"Golden Domers and Silver Hawks" Top 5 Page for this destination South Bend by sambarnett

South Bend Travel Guide: 138 reviews and 246 photos

   South Bend is about 2 hours east of Chicago and was once home to the famous Studebaker car company, who's abandoned factory is picture here. That company closed down in 1963, but South Bend's national reputation is still solid thanks to to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame University.

   Named for its position on the St. Joseph River, South Bend owes much of its existence to the river. As early as 1679 Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, passed through and portaged in the area. By the early 1820s Euro-Americans began founding permanent trading posts. The coming of the railroad and the Civil War helped fuel the South Bend (as well as that of neighboring Mishawaka) economy. One local company, a horseshoeing and wagon repair shop founded by brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker, saw their business expand so much that a decade after the war they could consider themselves the largest wagon works company in the entire world, turning out over 11,000 wagons a year.
   At the turn of the twentieth century, the Studebaker company was smart to anticipate the growth in popularity of the automobile. They began marketing cars in 1908. Eight years later ground was broken to an automobile production facility that could produce up to 700 cars daily. Other major South Bend industries during the mid 19th and early 20th centuries include Singer, Oliver Plow and the Bendix company, whose innovations include the electric self-starter and a four-wheel braking system, originally developed by French engineer Henri Perrot.
   Like many manufacturing firms, Studebaker cut domestic production during World War I, turning their efforts to supporting the military. But during this time company president Albert Erskine had some company engineers concentrate on the development of a new line of automobiles, intended for the anticipated post-war market boom. Again, the decision proved wise for Studebaker (and a few other South Bend industries) but the boom was short lived, peaking years before the coming of the Great Depression.
   The rough years of the 1930s brought poverty and labor unrest. On November 17, 1936, one thousand workers at the Bendix company staged the first "sit down strike" in automotive industry history. These tactics provided a model later followed by the United Auto Workers and their historic sit down strike in Flint, Michigan the following year.

   Studebaker, who enjoyed good labor-management relations, remained largely strike-free through this harsh decade. World War II provided an economic boost, but again the company faltered in the post war years. In fact, according to Indiana: A New Historical Guide, the company began laying off workers just "one day after the Japanese surrender." Still, during the "anxious years" of post WWII Studebaker managed to turn out some sweet, classic cars. Visit the Studebaker National Museum south of downtown for a good look.
   Unable to compete with Detroit's "Big Three" Studebaker saw more lagging sales and laid off more employees over the next decade, finally closing up shop on December 8, 1963. The community, prepared for the closing, weathered events rather well. Business and civic leaders worked to attract new industries. Like many other communities in the US the city did experience urban decay, white flight and racial tension, but the biggest hit to the community was a late 1960s decision to demolish a number of empty downtown buildings, creating what is today a very meager skyline and a mismatched collection of buildings along with a few still-present vacant lots downtown.
   Today things seem pretty steady for this community of about 108,000 people. The number one tourist draw is, of course, the University of Notre Dame and while most of the downtown area is safe and clean it also feels a bit dead, the majority of retail business is located on a horrific stretch of consumerism known as Grape Road in Mishawaka. The Studebaker Corridor will be of interest to gear-heads as well as fans of the industrial landscape.

  • Intro Updated May 25, 2003
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