Studebaker Legacy Lives 50 Years After Closing


“I think, economically, the city recovered more quickly than people expected, but the town was devastated psychologically because many families were deeply rooted in South Bend and deeply rooted in Studebaker,” said Donald Critchlow, a former University of Notre Dame history professor who wrote “Studebaker: The Life and Death of an American Corporation.”

Studebaker had been slowing down for years, struggling with high costs, antiquated factories and increasing market domination by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The company had already reduced its South Bend payroll from more than 22,000 workers in 1950 to about 7,000 at the time of the shutdown.

South Bend staggered after the closing as its unemployment rate, which was 2.1 percent in November 1963, rose to 9 percent in early 1964.

But the city recovered as the national economy roared and other companies, such as Allied Products, Cummins Engines and Kaiser Jeep, moved into former Studebaker buildings.

The bigger challenge for South Bend was ahead, the same test every Midwestern factory town has faced in the new economy. Technology has made manufacturing less labor-intensive and more reliant on advanced training, while globalization has pulled production out of the United States.

St. Joseph County has a more diverse economy than it did 50 years ago, when 40 percent of local employment was in manufacturing. Now about 12 percent of the county’s jobs are in manufacturing. Local residents, however, are less wealthy in a job market where transportation, health care, education and services are the top four sectors.

Nostalgia for Studebaker has remained strong here through the decades, perhaps because the company symbolizes those “good old days” when a person could graduate from high school and step into a middle-class job. The Studebaker manufacturing corridor – a mile-long tangle of massive factories and towering smokestacks south of downtown – stood for decades as a rusty reminder of the company.

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Posted by on Jan 3rd, 2014 and filed under American Street Guide. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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