An Interview with John Mohler Studebaker

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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I recently came across an issue of “TheHub” magazine from 1910.  Thispublication, and others like it, is filled with information regarding America’searly transportation industry.  From woodenvehicle designs and instruction on different trade crafts to details on thethen-current industry news, there is a lot to be gleaned from theseperiodicals. 

“The Hub” was a prominent trade journal for the carriage and wagon industry.
Leafing through the pages, I noticed aninterview with John Mohler Studebaker, President of Studebaker Bros.Manufacturing Company in South Bend, Indiana. Like many enthusiasts, I’ve read a fair number of books and articlesabout Studebaker but, poring over this interview, the impact of the words tookon a different perspective.  No longerwas I reading but, rather, it felt as though I was in the room; a bystander listeningto the conversation. 
J.M. Studebaker would have been quite familiar with the horse drawn wagons shown in this 20th century catalog.  He passed away in 1917, just a few years prior to the company ceasing production of all horse drawn vehicles. 
Hearing something from Mr. Studebaker virtuallyfirsthand is a rarity.  He passed away in1917 and most historical accounts don’t include extended quotations.  1910 was a transitional period for the firm,so thoughts from one so deeply connected to the brand’s roots are intriguing.  In 1910, Studebaker was just six yearsinto production of gasoline automobiles and roughly a decade from ceasing outputof all horse drawn vehicles.  Times werechanging but the old wagon man refused to conceal his love for wooden wheels.  He was “dancin’ with the one that brought him”the entire time.

With that in mind, and out of respectfor the Studebaker brand, I thoughtit would be appropriate to share this century-plus-old interview from “The Hub.”At the time J.M. (John Mohler) was the last surviving brother of the famed StudebakerBros. Manufacturing Company: 

Mr. John M. Studebaker, of the Studebaker concern,was interviewed at the Waldorf-Astoria when in New York recently.  A part of what he said follows:

Mr. Studebaker said that he started out in life witha capital of 50 cents.  He said that hewas 77 years old, “though,” he added, “my wife always gets after me when I tellmy real age.  You see, the secret of longlife and good health is hard work.  Ihave always worked hard.

Two of my brothers had a little blacksmith shop inSouth Bend, but I decided in 1852, while I was working for a wagon maker there,that I wanted to go out to California to seek my fortune.  So I built a wagon body that winter and mybrother did the iron work for me.  Therewas a company going west the next spring, and I turned my wagon over to them topay for my share of the expenses.  We hada drove of horses with us and the Indians chased us all the way.  Almost every night they would try to stealour horses.   They didn’t have rifles inthose days, so they did not do much attacking.

It took us five months and eight days to get acrossto California, and when I landed there I only had 50 cents on which to beginlife.  I took to prospecting but I keptat it only three months.  Then I decidedto make use of my trade and I started in making wheelbarrows and picks.  After four years, I had enough of it andreturned to South Bend in the winter of 1857. (WTWTWnote:  JMS actually returned at the endof the 1857 winter in April of 1858)

My two brothers were still in business and I boughtthe elder out, and we went into wagon making. There wasn’t any marvelous growth – just natural.  The business spread and the day before I leftSouth Bend, we received orders for 11,000 vehicles of various kinds.  We sell a good deal to Europe, though as muchto England.  South America is our biggestforeign customer and the Argentine Republic is the chief part of that.  A friend who just go back to-day from theother side was telling me he hired a carriage at Jerusalem and found it was oneof our make.  We turn out 400 differentkinds of vehicles.”

“What has been the effect of the automobile on the carriagebusiness?” Mr. Studebaker was asked.

“Well, it has practically killed the fine vehicle,but it has increased the output of the medium class article.”   

Building any brand into a household nameis challenging.  The Studebaker family andtheir employees did it so well that the desire among collectors for all thingsStudebaker is still extraordinarily powerful – nearly a half century since thelast auto was built and close to a century since the final wagon left thefactory. 
We’ll share more details about the earlydays of Studebaker in a post later this year. It’s a brand closely paralleling the excitement, opportunity, and growthof the American West.  By the way, if you haven’t yet signed up to receive this weekly blog via e-mail, just type your address in the "Follow By E-mail" section above. You'll receive a confirmation e-mail that you'll need to verify before you're officially on board. Please don't hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance. We're looking forward to your visits each week.Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted and may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.
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