Nineteen-year-old John joined a wagon leaving South Bend, Indiana, and headed west in search of gold. However, instead of looking for gold, he ended up making wheelbarrows.

When young John arrived at Old Dry Diggings (now Placerville), it was the last day of August 1853.

Placerville, at the time, was one of the most important cities in California and aspired to be the state capital. Others in the competition were Sacramento, San Francisco, and Chinese Camp.

Placerville was well known across the country during the Gold Rush and was way ahead of other cities like Poker Flat, Red Dog, You Bet, Whiskey Town, Petticoat Slide, Rough and Ready, Skunk Gulch, and Angel’s Camp.

For one thing, Placerville was strategically located on the main transcontinental trail. John arrived in Placerville driving a wagon that he had built in his father’s wagon shop at his home in South Bend, Indiana.

His bankroll consisted of a pitiful fifty cents. He had lost his original bankroll of $ 68 to a card shark during a stopover in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

When the caravan reached Placerville, the local citizens quickly gathered. A man repeatedly shouted: “Is there a car manufacturer among you?”

Several men in the caravan pointed to young Studebaker and the wagon he had built for the westward journey.

“My name is HL Hinds,” said the man. “I’m the blacksmith and I have a good job for a man who wants a job. Do you want the job?” he asked John.

Young John hesitated. “I came to California to look for gold,” he said. Hinds walked away.

It was then a man who had overheard the conversation being told to John. “I don’t know you from Adam, but I can’t help but give you some advice. Take that job and take it fast. You’ll have plenty of time to pan for gold. There are hundreds of disappointed gold prospectors. For every one you hit you pay ground. They don’t have a penny. Some of them are hungry. You’re lucky they offer you a job five minutes after you arrive. Take it, boy. “

For John, the frankness of the advice was convincing. He ran after the Hinds disappeared and told him that he had reconsidered and that he would like the job after all.

The work in the smithy consisted of repairing miners’ picks and pans, as well as a considerable repair of stagecoaches. The great demand, however, was for wheelbarrows.

“Can you make a wheelbarrow?” Hinds asked.

“Sure I can,” John replied. “That’s it — I can try.”

John’s first wheelbarrow was a dismal failure. It was rickety, clumsy, and made of green pine. It had taken him two days to build. When he finished, his employer laughed and said, “It’s an amazing wheelbarrow. Try again.”

John’s second attempt produced a much better product. When he produced a third, he had found the ability to produce a robust and strong truck. It soon got the name “Johnny Wheelbarrow”.

By 1855, John sold his wheelbarrows for $ 10 each and had saved $ 3,000. To fulfill his original wish to be a gold miner, he made a claim.

It wasn’t profitable, but he was able to pick up some pieces of gold to show his family in Indiana. By continuing to work on wheelbarrow manufacturing, by the fall of 1857 John’s savings had grown to $ 7,000.

Then John received a letter from his brother Clem, 26, who was making wagons with his brother Henry in South Bend.
Clem wrote to Johnny, saying that his company could only produce a dozen wagons a year because the brothers had to do all the work themselves. Nor could they buy supplies in large batches for lack of money.

Clem told John that while they were doing well, they could do a lot more if they had the capital. Rather than building just a dozen railcars a year, Clem envisioned building 100 or even 200 railcars each year.

John, a sensible thinker, knew that South Bend was the perfect city to build wagons. The young forklift manufacturer made a decision. He would work right there in Hangtown until next spring, saving as much money as he could.

Then you could go back to South Bend with $ 8,000 in your pocket. This would put it in H. & C. Studebaker. During a stopover in New York on his way back to South Bend, young John Studebaker saw carriages in Central Park. He made a mental note that while the West would need heavy wagons, light wagons might also be needed in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Denver, or Sacramento.

In 1868, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was organized, and by 1875, it was the largest wagon builder in the world, with more than $ 1,000,000 in sales.

The Studebaker Corporation produced a horseless electric carriage in 1902, followed by the manufacture of a gasoline automobile in 1904. At the head of the corporation was JM Studebaker, formerly known as “Wheelbarrow Johnny.”

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