Memories of Currier & Ives and One-Horse Open Sleighs

Posted on 12-06-2023

By Darrel Burnett, Executive Director – The Automobile Gallery & Event Center

As a veil of snow gently fell across the Midwest Thanksgiving weekend, Mother Nature’s wardrobe change politely nudged us out of November and into December. My thoughts instinctively drifted to cherished memories of Currier & Ives and one-horse open sleighs, traditions that are as rich as a cup of holiday hot chocolate.

Have you ever wondered who made those sleighs?

Some of the finest in the world were manufactured by Studebaker Corporation. There is a tinge of sadness in those words because December 20th will mark 60 years to the day that Studebaker closed its doors in South Bend, Indiana.

Though the company limped on for 3 more years making cars in Hamilton, Ontario, when this Avanti rolled off the assembly line on the 20th of December 1963, 7,000 workers went home never to return.

South Bend would never be the same and the automotive world lost a creative force.

Too often reduced to a footnote or forgotten altogether in the modern era, Studebaker was in business for 171 years before officially closing its doors March 18th, 1966. Ponder the significance of that accomplishment for a moment. Buick, America’s oldest car company won’t celebrate its 171st birthday for another 47 years! Only one company in history was along for the entire ride from horse and buggy to interstate highways, the Studebaker Corporation.

Born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Clement Studebaker and his brother John arrived at the same place by going in opposite directions. Clement was a blacksmith who built horse-drawn farm wagons in South Bend, Indiana, while his brother John sought his fortune in the California gold rush of 1849.

John struck gold but in a very unconventional way. When he couldn’t find a job, John started making wheelbarrows for prospectors leading to a different kind of goldmine –the automobile!

Light years ahead of his time, John created an electric car in 1902, and the company never looked back. 

From its first days in 1852, Studebaker was at the intersection of Main and Main as our country’s story was unfolding.

Studebaker carriages chauffeured Presidents Harrison, Fillmore, Grant, and McKinley, and a regal Studebaker barouche squired President Abraham Lincoln to Ford’s Theater on that fateful night of April 14th, 1865.

Never lacking innovation but forever lacking the funding and resources of the Big Three in Detroit, Studebaker did more with less than any car company in American history. Raymond Loewy Associates’ postwar bullet nose designs for Studebaker introduced a modern flare to automotive design that had never been imagined before let alone produced. The postwar Commanders and Champions are works of art by any measure.

Studebaker’s marketing slogan “First by Far” was never more accurate than when the luxury Golden Hawk was introduced in 1956. While its lifespan was tragically cut short due to corporate financial woes, the Golden Hawk was a supercharged performance car covered in class from tip to tail.

We are honored to have Jim Gegare’s 1958 Studebaker Golden Hawk on display at The Automobile Gallery & Event Center, 1 of only 2 ever produced in Shadowtone Red Poly.



As you celebrate this holiday season, do me a favor and raise a glass to Studebaker to celebrate what once was and sadly will never be again.