by Richard Quinn



In 1946 the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) commemorated its 50th anniversary with a huge Golden Jubilee celebration held in Detroit. It was an auspicious event and one attended by the who’s who in the automotive world at the time plus legendary figures going back to the dawn of the industry. Among those pioneers were renowned figures like J. Frank Duryea, Edgar Apperson, Henry Ford, Charles W. Nash, Barney Oldfield, Ransom E. Olds and Frank Kwilinski. Well ok you might be saying, I recognize those first six guys but Kwilinski, how does he fit in? If that is your response you are a bit little weak in your Studebaker history!

Months prior to the event there were radio announcements, banners, newspaper and magazine advertising and personal letters sent to all major carmakers and suppliers. All of them participated by bringing vehicles, floats and displays of infinite variety.

The event took on a Worlds Fair atmosphere and featured numerous activities including a huge parade with many dignitaries appearing in cars and trucks both old and new. Studebaker had several of their all-new ’47 model Champions and Commanders on hand as well as the M series trucks. In addition some special vehicles from the museum were exhibited and participated in the parade.  These included a Flanders, the Lafayette and Lincoln carriages, a 1932 Indy race car and a Big Six touring car with over 475,000 miles on it. For the parade the city of Detroit even painted a large portion of the pavement in gold! Officials estimated the crowd was in excess of 750,000 people.

You must be getting the picture now that this was an event of colossal proportions yet you are also probably asking has this to do with the Kwilinski fellow and what he did to warrant the special treatment afforded to him as a celebrity among celebrities?

His crowning moment came at the banquet that concluded the weeklong celebration when he received the highest recognition bestowed by the AMA. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame and awarded an aluminum statuette symbolic of his entry into this exclusive club. He was only one fourteen individuals to receive the award up to that time.

You see Mr. Kwilinski was the individual who had completed the longest continuous tenure of any employee in the auto industry. He had started at Studebaker on May 4,1886 in the paint department of the carriage works and by the time of the banquet he had been on the job for 60 years. When he later retired on October 31, 1950 his remarkable record stood at 64 years, 5 months and 27 days. It is likely a feat that has not been approached in the industry.

Studebaker was one of the first large manufacturing concerns to establish a systemized program for the workers benefit. This included paid vacations, medical insurance and anniversary checks. This program was initiated under President A.R. Erskine and administered by a retired Presbyterian minister from South Bend by the name of Dr. C. A. Lippincott. One of the other novel proposals was a plan to recognize an employee’s loyalty by awarding medals on their service anniversaries each five years. This was implemented on September 29, 1923 when all employees were invited to a huge company picnic at Springbrook Park in South Bend. Of the thousands that attended a total of 1,417 qualified for medallions in denomination of five, ten, fifteen and twenty years (see samples of these at ___). While some employees could claim more that the twenty years this would be the highest number shown on the medals.

While the plan initially was restricted to plant employees it was expanded in 1928 to also include those in the dealer network.

It appears that when Studebaker went into receivership in 1933 the awards program was suspended and it was not reinstated until 1935 when a new and smaller type lapel pin was first offered. As with the larger medals these were also limited to the 5, 10, 15 and 20-year anniversaries (see samples at ____). This writer found an “appropriation for betterments” in the archives some years ago for this new style pin. The appropriation dated July 29, 1935 was for the following quantities: 5 year - 946, 10 year – 1273, 15 year – 681 and 20 year – 273. The total cost for the 3173 pins was $1629.41 or a little over .50c each.  

In 1948 there was another change in design. While maintaining the small pin back format the new awards carried the attractive red ball logo that had been introduced in late 1935 as the corporate logo (see images at ___). Since Studebaker now had so many employees that had eclipsed the twenty-year mark of service they decided to offer them in multiples of five up to 50 years and beyond. While achieving fifty years of service credit is most unusual today it was not so uncommon in the days before Social Security and other retirement incentives. While your editor has not made a comprehensive list of employees who attained this lofty record there were several and their names were mentioned prominently in the employee house organ The Spotlight. To appreciate the novelty of this one must consider starting to work at the age of 20 and remain in continuous active employment to the age of 70. As improbable as that may seem today there were some like the aforementioned Mr. Kwilinski who exceeded 60 years and was closing in on 65 when he finally decided to retire!

As most hobbyist know the accumulating of memorabilia relevant to the collecting of the vehicles can be an obsession that may even exceed the passion for the vehicles themselves. After all it is something to enjoy year around and if not taken to extremes a modest collection can be easily and safely stored and displayed at most meets. In addition one can always justify the time, energy and money invested in this pursuit by emphasizing the educational value and the investment potential? How’s that for rationalization?

Being a obsessive-compulsive collector, a trait inherited from my father, and not being constrained by any influence from members of the opposite sex (i.e. a confirmed bachelor) I naturally gravitated toward collecting of Studebaker memorabilia and began accumulating material over 35 years ago. One of the more desirable of all Studebaker collectibles I thought, would be a complete collection of all three types of service pins. Of course this required ascertaining what types were available and how many were in each series. This information was gleaned from a number of original sources over a period of years and some of it is clarified in the paragraphs above. There was but one overriding question, what exactly comprises a complete collection?

