Blog Post

GovCon Travelogue: What do Presidential Carriages, Mail Trucks and Weasels have in Common?

So what exactly do presidential carriages and a weasel have to do with government contracting, let alone with each other? The Studebaker Automobile Company.

This past weekend, I was visiting my in-laws at their home in South Bend, Ind., for a wedding. South Bend also just happens to be the home of the Studebaker Automobile Company's headquarters and the Studebaker Museum.

Though defunct by 1967, Studebaker has been in the area since 1852, building vehicles from wooden carriages to all-terrain military transports. Though you may remember the Studebaker brand for their station wagons and boat-size sedans, the company was also a federal and state contractor.

President McKinley's Phaeton

President McKinley's Phaeton.

Prior to Studebaker's shift to manufacturing automobiles, it also created carriages for President McKinley, and the museum is home to President Grant's and Lincoln's carriages.

What was thought to also be a Studebaker Landau, President Grant's carriage was actually built by Brewster & Company of New York.

Also on display at the Studebaker museum was the barouche that brought President Lincoln to Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865, the date on which he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

Later, Studebaker developed military carriages and cargo carriers.

Studebaker and World War I

World War I Studebaker Water Wagon

World War I Studebaker Water Wagon.

Studebaker President Albert Erskine extended an offer to President Woodrow Wilson for the company to be exclusively a defense contractor during World War I. Wilson accepted the offer, and during both World War I and II Studebaker only developed military vehicles.

During World War I, chemical warfare became a threat, so in 1917 the military began building over 10,500 water carts to supply troops on the battlefield with potable water.

In 1917 Studebaker began developing horse-drawn Army ambulance carriages. A contract signed on December 19, 1917, had Studebaker developing 250 61-inch artillery wheels per day. These wheels were used on artillery and weighed 800 pounds.

In 1918, Studebaker built close to 8,000 escort wagons for the U.S. Army, which were primarily used in the battlefields of France.

Studebaker and World War II

T24 Studebaker Weasel

T24 Studebaker Weasel.

In addition to water carts during World War II, Studebaker developed the T24 Weasel. The Weasel was an all-terrain troop and cargo transport vehicle; some versions were amphibious. Due to its tank treads, the Weasel was ideal for snow transport and often towed sleds. The six-cylinder inline engine had 70 horsepower with a maximum speed of 35 mph.

Fire, Mail and Safety

1928 Studebaker Fire Truck

1928 Studebaker Fire Truck.

In 1928, Studebaker teamed with the Boyer Fire Apparatus Company of Logansport, Ind., to develop fire trucks. At the time, each fire truck cost $2,410 and had a six-cylinder inline engine and only 75 horsepower.

In 1963, Studebaker and Pennsylvania company Met-Pro teamed up to develop the Zip Van used by the USPS. The Zip Van had 112 horsepower with a six 6-cylinder engine. It could be driven in a seated or standing position.

Finally, the Pursuit Marshal was Studebaker's high-performance police cruiser, featuring a V8 engine with 240 horsepower. Three different versions were developed in 1964.

Flight and Missiles

Studebaker developed the Wright R-1820 aircraft engine during WWII, and began moving away from automobiles in the early 1960s as they purchased a company that specialized in missile and space technology.

Even after the company's demise, other contractors used the Wright R-820 aircraft engine, including Grumman (now Northrop Grumman), Boeing and both Lockheed and Martin (now Lockheed Martin).

For those interested, the Studebaker Museum also has a Twitter account and it posts fun facts and photos from their tours @Studebaker05.

Elliot Volkman is an expert in new media communications and the Community Manager of GovWin, a Deltek network that helps government contractors win new business every day. He can be reached at, or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.