ASHLAND -- John S. Studebaker had ambitions to move West and live in the country. So he migrated from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Wayne County, now Ashland County in 1835.
John and his family made the trip in a very large wagon drawn by four horses that contained all their worldly possessions. John’s wife, Rebecca, and six children at the time, traveled in double carriages also drawn by teams of horses.
Although the journey was long, the family was blessed to make it here without any serious problems. The Studebakers settled on a small tract of land located along US 250 about five miles east of Ashland. That's where John S. established a blacksmith and wagon-making business which was his established profession.
The family named their new home “Pleasant Ridge.”
The Studebaker family thrived in this area, with John S.’s three eldest sons Henry, Clem and John learning the trade of their father. Rebecca expertly spun and wove the cloth and made the clothes necessary for her family which eventually included 10 children. Friend and neighbor, George Myers, assisted with building wagons and doing the woodwork, with Studebaker making the iron parts.
George was the father of F. E. and P. A. Myers who started the F. E. Myers and Brother Company in Ashland.
By 1850, economic times were tough and the same “Go West” spirit inspired the three sons to move. Henry and Clem then started the H and C Studebaker Blacksmithing and Wagon Building Company in South Bend, Indiana in 1852.
John, the 19-year-old younger brother, was interested in the gold rush, so he moved farther west to California. He and his brothers built a wagon in 10 days that was exchanged for his passage and board with a wagon train company.
After John arrived in California and locals learned he was a wagon maker, he was offered a job. At first, John turned down the opportunity stating he wanted to mine for gold, but he needed to earn a living so began building wheelbarrows for the miners for $10 each.
Back in South Bend, the two elder brothers suffered from financial difficulties and often traded wagons for livestock or crops. After five years, John returned from California at their request and invested his $8,000 gold nugget earnings into the company. He bought out his brother Henry, who actually preferred to become a farmer.
In 1858, the company’s assets were valued at $10,000 and it was renamed The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company.
Eventually, Henry sold his share of the business to John and also became a farmer. Henry was a religious man who did not like the military movement as the country prepared for Civil War.
The fourth Studebaker brother, Peter, who was a merchant, joined the company. His professional experience assisted in building the future. By 1867, the company employed 140 mechanics, the factory covered four acres of ground, and sales totaled about $350,000 a year.
In 1870, the youngest Studebaker son, Jacob, also joined the company.
The Studebakers continued to grow and expand the company over the ensuing years. They built hundreds of wagons for farmers, miners, and the military.
The company made carriages owned by President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant. At the time of the United States’ centennial in 1876, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was the largest producer of horse-drawn carriages in the world.
By 1902, the Studebakers entered the automotive business with electric and gasoline-powered vehicles.
They sold their autos under the name “Studebaker Automobile Company” and in 1913, became the third largest producer of automobiles in the United States, after Ford and Overland.
The company survived financial troubles in 1933 and merged with Packard in 1954. By 1966 the company had ceased all operations in the United States and Canada due to its inability to compete with the Big Three Auto Makers, but they left a lasting legacy.
Lori Adams Kaple is an employee of the Ashland County Historical Society.