Photos by Larry Edsall
Although the Studebaker National Museum didn’t open until the autumn of 2005, its collection traces to the late 19th Century when Clement Studebaker had the foresight to purchase a couple of historic horse-drawn carriages. One had been commissioned by the U.S. government to take Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, on his tour of the young nation in 1824. The other was the four-passenger barouche in which President Lincoln rode to Ford’s Theater the night of his assassination.
In 1985, Clement and his older brother, Henry, started building carriages and Conestoga wagons in a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. Henry would leave the business, but other brothers would join Clement in what would become the world’s largest wagon-making company and, like others with skill in producing four-wheeled vehicles, one of the early motorcar companies.
As early as 1910, a museum of historic carriages and cars was part of the Studebaker corporate headquarters. By the 1960s, the company was faltering (it had closed its South Bend assembly plant in 1963, though production continued in Canada until 1966) and donated its collection and archives to the City of South Bend, which agreed to provide a “suitable home” to house and display the vehicles.
Various buildings, including the city’s waterworks maintenance shop and a former Studebaker dealership, hosted the collection until the three-story, 56,000-square-foot Studebaker National Museum and adjacent South Bend Center for History could be constructed.
The museum’s ground floor focuses on early Studebaker history and includes those historic wagons and early Studebaker cars, including those that set cross-country speed records in the hands of such famed drivers as “Ab” Jenkins.
The second floor includes more recent vehicles, including startling Studebaker and Packard concept cars, a Raymond Loewy design studio, and a tribute to South Bend’s own Bonnie Doon’s Drive-In, with three impressive Studebaker products parked beneath the canopy.
The second floor also includes an area for temporary exhibits. Through October 19, that means Studebaker’s “Cousins,” a showcase for everything from Packards and Pierce-Arrows and from an EMF to a Rockne, and from outboard boat motors to cans of STP.
Upcoming special exhibits include the “Assembly Line,” from October 3 through January 4, 2015, and “Vintage Motorcycles,” from November 14 through May 10, 2015.
The museum’s collection includes some 120 vehicles. Many of them are stored in the basement, in the museum’s “visible storage system,” where they are double-decked in lift-style racks. Also in the basement is a display of the military vehicles and other equipment that Studebaker produced over the years.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon until 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit the museum website.