use by the United States government.
The Wall Street Crash
The Wall Street Crash of 1929, or Black Tuesday, was one of the most devastating financial crises in American history. This stock market crash caused billions in losses and left millions of Americans bankrupt.
The crash of 1929 began in September and continued through mid-November. This was caused by several factors, such as the Federal Reserve’s decision to reduce limits on bank cash reserves – thus enabling banks to invest their customers’ funds in the stock market – and speculative activity on Wall Street.
In the early twentieth century, most capital was represented by shares of a corporation’s stock which could be purchased on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). These stocks were bought and sold through “trading,” with investors using their investments to purchase goods or services.
However, many became anxious about the stock market’s price movements in the months preceding the crash. This fear led to widespread selling of stocks – commonly referred to as “margin selling.” Eventually, panic spread and all stocks saw their values collapse.
Although a variety of causes contributed to the crash, public confidence in the stock market was the primary driver. As economic conditions worsened and demand for goods and services decreased, investors became concerned that their investments wouldn’t be repaid.
Fear of default led to a rush of “margin calls” on October 24, triggering a sell-off that erased much of the market’s value and precipitated the Great Depression. Furthermore, this crash sent the economy into deep recession, slowing production and leaving many jobs unfilled.
World War II
World War II was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, with more civilian deaths than military ones. It saw an expansion of aerial warfare, enabling countries to bomb cities from above. Furthermore, state-sponsored mass killings took place such as the Holocaust – a genocide where six million Jews were slaughtered by Nazi Germany.
Although Studebaker enjoyed considerable success during the 1920s, they took a massive hit during 1929 when the Great Depression hit. The stock market crash and money issues made it difficult for them to stay abreast of competition.
Due to this, they had no choice but to reduce production of cars and trucks, leading them to lose most of their market share.
In addition to their car line, Studebaker produced horse-drawn wagons for transportation in rural areas. These vehicles had a distinct look that was exclusive to Studebaker, featuring a shortened chassis with an extended front body.
In 1939, the company regained their place in the auto industry with the release of the budget-friendly Champion model. They also manufactured military trucks, aircraft engines and the M29 Weasel–a tracked transport vehicle designed to navigate snow.
During the Second World War, Studebaker earned contracts to construct army and cargo trucks as well as the iconic B-17 Flying Fortress’ 63,789 Wright Cyclone nine-cylinder radial engine. These government contracts gave them an edge in the economy and placed them well for postwar sales when cars could once again be produced.
Studebaker had many difficulties during this period, yet they managed to achieve success in 1947 when they released their first all-new car models – the Starliner models. Although these vehicles proved popular, the cost-effective investment for the company wasn’t always the best choice as tooling costs for coupe and sedan lines that shared no bodywork were high.
In the late 1800s, Studebaker started as a small wagon company. By 1900, they had blossomed into an international manufacturer of automobiles and trucks.
Throughout the 1950s, Studebaker was struggling to stay afloat in an auto industry dominated by the Big Three automakers. To combat this, they employed various strategies.
One solution was a merger with Packard in 1954, but this proved ineffective. The two companies faced chronic postwar cashflow problems and couldn’t come together to find solutions.
Another issue was the union. They had a reputation for being overly assertive and often struck deals which burdened Studebaker with high labor costs.
Studebaker was renowned for their stylish cars and superior designs. Additionally, they had earned a reputation for producing quality vehicles; indeed, their engineers were widely considered experts within the automotive industry.
However, Studebaker was still struggling to stay competitive during the 1950s and needed new models to attract customers. Raymond Loewy was hired to design these iconic 1953 Starliner and Starlight coupes as well as the 1963 Avanti sports car.
Unfortunately, the designers could not raise enough money to construct the models they had imagined. Instead, they reskinned existing models with awkward fender bulges and added fiberglass fins in order to stay current with changing fashion trends.
Unfortunately, this caused serious damage to Studebaker’s sales. Unable to keep up with competition, they eventually closed down operations in 1966.
Today, the remaining Studebaker plant in South Bend, Indiana, serves as a historical landmark and houses both museum exhibits and collections of old Studebaker cars.
In the 1960s, society underwent a seismic shift. This can be seen in fashion and music; people began wearing vibrant prints and hues that became associated with hippie culture.
Studebaker had a history of producing exciting designs, from the iconic 1953 Champions and Commander to more economic compact models introduced in 1959 as the Lark. Unfortunately, the company never had an effective long-term plan for its future; they let their market share slip away and couldn’t keep up with growing competition.
One of Studebaker’s most iconic cars was the Starliner, designed by Raymond Loewy studio and considered one of the greatest American designs of its era.
Although the Starliner was a success, it wasn’t enough to save the company. Unfortunately, its numerous mechanical issues led to irreparable damage and ultimately destroyed its reputation.
Furthermore, the company suffered from a lack of investment. They spent millions on an exclusive design contract with Loewy but lacked enough money to keep production going.
In the early 1950s, Ford and General Motors began producing their own new cars that were more expensive than Studebaker’s. As a result, Ford and General Motors began losing money and had no choice but to close more plants than ever before.
When the company closed its doors, many employees felt a profound sense of loss. They had worked hard for their careers with the company and made many lifelong friends in South Bend; some were still employed when production ended, but most had been laid off long before then – it was like saying goodbye to their families.