Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Studebaker National Museum: South Bend

This is another travel piece I wrote for the Northwest Indiana Times. Fans of classic automobiles will love this museum in scenic South Bend, Indiana.

From blacksmith shop to big success in the auto industry

October 09, 2010 12:00 am  •  
For admirers of automobiles and history, the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend offers a hefty dose of both. With about 120 vehicles in the museum's collection dating back over a century, you'll find examples of everything from horse-drawn wagons and military vehicles to sleek luxury cars.
The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company began as a blacksmith shop in 1852, where two brothers also started making wagons. In 1902, the company introduced its first automobile, an electric coupe with a 48–volt Westinghouse motor. A total of 1,841 were made between 1902 and 1912. In 1904, the first gas–powered vehicle was produced.
You'll find the oldest surviving gas powered Studebaker on display in the museum, a 1904 Model C that sold for $1,600 new. There's also a 1911 Electric Coupe that was $1,850 new. On the other end of the spectrum, you'll find a four–passenger 1905 Studebaker sleigh that sold for $168 at the Studebaker Repository on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Even as automobiles were produced, the company continued producing horse-drawn vehicles. It wasn't until 1920 that horse -drawn production ceased and the automobile plant that had been operating in Detroit relocated to South Bend.
The three–level museum houses several of both the horse- and motor-driven varieties with explanatory placards in chronological sections. The main level has four exhibit areas that cover the Studebaker family's arrival from Germany in 1736, the wagon era from 1868 to 1900, the Presidential Carriage Collection, the "From Horses to Horsepower" exhibit (1900 to 1920) and the Erskine Years from 1921 to 1933.
A replica of the H & C Blacksmith Shop (named for brothers Henry and Clement) follows the 1835 wagon on display built by the brother's father, John, when the family relocated from Pennsylvania to Ohio. In many areas of the museum, the contrast between what was available to middle class as compared to the wealthy is astounding.
In 1932 and 1933, Rockne Motors (a subsidiary of Studebaker) created the Rockne "65" and "75." Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne was to be an officer of the company, but he died in a plane crash before the first car came off the line. The affordable Rockne "75" went for $685 in 1933, while that year's model of the Studebaker Speedway President sold for $1,645.
Perhaps most impressive is the permanent exhibit titled Studebaker's National Treasures: The Original Collection that was completed just six months ago. Through a National Parks Service grant of more than $300,000, eight one–of–a–kind historical masterpieces can be viewed, including the Barouche carriage that transported President Abraham Lincoln to the Ford Theater the night he was assassinated.
Upstairs you'll find samples of post–war beauties and vehicles made by other companies that were absorbed by Studebaker, including Packard and Avanti. You'll also learn about circumstances that led to the company's eventual demise.
The lower level continues with visual storage and a military exhibit of Studebaker-made military water carts, a Weasel all–terrain troop and cargo carrier and a B–17 Bomber engine.


  1. Looks like a nice museum to visit. Is there anything else to do in Southbend? I've driven through it, but never stopped.

  2. Yes, Adam. Definitely worth a visit. The Studebaker Museum was relocated a couple years ago and is now attached to the Indiana Center for history, which is comprised of an exhibit hall, children's museum, the Oliver Mansion (a beautiful museum owned by the Oliver Chilled Plow Works family) and there's a worker's home that can be toured there. So, several attractions in one spot. There's also the South Bend Chocolate Factory and College Basketball Hall of Fame...and a good eatery I'd recommend is Chikory Cafe. :) Oh, and Dainty Maid Bakery is right down the street - great goodies! Notre Dame also has tours and from what I've seen in pics in gorgeous. I've never been there - but my sis is getting married there in a couple months. Can't wait! I would add it to your list of places to visit. I think you'd enjoy it!


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