February 5, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Walter Chrysler

Walter Percy Chrysler always considered himself a "transportation man." He called his autobiography the Life of an American Workman. Chrysler grew up on a farm near Ellis, Kansas, the son of an engineer who piloted an old wood burning locomotive for the Kansas Pacific Railroad.

In 1892 at the age of 17 Chrysler began working in Ellis railway shops for 7¢ an hour. Short of temper and highly competitive, Chrysler worked hard and played hard through roundhouses across the United States. As a journeyman machinist Chrysler moved upward through such posts as general foreman, master mechanic and superintendent.

In 1908 Chrysler took a job as plant manager for American Locomotive in Pittsburgh where his skills soon attracted the attention of the young auto industry. It was a mutual attraction. While on a trip to Chicago Chrysler became infatuated with a new ivory-colored Locomobile with red leather seats and trim. The new car cost $5000, a steep price for a man with $700 in cash and a $350-a-month job. Chrysler convinced a banker friend to lend him the money to buy the car.

But Chrysler's dream car was not to drive. He shipped it home to his barn where he took apart the car and examined it in minute detail. His first drive didn't come for three months. But Walter Chrysler now knew as much about the workings of an automobile as any man.

In 1911 Chrysler accepted his first automobile job as plant manager with the Buick Motor Company. He took a pay cut from $12,000 to $6,000 to launch his automotive career. As works manager Chrysler quickly raised production from 45 to 560 cars a day by eliminating useless steps in the manufacturing process. Within five years Chrysler had risen to the presidency of Buick and a was a vice-president of General Motors. He was making $500,000 a year of which he took $380,000 each year in General Motors stock.

After more than three stormy years spent among similar strong-minded auto men Chrysler left the industrial giant in 1920, ostensibly to retire at age 45. He returned after six months, quickly gaining a reputation as "the doctor of sick motor car companies."

He first effected many economies for Willys-Overland, a maker of harvesters and airplanes as well as cars, by reducing indebtedness and liabilities by millions of dollars. Next Chrysler took over the ailing Maxwell-Chalmers Car Company while beginning experiments on his own car.

The first Chryslers appeared in 1924. The Chrysler B-Series automobiles featured six body styles. His first year Chrysler sold $50,000,000 worth of automobiles. The company already ranked 32nd among car manufacturers. By 1927 Chrysler was #5.

In 1928 Chrysler introduced the Plymouth and engineered the purchase of the Dodge Corporation which had been sold to an investment banking group after the Dodge Brothers death. In an exchange of $170,000,000 of stock Chrysler changed the "Big Two" to the "Big Three." Years later he would remark, "The greatest thing I ever did was buy the Dodge."

None of Chrysler's four children followed him into the automobile business. In 1929 he began work on the Chrysler Building in New York City. Company headquarters would never leave Michigan. It was strictly a real estate investment "to give the children something to do." When completed in 1934 the 77-story Chrysler Building was second in size only to the Empire State Building.

Chrysler gave up the presidency of the corporation in 1935. He remained Chief Executive Officer but as he put it, "I'm just watching it now." In 1938 he began suffering from a circulatory ailment and lived the final two years of his life as an invalid. In his office in the Chrysler Building a tool chest containing mechanic's tools Walter Chrysler fashioned himself remained proudly on display.

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