John Mohler Studebaker came to California from Ohio at age 19 to strike it rich in the Gold Rush. After trying his hand at gold mining, he rented the rear part of this shop built in 1850 in Placerville where he built and repaired wagon wheels and wagon parts. The front part of the shop housed a blacksmith shop operated by Ollis and Hinds. Studebaker began to make and sell wheelbarrows for miner’s at $10 a piece, and after amassing $8,000 left Placerville to join his brothers in South Bend, Indiana to make ammunition wagons for the Union Army.
Hailing from a line of wagon-making men in Ohio, John was one of five brothers who all entered the wagon-making trade and together founded the Studebaker Corporation, which began making wagons and carriages and expanded in the 1890s to make automobiles. Studebaker Carriages were so popular, President Lincoln and General Grant each owned one, and President Lincoln was riding in one to the theater the night of his assassination. The Studebaker Corporation was successful until the mid-twentieth century, and merged with another auto manufacturer in 1954 to create the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. The last Studebaker car to come off the assembly line was on March 16, 1966 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
A memorial marker is at the front of a coffee shop where the original shop once stood. The marker commemorates John Mohler Studebaker (also known then as “Wheelbarrow Johnny”) and his time in Placerville constructing wheelbarrows. Placerville hosts the John M. Studebaker International Wheelbarrow Races to honor Studebaker's time in Placerville.
Today Studebaker cars are collected and maintained by car enthusiasts. The shop in Placerville where John Mohler Studebaker began his career marks Placerville’s early part in American automobile history.
The marker is located in Placerville on 543 Main Street, 43.7 miles east of Sacramento on Highway 50.
El Dorado County
Stretching from oak-studded foothills and the shores of Folsom Lake to the western shore of Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County is probably best known for the 1848 gold discovery at Coloma. “Old Hangtown” sprang up during the Gold Rush and was later renamed Placerville. The county name comes from the mythical land rich in gold sought by Spanish explorers. The first inhabitants of El Dorado County were the Maidu and Miwok Indians, followed by miners attracted to the area by the Gold Rush.
El Dorado County was one of the original counties in California. The Pony Express Trail ran through the county approximately where Highway 50 is today, from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1861. The first county seat was Coloma, and it was superseded by Placerville for this position in 1857. El Dorado means “the gilded one” in Spanish; a fitting name considering the mines in El Dorado County produced millions of dollars of gold.