(informal) history of gm corp. - 1958

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A typewritten manuscript setting forth the history of General Motors. Supplied to attendees of GM Institute; circa 1958. 30 pps., including bibliography.


  • (Informal) History of General Motors Circa 1958 Author: Unknown Source: Retired GM employee who received it while attending GM Institute.



    General Motors Corporation is one of the largest and most widely knownindustrial enterprises in the world today. Its activities have acquired importance in many communities and among many individuals. General Motorscame into existence in 1908, several years after the invention of the automobile. With Buick, Oldsmobile, Oakland (now Pontiac), Cadillac, Cartercar,

    and Elmore passenger cars, and Reliance and Rapid truck as a nucleus,General Motors has had an illustrious history. General Motors entered this

    highly competitive field in the years when the future of the automobile wasnot yet assured, and has survived the high mortality rate which has plagued

    the industry. More than 2,500 different makes of motor cars have been produced in this country at one time or another, yet of all these only a handful

    (18 at this writing) remains today. The history of General Motors over thepast half century has been both colorful and interesting, but it is possible to.present only a brief outline in this text.

    The pages that follow present some of the highlights of the growth ofGeneral Motors during the period of America's greatest industrial develop

    ment, and of its contributions to that development. This pattern of events istypical of many successful manufacturing businesses that have grown from

    small beginnings, through the efforts and skills of individuals working together in a system of free competitive enterprise. Many events and detailsare necessarily omitted from this discussion. Students whose interest goesdeeper will find much additional information in the many excellent volumes

    available on the automotive industry.1


    In the year 1893 the first successful gasoline car in America coughedand wheezed its way down a side street in the quiet town of Springfield,Massachusetts, to the annoyance of the residents and the terror of their

    See "The Turning Wheel, " by Arthur Pound; "Concept of the Corporation. " by Peter F. Drucker; "TheAdventures of a White-Collar Man, " by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.; and "The Story of General Motors, " amongothers.



  • horses. This single-cylinder "horseless carriage," built by J. Frank Duryeaat the suggestion of his brother, incorporated for the first time in any American car, electric ignition and spray carburetion, both of which were designedand built by Duryea. It ran very uncertainly, but was the beginning of a great


    In the years since 1893 the automobile has progressed from a falteringbuggy-like contraption to a safe, dependable, and efficient vehicle for econom

    ical transportation. As the motor car has improved, the industry itself hasgrown in social and economic significance.

    General Motors was organized in 1908, but its roots go back to the veryearliest days in the industry and even beyond to carriage and wagon building, stationary engines and bicycle bells; to the days when men like R. E.Olds,David Buick, and Henry Leland were experimenting and tinkering and forming

    companies to make the "horseless carriage" about which everybody joked.

    R. E. Olds and the Oldsmobile

    After having spent seven years in his father's machine shop working onstationary and marine gasoline engines, in 1892 young Ransom Olds took hissavings, bought his father's interest in the business, and incorporated theOlds Gasoline Engine Works for $30,000. He then experimented for five moreyears before completing his first Oldsmobile in 1897, having been authorized

    by the board of directors to "build one carriage in as nearly perfect a manneras possible." This first Oldsmobile had two seats holding four passengers

    and was powered by a five-horsepower gasoline engine which, under the bestconditions, could propel the car at a speed of about 18 miles an hour. Atpresent this first Oldsmobile is in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

    Because of the success of his first model, Mr. Olds built in Detroit thefirst factory in America especially designed for the production of automobiles in 1899. His first "deluxe" model priced at $1,250, including such im

    provements as "cushion tires," did not sell. He discarded his plans andstarted all over again, producing a one-cylinder car that weighed 700 poundsand sold for $650. Production figures of Oldsmobiles are 1901 - 425; 1902 -

    2,500; 1903 - 4,000; and 1904 - 5,000. These were the famous "curved-dash"










  • runabouts. In addition 6,500 one-cylinder straight-dash runabouts were builtin 1905. This was a record of quantity production for this time; no other automobile manufacturer approached it.2 The success of Olds in Detroit fixed this

    city as the center of the new automobile industry. In 1905 Oldsmobile movedback to Lansing, where the continued success of this automobile was to prove

    a strong factor in the commercial and industrial development of that city.


