Studebaker History Museum displays war products from local factories
The first double exhibit at the nearby Studebaker National Museum and South Bend History Museum features big, heavy war artifacts – and small ones too – with stories of how they were all made by local hands.
On the Studebaker side of the “Manufacturing Victory” exhibit, which runs through February 6, you see a horse-drawn cart from the Studebaker Corp. which was compact enough for the Turkish army to traverse the mountains of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.
At the History Museum, you dive into this material tour with a 190-pound WWII-designed wetsuit with a spherical head and round window. Brass-toed boots have lead soles to sink a diver’s feet, lest the body turn around causing the suit to fill with water.
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Beside the costume on the wall, an old newsletter from the US Rubber Co. in Mishawaka, also known as the Ball Band, displays photos and text showing which employees made the costumes and how.
“A lot of companies have promoted their workers like the Home Army,” said Kristie Erickson, deputy executive director of the museum.
Ball Band was one of the largest producers of wetsuits at the time. This suit, acquired at auction, comes with a crank pump alongside that supplied air to the diver.
These two separate museums are contiguous on the same campus and have collaborated on joint advertisements and memberships. But “Manufacturing Victory,” which opened on June 19, marks the first time they’ve shared an exhibit at this point, said Marilyn Thompson, director of marketing for The History Museum.
Most of the objects in the history museum were already part of his collection, but other pieces were either loaned or acquired.
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The story really begins in the exhibition hall that connects the museums. Goods are lacking as this section covers the early wars supported by the South Bend area. Here, you learn about the Utah War of 1857-58, known as President James Buchanan’s “blunder” to quell what he mistakenly believed to be rebellious Mormons in Utah Territory. Studebaker stepped in to help a Mishawaka railcar maker fulfill its federal contract for compact cars. The Boer Wars of 1899-1902 also called for Studebaker wagons for the British army’s confrontation with South African farmers of Dutch origin.
The strongest muscles of war are on display at the History Museum, as its main exhibit covers WWII and later. After the wetsuit, you’ll find a 1941 long military sled with wooden runners, next to a T24 Weasel all-terrain vehicle with tank-shaped belts that spin around its wheels. Both were made by Studebaker. A large photo shows the weasel dragging the sled over the snow. Some of the weasels were also amphibious, Erickson said.
On a much smaller scale, there is a sextant and an altimeter, used for air navigation. Bendix Aviation Corp. made the sextant. But the altimeter came from the musical instrument company Conn in Elkhart, which was skilled with metal and precision. Likewise, Erickson says, the local Wilson shirt factory made items for the uniforms. The Singer Sewing Machine Factory, which was skilled in cabinet making, made crates. A poster wall illustrates several other local war businesses whose wares could not be found or included in the exhibit.
The turtle on display is a peculiar metal frame mounted on a set of balloon wheels, which Studebaker made to haul goods over snow and sand.
There is a Studebaker Champion car known as the “Blackout Model” because the bumpers and hubcaps are black, a substitute metal because chrome was needed for war products.
The Bendix RIM-8 Talos missile had been suspended at South Bend International Airport from 2004 until early summer when it moved here. The missile has been in the collections of the Studebaker Museum since the 1970s, archivist Andrew Beckman said, although before the airport it hung in Discovery Hall at the Century Center and in the building that once housed the former Freeman-Spicer car dealership. .
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“We are trying to determine where his final destination is,” Beckman said, adding that there were no plans to bring him back to the airport.
Erickson said the Talos was the largest of three missiles made in response to the U.S. military against Japanese Kamikaze pilots during World War II. They were used in the 1970s, often perched on warships, and could be fitted with an explosive or nuclear warhead, she said. The one on display was capable of traveling up to 150 nautical miles. And no, says Beckman, he doesn’t have a warhead anymore.
The Humvee on display was manufactured in 1983, two years after AM General was awarded the contract to build them. It’s near a modern simulator that the company still uses, now on loan, with a seat, screen, and steering wheel for visitors to try out. It is disinfected daily, Erickson said.
In the end, documents show local war contracts. Photos and a few signs explain the racial integration that only manifested itself in factories after World War II.
“We can talk about all the companies that produced for the war, but none of this would have been possible without the people,” Erickson said.
At the Studebaker Museum, the exhibit begins in the atrium with items marking AM General’s 50th anniversary. There is a 1982 Jeep Mutt, designed by Ford but also manufactured by AM General. Several companies, Beckman said, would build vehicles and military items of the same design.
The upstairs section of “Manufacturing Victory” shows wagons and vehicles that never left the factory, preserved for posterity. Beckman said these pieces had been seen in the museum’s basement, but, now grouped together, they have more interpretive signs and artefacts.
Next to the compact wagon from the Balkan Wars are two horse-drawn water carts, one designed for the United States and the other for the British.
Interpretive panels explain how Studebaker delayed modernizing its factories for the appearance of cars, preferring to focus on manufacturing war items.
“Studebaker put the needs of the country ahead of profits,” says Beckman.
A photo shows Alexander Arch, the man from South Bend who fired the first round of ammunition in WWI, who would later work at the Studebaker factory for a time.
A nearly 6-foot-tall wheel from 1917, designed for an artillery mount, is so heavy it took extra personnel to put it in place without tipping over, he said. Near an ambulance car is a 1918 army escort car, the equivalent of an army transport truck, which was one of 8,000 manufactured by Studebaker, said Beckman.
A horse-drawn plow made by Oliver Chilled Plow Works, alongside a photo of a victory garden, shows how large communal crops would feed people at home while rationing was in place. And in a photo of the War Bonds effort, a sign on a local horse-drawn chariot carries the public’s sentiment towards Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German Emperor during World War I: “A Pill for Kaiser Bill “.
• What: “Manufacturing victory”
• Or: Studebaker National Museum, 201 Chapin St., and The History Museum, 808 W. Washington St., South Bend
• When: Until February 6
• Hours: Both museums are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
• Admission: $ 15 per adult, $ 12 for seniors, $ 8 for ages 6-17, with discounts for veterans and serving members.
• For more information: Call 574-235-9664 for the History Museum or 574-235-9714 for the Studebaker Museum. Or visit historymuseumSB.org or studebakermuseum.org.