On this day in 1931, Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach and namesake of the Studebaker Rockne line of autos, is killed in a plane crash near Bazaar, Kansas, at the age of 43.
The roots of the Studebaker Corporation date back to 1852, when siblings Henry and Clement Studebaker opened a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. Studebaker eventually became a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn wagons and supplied the U.S. Army with wagons during the Civil War. Around the turn of the century, Studebaker joined America’s burgeoning auto industry, launching an electric car in 1902 and a gas-powered vehicle two years later that was marketed under the name Studebaker-Garford. After partnering with other automakers, Studebaker began selling gas-powered cars under its own name in 1913, while continuing to make wagons until 1920.
Born on March 4, 1888, in Voss, Norway, Knute Rockne moved to Chicago, Illinois, with his family when he was 5. He attended the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, where he played football for the Fighting Irish and was a stellar student. From 1918 to 1930, the charismatic Rockne was head coach of the school’s football team, compiling a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, 5 ties and 6 national championships. His players included the All-American George “Gipper” Gip (1895–1920), the inspiration for Rockne’s now-famous motivational line “Win one for the Gipper.” In the late 1920s, Studebaker, then the world’s 10th-biggest automaker, signed Rockne to give motivational talks at auto conventions and dealership events.
After Rockne died on March 31, 1931, while flying to Los Angeles to assist with the production of the movie “The Spirit of Notre Dame,” Studebaker decided to name its new line of low-priced vehicles after the revered coach. The company agreed to pay Rockne’s widow 25 cents for each car it sold. Studebaker went on to make some 38,000 Rocknes for the model years 1932 and 1933; however, at the time, the auto industry had been hobbled by the Great Depression and in March 1933, Studebaker, which was heavily in debt, was forced into receivership. The company pulled the plug on the Rockne line later that year.
Studebaker eventually rebounded, but by the 1950s, the company, which merged with Packard in 1954, was again facing financial troubles. In December 1963, with the closure of its South Bend production plant, Studebaker quit building cars in the United States. The company’s Hamilton, Ontario, facilities remained in operation until March 1966, when Studebaker shut its doors for good after 114 years in business.