Olds Motor Vehicle Company, Inc., the oldest unit of General Motors Corporation, is organized by Ransom E. Olds with capital of $50,000 (5,000 shares of stock at $10 per share) and the first Oldsmobile is produced.
Olds Motor Vehicle and Olds Gasoline Engine Works of Lansing merge to form Olds Motor Works. This new company is incorporated on May 8, 1899 with $500,000 capital. The first factory specifically for automobile manufacture in the United States is built by Olds in Detroit on Jefferson Avenue East.
Cadillac Automobile Company is organized in Detroit by Henry M. Leland, a precision manufacturer of automotive components.
Buick Motor Company, founded by David Dunbar Buick, is incorporated on May 19, 1903. Ground is broken for the first Buick engine plant on September 11, 1903, with funding from Flint Wagon Works, and operations are moved from Detroit to Flint.
William Crapo (“Billy”) Durant of Durant-Dort Carriage Company, Flint, Michigan, takes control of Buick Motor Company on November 1, 1904.
Cadillac produces the Osceola, a single-cylinder favorite of Henry Leland and the first step-in closed-car design. The body was built under the supervision of Fred J. Fisher (who later founded Fisher Body with his brothers) in the Wilson Body Company plant in Detroit.
The Oakland Motor Car Co., predecessor to Pontiac Motor, is founded by Edward M. Murphy on August 28, 1907 in Pontiac, Michigan.
Under Billy Durant’s leadership, General Motors Company is organized in 1908 (Sept 16), incorporating the Buick Motor Company.
General Motors purchases Cadillac for $5.5 million on July 29, 1909. Henry M. Leland and his son, Wilfred, are invited to continue operating Cadillac. They do so until 1917, when they leave to form Lincoln Motor Co.
General Motors was founded in 1908 as a holding company for Buick, then controlled by William C. Durant, and acquired Oldsmobile later that year. The next year, Durant brought in Cadillac, Elmore, and Oakland.
During the 1920s and 1930s General Motors bought out the bus company Yellow Coach, helped create Greyhound bus lines, replaced intercity train transport with buses, and established subsidiary companies to buy out streetcar companies and replace the rail-based services with buses. GM formed United Cities Motor Transit, in 1932. See General Motors streetcar conspiracy for additional details.
General Motors bought the internal combustion engined railcar builder Electro-Motive Corporation and its engine supplier Winton Engine in 1930, renaming both as the General Motors Electro-Motive Division. Over the next twenty years diesel-powered locomotives and trains, the majority built by GM, largely replaced other forms of traction on American railroads.
On December 31, 1955, General Motors became the first American corporation to make over one billion dollars in a year.
William “Billy” Crapo Durant was born in Boston, Massachusetts, 8 December 1861, the grandson of a Michigan Governor, Henry H. Crapo [Governor 1864-8] his mother being from the New Bedford area. His father was addicted to hard liquor and stock speculation, a trait which may have been passed-on to his son, though the son was later a public advocate of prohibition enforcement. Henry Crapo had travelled west to the town of Flint, Michigan in order to set-up a timber yard and buy up timberland, having accrued a fortune from whaling. The Durant family followed, and young Billy attended the Flint Grammar School. He showed natural talent for selling medicine, insurance, cigars, real estate and bicycles.
One evening in 1884 Durant saw an attractive two-wheel horse-drawn cart on the streets of Flint, Michigan which had been invented as a cart with “4-wheel riding qualities”, and the next night took a train to Coldwater, Michigan to where the carts were made and bought the manufacturing rights as the inventor was about to go out of business. Durant talked his friend Josiah Dallas Dort into putting up a $1,000, Durant parted with $50 of his own money and borrowed another $1,450 to cover the $2,500 cost of buying the business and setting up a shop in Flint to final-assemble and display the road carts. On September 28 1886, Durant and Dort entered into a partnership as the FLINT ROAD CART COMPANY, which became basically a selling company. A Flint carriage-builder made the carts under contract for $8.00 and Durant and partner Dallas Dort sold them and delivered them for $12.50 each. On September 9 1893, the FLINT ROAD CART COMPANY was incorporated with $150,000 capitalisation, with its own assembly plant which bought-in parts from nearby suppliers. The company then changed its name to the DURANT-DORT CARRIAGE COMPANY on November 6 1895. In succeeding years Durant financed the company by subscribing a small minimum amount of stock himself, and talking stockholders and bankers into subscribing for the remainder.
By 1900, stockholders were sharing in a thriving business, producing 50,000 buggies, carts and carriages per year in Flint, fourteen other locations in the U.S. and “one in Canada” [though this could only have been established in 1905], some of which simply contracted their output to the Durant-Dort Carriage Company. This company was thus a major rival of the Flint Wagon Works run by their President, James H. Whiting, though both rival companies were also part of the Flint Board of Commerce.
The first Chevrolet drawings were made by M. Etienne Planche on 15 March 1911 at a garage premises at number 707, later 3939 Grand River Avenue, Detroit. It appears that the small second story space above the garage was used for new engine design and construction only. The prototypal Chevrolets were in fact produced in what would today be called a “pilot plant” in the 1145, West Grand Boulevard Plant that was used between August 1911 and August 1913.
Within two years, Durant lost control of GM, but remained in the automotive industry. One of his ventures was the founding of Chevrolet Motor Company with performance enthusiast Louis Chevrolet. He returned to power at General Motors in 1915, bringing the Chevrolet Motor Company with him into the GM fold. Durant was forced out again five years later and never regained power.
Racing continued to play a role in the growth of the individual companies and the automaker’s overall reputation. A Cadillac scored a victory in an AAA-sanctioned race in Portland, Oregon, in 1909. Louis Chevrolet and Bob Burman teamed up to set a speed record at the recently-built Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Their trip of 105 mph came in a Buick “Bug” in 1910.
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