When Lincoln Drove A Studebaker
The new movie is generating interest in all things Lincoln, including his wheels.
That interest should include the whereabouts of the horse-drawn carriage that transported him to Ford's Theatre that fateful night in 1865, and later rushed him to medical help nearby after being fatally shot by John Wilkes Boothe.
Lincoln's presidential carriage was a Studebaker, and it is on display in the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana.
Most of us know Studebaker as the car company that went out of business in the 60s, after producing iconic vehicles including the so-called 'bullet nose' sedans and coupes, and the popular Avanti, Lark, Commander and Gran Turismo. There's at least one of each on display at the museum.
Fewer of us know that the Studebaker brothers were blacksmiths. They made their fortune building horse-drawn wagons, including the famous covered Conestoga wagon that helped open the west, and then wagons that supplied the U. S. Army during the Civil War.
Studebaker also built carriages for presidents. Lincoln's elegant Barouche, with his "AL" monogram on the doors, is displayed alongside the carriage Ulysees S. Grant used before and after he became President, and one used by President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901. There's also the 1824 carriage Studebaker built for the Marquis de Lafayette's tour of America. Now, that's history.
Like so many family-owned businesses, the sons of the wagon-makers pressured their fathers and uncles in the early 1900s to change with the times, and replace horses with a motor.
In 1902, Studebaker produced its first motorized vehicle, powered by an electric motor. The first Studebaker automobile was an EV. How's that for being ahead of its time?
Between 1902 and 1914, Studebaker produced and sold nearly 2,000 electric vehicles. They had a range of 70 miles and could reach a top speed of 21 mph. That range is only slightly below the range of today's Nissan Leaf, though the Leaf does go faster. Several of the Studebaker EVs are on display.
Long before Detroit became the center of the American auto industry, it was headquartered in Indiana, with a dozen car and tire manufacturers, including Studebaker, Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg. The world-famous Indianapolis Speedway – home of the equally world-famous Indianapolis 500 race on Memorial Day – was built in 1909 as a test track for Indiana's auto industry.
The Studebaker National Museum in South Bend was in a building that once housed the brand's largest dealership. It now shares the building with the Center for History, which houses a medical museum. Another Indiana company you may have heard of is the Eli Lily Corporation. The Indianapolis Art Museum is housed on the grounds of the former Lily family mansion.
Among the vehicles on display in the Studebaker museum is a 1933 Studebaker coupe owned by Knute Rockne, legendary football coach at Notre Dame, also located in South Bend. That was when you could buy a car for under $2,000--or roughly the amount today's automaker's knock off the price of a new car in the form of a rebate.
Studebaker continued to build vehicles and parts for the military long after the Civil War. In WWII, Studebaker built engines for the B-17 Flying Fortress, and the US6 6x6 military trucks. Many military vehicles and artifacts are on display here, too, but not the M29 and M29C amphibious "Weasel" trucks similar to those seen in another Steven Spielberg war film, "Saving Private Ryan".
If you go – Studebaker National Museum, South Bend (http://www.studebakermuseum.org) is open daily, year-round except holidays. 150 miles from Indianapolis.
Evelyn Kanter is a New York City-based free-lance writer and contributor to AOL Autos
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