First Steps: In the Beginning
James W. Burnes
Note: A special thanks goes to Mr.
Ken Kaufmann for his extensive ongoing research into Chevrolet
history and his support and research assistance for the production
and continued update of this article.
understand what the beginning of Chevrolet was about, one must
also understand the beginning of General Motors.
Dallas Dort in 1886, William C. Durant, future founder of Chevrolet,
purchased the Coldwater Road Cart Company. This
company was very successful and at its height, operated fourteen
factories. By 1890, Durant-Dort Carriage Company was the nation's
largest carriage company,
producing approximately 150,000 vehicles a year. At left is a
photo of the original facility - today a national historic landmark.
1904, Billy Durant was approached by James Whiting of the Buick
Motor Company to promote his automobiles and on November 1, 1904
Durant took control. Between 1904 and 1908, Durant was Buick's
president and established essential parts and accessory companies
such as Weston-Mott and Champion Ignition, located in Flint, Michigan.
He built Buick into a highly successful company b yproducing a
low, medium, and high price cars to meet the needs of any buyer.
C. Durant then founded General Motors four years later on September
16, 1908. Incorporating General Motors of New Jersey (GM) in Hudson
County, NJ with a capital of $2,000. Within 12 days the company
generated stocks that produced
$12,000,000 cash. On September 29, 1908, GM bought Buick. Later,
GM bought Oldsmobile in Lansing, Michigan (November 12, 1908),
Oakland in Pontiac, Michigan(January 20, 1909), and Cadillac in
Detroit, Michigan (July 29, 1909 for $5,000,000). By 1910 he had
purchased 17 companies. Unfortunately financial trouble was not
superpower of several motorcar companies was not a new idea for
Durant. As early as 1907, he had confided to associates that his
goal was to control the entire automobile industry. As a first
step toward that end he had tried to put together a conglomerate
combining Buick, Ford, Maxwell, and Reo into a single corporation.
But Henry Ford wanted cash for his organization, as did Ransom
Olds, so the deal fell through.
in 1909 bankers turn down William Durant's request for a loan
to buy Ford Motor Company for about $9.5 million.
cause of Durant's downfall at General Motors was his ambitious
expansion program. Stretching his credit to the limit he acquired
numerous properties, some of them of dubious value. There was,
for instance, the Welch, an automobile of superb quality, that
was "as big as a freight car," according to one of Durant's associates.
But at $7,000 the Welch proved nearly impossible to sell. Other
firms acquired by Durant during this period included the Randolph,
whose builders had great plans but apparently failed to manufacture
even a single car; the Rainier, soon to be replaced by the ill-fated
Marquette; the two-cycle Elmore; the friction-drive Carter Car;
and a taxicab called the Ewing. All of them were losers.
mid-July 1910, General Motors was seven million dollars in debt
to the First National Bank of Boston, and its credit line was
stopped. The creditors viewed Buick as worth saving, but recommended
the liquidation of the balance of the operation. At this point
Henry Leland, founder of the Cadillac (and, later, founder of
Lincoln) interceded. The bankers agreed to supply GM with the
needed capital - at exorbitant rates, of course-provided Durant
stepped down. Durant didn't completely loose out in the deal,
while he lost day-to-day control of General Motors, he remained
on their board of directors!
wasn't finished. He was going to gain control of General Motors
by creating a new company.
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