Known as the Ohio Automobile Co. when its founders built their first car in 1899, it became the Packard Motor Car Company in 1903. When it merged with Studebaker in 1954, Packard was one of the last remaining independent U.S. automakers. The brand went off the market in 1958 but its cars are still highly sought after by collectors today.
Packards were advertised with the slogan "Ask the Man who Owns One".
Founded by James Ward Packard and William Dowd Packard, legend has it that the Packard brothers were unhappy with their cars, and James Packard, a mechanical engineer, had some ideas how to improve the design. There are several versions of the story, but by 1899, the two brothers were building automobiles. The company quickly introduced a number of innovations in its designs, including the modern steering wheel and the first production 12-cylinder engine. While Henry Ford was producing cars that sold for $440, Packard concentrated on upscale cars that started at $2,600. Packard automobiles developed a following not only in the United States, but also abroad, with many heads of state owning them.
In the 1930s, devestated by the Great Depression, Packard started mass producing cars. In 1935, Packard introduced its first sub-$1,000 car. Car production tripled that year and doubled again in 1936. Packard produced its final hand-built car in 1939.
By the end of World War II, Packard was in excellent financial condition but suffered from a shortage of raw materials needed to manufacture automobiles again. The post-war seller's market ended in 1951, and the industry as a whole slumped in 1952. Nash Motors president George Mason began approaching Packard about a merger in the early 1950s, believing that the days for independent car manufacturers were numbered. Packard was reluctant. The year 1953 brought about a reversal of fortune, but 1954 was again a down year.
On October 1, 1954, Packard merged with Studebaker, hoping the latter company's larger network of dealers would help increase sales. The newly combined company had plans to merge into American Motors after AMC and Studebaker-Packard had achieved financial stability. The latter merger never happened. Packard's up-again and down-again sales continued, with a profitable year in 1955 followed by a disastrous 1956, which saw production drop to its lowest levels since World War I. Packard had been selling engines and transmissions to American Motors, but a parts dispute ended this arrangement in April of 1956. Severely in debt, the company's creditors ordered the old Packard plants to close on August 15, 1956. In 1957 and 1958, a Studebaker-designed car bearing the Packard nameplate appeared on the market, but sales were slow. The brand left the marketplace in 1958.