Studebaker & the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Reporting the true depth of any businessor industry can be difficult.  The verynature of large corporations and their focus on commercial success cansometimes overshadow the human element inside. At the end of the day, though, it’s always people that make the differencein any organization.  People innovate,people excel, people challenge, and people stand in the gap. 

Such was the case when, almost elevendecades ago, the city of San Francisco was violently torn apart; thrust intothe headlines as it reeled from the pulverizing power of a massive earthquakeand fire.  The first few hours of April 18,1906 were relatively quiet but just before dawn, the city and everyone inside wereturned upside down.  It's estimated that thousands ofvisitors and residents perished as the earthquake was joined by uncontrollablefires ravaging the remaining rubble. 

While the city was almost totally shattered,the quake was not limited to the immediate area.  It’s tentacles of death and destruction also wreakedhavoc throughout a good portion of the state. Below is an article published mere weeks after the April quake.  As a tribute to the character of the AmericanWest and the people of our great nation, it seems appropriate to share this account.  With so many heart-wrenching stories in thenews these days, this May 1906 report in “The Carriage Monthly” is a reminder ofthe power of the human spirit and the resolve of the American people.

Charles AuthorCarlisle, of the Studebaker Bros. Mfg. Co., writing concerning the recentearthquake and fire in San Francisco, says:

“Immediatelyupon receipt of the news of the earthquake we sent our sales manager, L.F.Waver, who was previously our manager at San Francisco, to Sacramento, Cal.,and we directed our field managers in the various sections of California to goat once to the city of San Francisco, and seek out our people there and doeverything possible to relieve suffering and distress.  It was several days before we got anydefinite information from our San Francisco manager, C. N. Weaver, and then theglad report came to us that he and his family and all members of our own force,which numbered considerable, were safe, although deprived of their homes andcomforts of living.  The distresslocally, however, was intense, and our managers called for additional funds,asking us to send $5,000 in currency overland by special messenger, which wedid, and succeeded in reaching them in time to be of continued service.

It is hard to adequatelyappreciate the distress and suffering of those who were inside of the city, butthey were brave and generous to one another, even in their great distress –big-hearted and self-sacrificing, and this is one of the beautiful tributes towhich the American people have so generously responded.

We have beeninspired by the undaunted spirit of the Californian himself, and have laidplans for re-establishing ourselves in San Francisco and of co-operating in thedesire and effort to rebuild the city. As stated above, temporary headquarters have already been establishedwith our branch agency at Sacramento, where we will be able to look after ourCalifornia trade and take care of the local business that will come to us.”

Even though the article above was shared with the transportation industry over acentury ago, the front-line reportstill feels fresh with sentiment. Perhaps it’s because today's readers are so eerily familiar with natural disasters thatthis story is equally relatable today.  Account after period account shows that the city’s rebuilding processbegan immediately.  Thousands uponthousands of horses, people, and wood-wheeled vehicles dug in, moving tons of rubbleand replacing devastation with dreams. The city came back stronger and evenmore vibrant than before.  It’s anoverwhelming reminder of the purest history of America; a melting pot ofpeople, holding on to hope and repeatedly choosing to see opportunity over obstacles.    

This 1907 catalog contains a number of early work vehicles that were likely used in the cleanup of the San Francisco quake.  In fact, the company is reported to have built twice as many dump wagons in 1906 than 1905.  Much of that business undoubtedly came from California.
For some readers, this blog may seem tobe a departure from the type of stories we’ve shared in the past.  In reality, I think the topic may be amongthe most relevant we’ve ever posted. Why?  Because it goes to the heartof what gives any brand lasting desirability. It highlights the point that the reputation of any business ultimately goesbeyond the course of competition to the personality, care, and commitment of itspeople. 

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Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material 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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