Walter P. Chrysler
Walter Percy Chrysler
(April 2, 1875 – August 18, 1940)
Walter Percy Chrysler was born April 2, 1875 in Wamego, Kansas, the son of Anna Maria (née
Breymann) and Henry Chrysler.
Chrysler grew up in Ellis, Kansas where he became a Freemason
and began his career as a machinist and railroad mechanic.
Chrysler's automotive career began in 1911 when he received a
summons to meet with James J. Storrow, a banker who was a
director of ALCO and also an executive at General Motors.
General Motors had been taken over by creditors at that time and
was managed by the bankers. Storrow asked Chrysler if he had
given any thought to automobile manufacture. Chrysler had been
an auto enthusiast for over 5 years by then, and was very
interested. Storrow arranged a meeting with Charles W. Nash,
then president of the Buick Motor Company, who was looking for
a smart production chief. Chrysler, who had resigned from many
railroading jobs over the years, made his final resignation from
railroading to become works manager (in charge of production) at Buick in Flint, Michigan. He
found many ways to reduce the costs of production, such as putting an end to finishing automobile
undercarriages with the same luxurious quality of finish that the body warranted.
In 1916, William C. Durant, who founded General Motors
in 1908, had retaken GM from the bankers. Chrysler,
who was closely tied to the bankers, submitted his
resignation to Durant, then based in New York City.
Durant took the first train to Flint to make an attempt to
keep Chrysler at the helm of Buick. Durant made the
then-unheard of salary offer of $10,000 ($165,000 in
today's dollars) a month for 3 years, with a $500,000
bonus at the end of each year, or $500,000 in stock.
Additionally, Chrysler would report directly to Durant, and
would have full run of Buick without interference from
anyone. Apparently in shock, Chrysler asked Durant to
repeat the offer, which he did. Chrysler immediately accepted.
Chrysler ran Buick successfully for several more years. Not long after his three year contract was
up, he resigned from his job as president of Buick in 1919. He did not agree with Durant's vision for
the future of General Motors. Durant paid Chrysler $10 million for his GM stock. Chrysler had
started at Buick in 1911 for $6,000 a year, and left one of the richest men in America.
Chrysler was then again hired by bankers. This time his mission was to attempt a turnaround of the
ailing Willys-Overland Motor Company in Toledo, Ohio. He demanded, and got, a salary of $1
million a year for 2 years, an astonishing amount at that time. When Chrysler left Willys in 1921
after an unsuccessful attempt to take control from John Willys, he acquired a controlling interest in
the ailing Maxwell Motor Company. Chrysler phased out Maxwell and absorbed it into his new firm,
the Chrysler Corporation, in 1925. In addition to his namesake car company, Plymouth and DeSoto
marques were created, and in 1928 Chrysler purchased Dodge. The same year he financed the
construction of the Chrysler Building in New York City, which was completed in 1930. Chrysler was
named Time Magazine's Man of the Year for 1928.
Dave Immel Automotive Consultant