Since Studebaker gave out the red ball pins every five years they could accumulate up to and beyond 50 years as per our friend Mr. Kwilinski. After considerable research I discovered that there were only three individuals who exceeded the 60-year mark of continuous service. One was Horace V. Kimble who was still working when he died in February 1942. At the time the highest denomination available was the 20-year John M. Studebaker pin so he would not have received anything higher than that. The second was Mr. Kwilinski who achieved his 60-year anniversary in 1946. Unfortunately this was two years prior to the introduction of the red ball pins so like Kimble he would not have received a 60-year pin. While he continued working for four more years he was just short of 65 years so he could not be awarded a 65-year pin. This leads us to our last hope that being William P. Schwartz who started running errands for Clem, Peter and J.M. Studebaker in September 1879 and on Sept. 1, 1949 achieved the 60-year plateau. In a special ceremony in the office of chairman of the board Harold S. Vance he was awarded a “jewel-studded service pin.” Since this came a year after the introduction of the red ball awards it would be the only 60-year pin ever actually awarded.

The 55 year pin has a ruby and two diamonds and the sixty three diamonds. Some 50 and 55 year pins have been located by collectors that have no jewels. It is likely because Studebaker ordered pins in quantity from their supplier (in this case the L.J. Imber company in Chicago) they were plain with no jewels. Once an employee reached the plateau they would have the jewels set by a local South Bend jeweler.

We might point out that Studebaker offered gold watches in addition to their pins for 40 years of service. Generally these were engraved with the name of the recipient. The practice apparently began as early as November 1910 when John M. Studebaker presented a Studebaker pocket watch to John August Zillmer who had started his service in 1870. As far as we now this was the first actual service anniversary award.

A collector friend Paul Staughn wrote some years ago and mentioned he had a 17 jewel Elgin and a similar 17 jewel Hamilton that had been awarded by Studebaker in 1949 and 1954 respectively to Edward G. Bessler and E. D. Hay. Each watch was appropriately engraved in script with the name and the 40-year designation.

A pin that has eluded me is a rare Canadian version of the red ball. The only one I have seen is in the collection of member Bob Barrack of Dunneville, Ont. This 15-year pin differs from most of the other Canadian examples in that it has the word Canada under the Studebaker (see photo at __). We would be interested in learning whether there are other denominations of this pin or for that matter any other unusual examples of Studebaker service anniversary awards.

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kwilinski pose with the George Clifton automotive award, an aluminum statuette symbolic of his entry into the automotive hall of fame. It would be interesting to know where this prestigious award is today!
This watch was awarded to Frank Kwilinski on the occasion of his 49 year of service in
1935. It is not known why the award came at that particular time though perhaps they neglected it during the 40th anniversary and sought to atone for their oversight. Little did he or Studebaker know at the time that he would continue his service for the company for another 15 years retiring on Oct. 31, 1950 with the remarkable record of 64 years, 5 months and 27 days! This watch was found under the seat of a car being scrapped by an employee of a wrecking yard back in the early 1950’s and saved by the family.
The earliest commemorative anniversary awards were slightly larger than a quarter and are generally referred to as the hanging bar type. They came in four denominations from 5 thru 20 years in copper, bronze, silver and 14K gold respectively. Retired members with 20 or more years service received a special “Honorable Old Guard” designation. This award was used from 1923 to c1933. They were two sided with the employees name engraved on the reverse (see ___).
The reverse side of the hanging bar style (1923-33) shows the verbiage and the space reserved for the name of the recipient. In this case it was Joseph Biltz who received the 14K gold twenty-year award.
The second series was introduced in 1935 and continued thru sometime in 1948. The metals used were similar to the first series. Again they featured the likeness of J.M. Studebaker. The backs had a hinged pin apparatus. Most of these were supplied to Studebaker by the Whitehead and Hoag Co. of Newark, New Jersey.

The red ball pins were awarded in increments of from 5 to 60 years. The first four of the series differed only in the numeral at the top. Beginning with the 25 year pin each succeeding pin was adorned with some type of jewel(s). The 25 year had a pearl. Others were as follows: 30 yr - ruby, 35 yr – 2 pearls, 40 yr – two rubies, 45 yr – two pearls and a ruby, 50 yr – two rubies and a diamond, 55 yr – two diamonds and a ruby (none known), 60 – three diamonds (one known but unaccounted for).
This image is intended to show the relative size of the three awards.
Mr. William P. Schwartz fourth from left receives his 60-year service pin from John Soelch his boss in the purchasing dept. The presentation took place in the office of Harold Vance (second from left) in September 1949. The pin is thought to be the only one of this denomination ever awarded.
A 60-year pin with three diamonds like the one awarded to Mr. Swartz in 1949. He began his service with Studebaker at the age of 16 in 1879
Most Canadian service pins were identical to their U.S counterparts but the photo of this 15 year red ball sent to us by Bob Barrick is unusual in that it has the “Canada” name below the Studebaker. One 20-year pin is known to have survived.