The Father Of General Motors

William C. Durant plants the seeds for the largest automaker in the world

Andy Bolig - May 28, 2014 04:15 PM

ImagePhoto Credit: GM

Louis Chevrolet and William C Durant in 1911.

Photo Credit: GM

the Durant-Dort Carriage Company came in 1886. The company continued making horse-drawn carriages until 1917, and the factory and office buildings were converted to the manufacture of automobiles by the Dort Motor Company.

Photo Credit: GM

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His final years found him operating a small bowling alley in Flint, Michigan

General Motors was founded by William “Billy” Durant on September 16, 1908.

Before that, in 1885 and at the young age of 24, Billy Durant had already joined forces with Josiah Dort to create the Coldwater Road Cart Company. He founded the Flint Road Cart Company in 1886 and by 1890 the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, based in Flint, Michigan, had become a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles.

Durant was skeptical of the horseless carriage, so much so, that he forbade his daughter from riding in one. But, by 1904, Billy Durant had warmed to the idea of what would be called the automobile and he entered the fledgling Buick, which he purchased with help from his partner Samuel McLaughlin. His prowess in marketing carriages carried over to the horseless version and Durant founded General Motors Holding Company on September 16, 1908.  At its inception GM held only the Buick Motor Company, but in a matter of years would acquire more than 20 companies including Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Oakland, known today as the now-defunct Pontiac. Billy Durant had even worked out a deal to purchase rival Ford Motor Company for $8 million but the banks turned him down.

Durant was ousted from GM in the midst of a 1910 financial crisis so he and a race car driver named Louis Chevrolet formed a partnership to produce an automobile bearing the Chevrolet name. On November 3, 1911, the Chevrolet Motor Car Company was incorporated. While Durant intended for Chevrolet automobiles to be inexpensive cars offering significant value, the man whose name the car bore wanted more than simply economy. By 1913, Durant and Louis Chevrolet had parted ways with Durant holding the rights to the Chevrolet Motorcar Company.

Durant leveraged his holdings of Chevrolet to retake control of General Motors and in 1918, he merged Chevrolet into General Motors. By 1920 though, Billy Durant would again lose control of his growing corporation. He left GM to form another conglomeration of manufacturers titled Durant Motors in 1921. The Wall Street Crash in 1929 signaled the end for Durant Motors and by 1933, the company was no more.

Following the demise of Durant Motors, Billy Durant learned to live on a $10,000 a year pension provided by former business associates such as Alfred P. Sloan and R. S. McLaughlin, on behalf of GM. His final years found him operating a small bowling alley in Flint, Michigan, the very same city where he formulated the roots to what would become the largest auto manufacturer in the world. Billy Durant passed away in 1947 at the age of 85.