By Fred Miller, archival intern
Studebaker was a major American automobile manufacturer in the early to mid 20th century. The Studebaker brothers who founded the company were all raised as German Baptists, also known as Dunkers1 and later the Church of the Brethren. Their mother, Rebecca Mohler, was a member of the Ephrata community before she married John Clement Studebaker.
John supported his family of thirteen children through some very hard times by blacksmithing and building wagons, which was a long practiced family trade.2
From 1849 to 1851, this branch of the Studebaker family moved to South Bend. In 1852, Henry and Clement, who was previously a schoolteacher, founded a joint blacksmithing and wagon-building venture with $68. In 1852, John Mohler Studebaker chased the Gold Rush to California and got rich building wheelbarrows for the miners. When he returned in 1858, he bought out his brother Henry’s share and invested $8,000 in the company.
As a Brethren and therefore a pacifist, Henry wished to leave the company because they had signed contracts to supply wagons to the U.S. Army who was at that time engaged in establishing federal authority over the Mormons.3 Given his moral stances, Henry greatly objected to such a warlike use of the product of his labor. Nevertheless, afterwards he maintained good relations with his brothers. Henry was the only one of the Studebaker brothers who remained Brethren his whole life. He returned to farming, which according to his daughter Adelle he didn’t enjoy. Their father too, who while old was still strong and in good health, declined to become involved in this family venture.
The best known Church of the Brethren Studebaker is Ted Studebaker. Ted’s five times great grand-father and Henry and sibling’s great grand-father were brothers who emigrated from the Brethren stronghold of Solingen in Germany in 1736. For more about Ted, see this Hidden Gems page.
For most information stated above, source is The Studebaker Family in America – 1736-1976. Most unattributed photos courtesy stude100.com
- Dunkards, Dunkers, and Tunkers are generally interchangeable. These terms were considered derogatory at that time.
- For further context, read about the Panic of 1837 and the Utah Expedition, 1857-58.
- For further context, read about the Utah Expedition, 1857-58.