March 18

This Day in History

Automotive

Mar 18, 1933:

Studebaker goes bankrupt

On this day in 1933, American automaker Studebaker, then heavily in debt, goes into receivership. The company's president, Albert Erskine, resigned and later that year committed suicide. Studebaker eventually rebounded from its financial troubles, only to close its doors for the final time in 1966.

The origins of the Studebaker Corporation date back to 1852, when brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker opened a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. Studebaker eventually became a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn wagons and supplied wagons to the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Around the turn of the century, the company entered America's burgeoning auto industry, launching an electric car in 1902 and a gas-powered vehicle two years later that was marketed under the name Studebaker-Garford. After partnering with other automakers, Studebaker began selling gas-powered cars under its own name in 1913, while continuing to make wagons until 1920.

Albert Erskine (1871–1933) assumed the top job at Studebaker in 1915. Under his leadership, the company acquired luxury automaker Pierce-Arrow in the late 1920s and launched the affordably priced but short-lived Erskine and Rockne lines (the latter named for the famous University of Notre Dame football coach: Before his death in a plane crash in 1931, Studebaker paid Rockne to give talks at auto conventions and dealership events). During the early 1930s, Studebaker was hit hard by the Great Depression and in March 1933 it was forced into bankruptcy. (In April 2009, Chrysler became the first major American automaker since Studebaker to declare bankruptcy.) Erskine, who was saddled with personal debt and health problems, killed himself on July 1, 1933.

New management got the company back on track, dropping the Rockne brand in July 1933 and selling Pierce-Arrow, among other consolidation moves. In January 1935, the new Studebaker Corporation was incorporated. In the late 1930s, the French-born industrial designer Raymond Loewy began working for Studebaker: There, he created iconic and popular models including the bullet-nosed 1953 Starliner and Starlight coupes and the 1963 Avanti sports coupe.

By the mid-1950s, Studebaker, which didn't have the resources of its Big Three competitors, had merged with automaker Packard and was again facing financial troubles. By the late 1950s, the Packard brand was dropped. In December 1963, Studebaker shuttered its South Bend plant, ending the production of its cars and trucks in America. The company's Hamilton, Ontario, facilities remained in operation until March 1966, when Studebaker shut its doors for the final time after 114 years in business.

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