American Dream: The Rise and Fall of Studebaker

By | May 3, 2019

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A happy couple smiling behind a new 1940 Studebaker outdoors in a field. Source: (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Standing in a leaking, cold, and shuttered warehouse building in South Bend, Indiana, the city’s mayor, Pete Buttigieg announced his candidacy for president of the United States. He could have chosen a nicer, newer venue for his historic announcement, but he chose this building for a reason. It was once part of the sprawling Studebaker production facility. For more than half of the 20th century, Studebaker dominated the domestic car manufacturing scene, employed generations of workers, and had a reputation for being a company built on the American Dream. So how did the dream turn into a nightmare? Let’s look at the rise and fall of Studebaker. 

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The five Studebaker brothers. Source: (

Wagon Making

Descendants from German immigrants, the Studebaker brothers—Henry, Peter, John, Clement, and Jacob—founded the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company in South Bend in 1868. This was originally a metal working factory that made the metal components for wagons. Various historical events—the Civil War, the Homestead Act, the California gold rush, and manifest destiny—all helped the Studebaker Company achieve success.