Studebaker Museum, South Bend: From Carriages to Automobiles

Not many companies transitioned successfully from manufacturing wagons and carriages to automobiles. Studebaker was one of the exceptions, moving in the early 1900s from carriages to battery-powered cars and then to gasoline engines a few years later. At the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana, you can trace the history of the company from wagon to the last cars made by Studebaker in the mid-1960s.

In the mid-1800s the Studebaker brothers (there were five of them, all part of the business at one time or another) were making wagons. They became the world’s largest manufacturer of wagons and buggies.

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The museum has four carriages that were used by U.S. presidents, including the Lincoln Barouche, the carriage in which President Lincoln rode to Ford’s Theater on the fateful night on which he was assassinated.

Lincoln BaroucheThe Presidential Carriage Collection is part of the original collection of 37 vehicles once owned by the Studebaker Corporation. The original collection also included the first and last automobiles built in South Bend and the last Studebaker ever made. Today the museum has 120 vehicle in its collection.

In 1909 the U.S. Government commissioned Studebaker to build two transport vehicles to ferry people through an underground tunnel between the Senate Office Building and the U.S. Capitol. The tunnel was too narrow to turn around, so they built a vehicle that could run in either direction. The one on display in in the museum was nicknamed “Peg.”

1909 Peg Backward-Forward_carStudebaker built electric commercial vehicles from 1902 until 1911, including the 1911 Electric Couple model.

1911 Electric CoupeThe entry-level model in 1912 was the Flanders “20,” which sold for $1,000.

1912 Flanders 20Judging by the cars in the museum, the automobiles got fancier as time went on. This 1924 Light Six, with a body constructed completely of aluminum, was customized by a Chinese company. It features a fold-out windshield, and the interior, trimmed in teak, has mohair upholstery.

1924 Light Six“Ab” Jenkins set record time in this 1927 Commander. He drove from New York City to San Francisco in 77 hours and 40 minutes.

1927 CommanderThis 1932 President convertible coupe exudes luxury.

1932 President convertible_coupeApparently using beautiful models to market luxury cars is nothing new.

Photographer and modelIn the 1940s Studebaker introduced a line of Woodies.

WoodyMany of the later model cars are set up in scenes like this Avanti racecar being serviced. Avanti was later sold off.

AvantiBonnie Doon’s drive-in, apparently the place to go in South Bend back in the day. Several Studebaker cars are parked at the drive-in in this exhibit.

Bonnie Doon Drive-InOne of two identical 1951 Commanders used in The Muppet Movie is on display in the museum. The car was modified with trunk-mounted controls to keep the operator hidden while the Muppets “drove” it.

1951_Commander_Muppet_MovieMuppet Movie carSeveral other custom-built or specialized vehicles are also on display in the museum, some of which Studebaker partnered with other companies to manufacture, including an old South Bend police car, a 1928 fire truck and a 1963 Zip Van used by the U.S. Postal Service.

Police car1928 fire truckStudebaker also manufactured vehicles for the armed forces, from wagons for the Union Army in the Civil War to equipment used in World Wars I and II.

1918 Army Escort WagonMilitary equipmentAlthough most cars in the museum are understandably hands-off, there is one convertible that is used for photo ops.

Photo opKids will have fun in the Studebaker Super Service Center, where they can pretend to work on a car.

Studebake Super Service CenterIt’s been almost fifty years since Studebaker stopped manufacturing automobiles. However, the Studebaker National Museum ensures that the company that was such a large part of South Bend’s history and their contribution to the automotive industry are not forgotten.

The Studebaker National Museum, located at 201 South Chapin Street in South Bend, Indiana, is open seven days a week. Check the web site for hours and admission fees.

Disclosure: My visit to the Studebaker National Museum was hosted by Visit South Bend Mishawaka and the Studebaker National Museum, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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