A Tour of the Studebaker National Museum's Archives

By Cindy Cockman

1964...  The Dream That Moved Out Of Town

South Bend:   1964… The Beatles invaded America and were introduced on the Ed Sullivan Show… President John F. Kennedy etched a permanent place in America’s conscience… Saddle shoes, tent dresses, white go-go boots, and crew cuts were the rage… and in South Bend, the community and countless families were devested with the closing of the Studebaker Corporation at the close of 1963.

On Monday, September 29, 1997, the South Bend Area Genealogical Society resumed their monthly meetings with a tour of the Studebaker Archives, located at 2010 South Lafayette in South Bend. A short introduction was given by Beverly Trew Petersen, SBAGS President. The meeting was conducted by Jean and Bob Denham, Volunteer Directors of the Studebaker Archives.

Jean explained that the company ceased production of their innovative and classic car on December 9, 1963. The demise of the company was initially a blow to the area effecting families across the South Bend community. With the closing of the company, all the company records were transported in 40 railroad cars to Syracuse, New York. When plans to house and index the extensive company records in New York did not materialize, Bendix Corporation agreed to transport the records a car-load at a time to South Bend on each occasion they had a shipment out East. Eventually, the records landed at their current site on South Lafayette.

A comprehensive automotive library, local company biographies, and information on various enterprises that engaged in business with Studebaker, are located just inside the entrance to the building. Bev Petersen and local Studebaker Historian, Mrs. Murray, have meticulously indexed, over the past years, most of the information being stored at the Archives. Bev has been "fascinated by all the material after having volunteered for over five years."

A small room next to the library houses several innocent looking metal file cabinets along one wall. On closer inspection, the cabinets contain shelf after shelf of Studebaker scrapbooks dating back to the 1880’s. Every piece of art work, blueprints, catalogs, manufacturing expense records, invoices and ads from every feasible publication is found in this obscure-looking warehouse south of the original Studebaker plant in South Bend. Incidentally, all the priceless and irreplaceable documents are kept at a constant temperature of 63F to preserve the integrity of the materials. A simple, but effective method to collect the resulting condensation, is also being utilized. The blueprints and many of the black and white photographs found at the Archives are still backed with the original method of applying lined fabric to the back surface. Sadly, many of these are beginning to deteriorate.

Bob Denham, who handles all the incoming mail at the Archives, still receives numerous inquires about trademarks, paint colors and request for blueprint information from Studebaker classic car owners all over the country. Graduate students and others interested in the automotive industry, continually contact the Archives to research articles. Old reels of television film that advertised the Studebaker (including the Mr. Ed Show) are located on several metal file cases in the back warehouse. Promotional and sales training long play record albums are arranged haphazardly on dusty metal shelves—long before the advent of the present day video tape!

Unfortunately for genealogists, the Archives hold very little personal information about Studebaker’s work force. Except for a few top executives, all employee files were destroyed at the time Studebaker closed. The Quarterly completed a listing of employees based on a series of Patent records in the July 1997 issue. The complete list is available at the Studebaker Archives and at the Local History and Genealogy Room of the Saint Joseph County Public Library in South Bend. Another source of information comes from various company ‘newsletters’. Bound copies of employee newsletters are available at the Studebaker Archives, but they are unindexed.

An important and integral part of South Bend history is just a postage stamp away. Appointments can be made in writing with Jean Denham to view and study and of the information found at the Archives. When contacting the Studebaker Archives by mail, address your queries to: Studebaker Archives, The Studebaker National Museum, 525 S. Main Street, South Bend, IN 46601-2225 (mail is not sent directly to the Archives building on Lafayette). As Sister Pam Welch stated after touring the Archives "it was fantastic and energizing."

Additional Reading: Several books detailing the rise and fall of the Studebaker Corporation are found at the Saint Joseph County Public Library; among them: Studebaker, Less Than They Promised by Michael Beatty, Patrick Furlong and Loren Pennington. Published 1988 in South Bend, IN.

This article originally appeared in the October 1997 issue of the SBAGS Quarterly Newsletter


1998 South Bend Area Genealogical Society - South Bend, IN

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