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The Mystery Behind the Austin Studebaker Mural

By: motoraustin 4/15/2016 4:00:00 PM

Benson Motor Co Austin Studebaker

You may recognize this seemingly random Studebaker mural in downtown Austin.

The mural is on the side of the Phillips Building at 103 E. 5th Street. The building was constructed in 1897 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This article will uncover a bit of the mystery behind this mural.

Those who do the tedious work of digging into history are sometimes given a reward. The reward is usually something they weren't expecting to find.

Although I didn't find as much as I wanted to about the Benson Motor Company, I did find a bit of history that was unexpected.

Read on to discover for yourself.

Benson Motor Co Austin Studebaker

The photo above is courtesy of the Austin History Center. It was taken May 27, 1920 and includes the caption "Dr. Vinson in car."

The Phillips building housed the Benson Motor Company.

The Benson Motor Company was owned by W. S. Benson, M. H. Benson and Chas E. Anderson jr.

They were an early Austin Studebaker dealership and also sold Cadillac and Okland automobiles.

The building also served as a garage, literally. Most houses at the time did not have a garage, many of the well to do would store their cars in downtown garages such as this.

It's not clear exactly how long they were in business at this location but I was able to find automotive journals and newspaper advertisements for Benson Motor Co. that range from 1915 to 1929.

My research also uncovered an unexpected connection to the University of Texas.

The man in the car is probably Dr. Robert Vinson, President of the University of Texas in 1920.

Benson Motor Co Austin Studebaker

It is rare to find photos of people from 100 years ago but my research turned up a wonderful set of photographs of the Benson Motor Company owners.

This clipping was part of an advertisement in "The Automobile," a trade journal published in March 1916.

The names on the photos are (from left to right) M. H. Benson, Chas E. Anderson jr and W. S. Benson. The advertisement was signed by W. S. Benson.

According to "The Acolade - Ex-students' Association of the University of Texas," published in 1913, M. H. Benson (possibly W. S. Benson's brother) quit a law practice to sell automobiles.

Austin and Texas Automobile Facts

To get some perspective on where Austin (and Texas) was at this early time of the automobile age I have included some historical facts below.

  • The first privately owned gasoline powered automobile arrived in Texas in 1899.
  • The Ford Model T was introduced in 1908.
  • Texas required residents to register their motor vehicles in 1917.
  • By the end of 1917 there were 194,720 motor vehicles registered in Texas.
  • The population of Austin in 1920 was 34,876.

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