A Volkswagen Tyrant, A Fiat Despot, A Chrysler Autocrat … what are the chances of anyone manufacturing cars with names like these?
Well, in 1927 the now-defunct Studebaker corporation appended the name of its company with the word ‘dictator’ to label an already existing model. From the late 1920s to 1930s a customer in the US could purchase and drive a car called a Studebaker Dictator.
At the time, the word ‘dictator’ was only beginning to acquire an aura of unrestrained, tyrannical, arbitrary, violent and unscrupulous power. During WWI, ‘autocrat’ was often the insult hurled at rulers on the losing side. Publicists like Ed Bernays and Walter Lippmann used the word in sometimes a positive, sometimes a negative sense. In the late 1920s Mussolini was the only known dictator in the US and his reputation was not all that bad.
Studebaker retained something of the classical meaning of a dictator in their pricing policy. The Studebaker President was the highest priced model, followed by the Commander and then the Dictator. Historically, a dictator was always a powerful commissioner but under the command of the sovereign. Remember too that Il Duce was never sovereign but a second-in-command under the Italian King.