    The progress of Olds with his low-priced and dependable car causedmany engineers and designers to decide that the automobile field held greatpossibilities. Among them was David D. Buick, who had already been active

    in the manufacture of marine engines and plumber's supplies in Detroit.Having developed a method of fixing porcelain on metal, the key to low-pricedbathroom fixtures, he already had one substantial achievement to his creditwhen he entered the automobile field. In 1902 he organized the Buick Manu

    facturing Company in Detroit.

    The costs of putting together the first Buick had strained the resourcesof Buick and his partner Robert Sherwood. They had borrowed much moneyfrom Benjamin and Frank Briscoe, sheet metal manufacturers, who decided

    to sell the firm when the financial burden became too heavy.

    Late in 1903, the Flint Wagon Works, with James H. Whiting as president, bought Buick and moved operations to Flint. January 19, 1904, Buickwas incorporated with capital stock of &75,000. The name was changed to BuickMotor Car Company and Whiting, looking for a younger man, turned the firm's

    management over to W. C. Durant.

    After he took over operation of the infant Buick enterprise, Mr. Durant(who had become a millionaire in the Durant-Dort Carriage Company of Flint)saw that immediate expansion was necessary. Facilities in Flint were inad

    equate and he already had a large plant standing idle in Jackson.

    2Pound, p. 54.







  • So Mr. Durant raised Buick's capitalization to a half-million dollars toput the firm on its feet and moved the assembly operation and main office toJackson. This division of work was unsatisfactory, and consolidation in one

    city was inevitable.

    Mr. Durant offered to consolidate Buick in Flint if capitalization couldbe raised to $1,500,000 so a suitable assembly plant could be built there.

    With Durant himself doing most of the soliciting the new figure was reached.

    Buick assembly operations were moved back to Flint in November, 1906,and business increased rapidly. Out of its success, other automobile manufacturing units were purchased, and the group later was consolidated to be

    come General Motors.


    The Cadillac Automobile Company, organized under the direction ofHenry M. Leland in 1902, was named in honor of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac,the French explorer whose expedition established a settlement at Detroit in


    Cadillac built one car late in 1902 and furnished two in the spring of1902. In the following year, 1,895 finished automobiles were built andshipped. Although the first Cadillac gave little promise of what the car wasto become in later years, it was then the last word in superior workmanshipat the time. Practicing the highest standards of precision, Cadillac demon

    strated that automobiles could be made of interchangeable parts just aseffectively as firearms, the industry in which Mr. Leland received his earlytraining.


    About 1907 it became apparent that the automobile was a successfulmeans of individual transportation, and Edward M. Murphy, owner of the

    Pontiac Buggy Company of Pontiac, Michigan, decided that the buggy business was a thing of the past and that he had better get into the growing

    automobile field. He organized the Oakland Motor Car Company in August,1907, naming it after the county in which Pontiac is located. His car was

  • a two-cylinder model, designed by A. P. Brush, who had been with Cadillacas an engineer. This two-cylinder design did not prove successful and in

    1908 the company brought out a four-cylinder model, powerful for its time,which undersold all competitors. In 1926, eighteen years later, Oakland was

    to introduce the Pontiac car.


    1908 - 1919

    From the time he reorganized Buick, Mr. Durant seems to have beenlooking toward wider horizons. Vehicle parts plants, some of them controlledby Mr. Durant, turned to making automobile wheels, axles, springs, paints andbodies. He induced Charles Stewart Mott to move the Weston-Mott Company

    to Flint from Utica, N. Y. to supply axles for Buick. Mr, Durant also persuaded Albert Champion to produce the famous AC Spark Plug in Flint.3 Healso organized the Janney Motor Com