This Week in Motorhead History – Walter P. Chrysler Passes Away

by | Aug 17, 2020

On August 18, 1940, automotive titan Walter P. Chrysler passed away in New York. But, of course, it is not the anniversary of his death that is most important but, rather, the remarkable journey he took and impact he made on the automotive industry during his life.

Chrysler got into the automotive game late in life. He was born in 1875 in Wamego, Kansas, and followed a lifelong fascination with machines of all sorts and shapes, starting with the locomotive, which would lead him to become one of the most important men in the history of the automotive world. The interest in machines took a sharp turn from track to road, when Chrysler met with Charles W. Nash, then President at Buick, in 1911. Chrysler, who had become interested in working on cars about five years prior, began working as Works Manager at the Buick plant in Flint, Michigan, where he would implement a series of cost-cutting maneuvers that caught and kept the company’s attention.

In 1916, General Motors founder William C. Durant took his company back from the bankers who held it and Chrysler submitted his resignation. Durant was hell-bent on keeping Chrysler in the company and offered him the gobsmacking pay of $10,000 a month for three years, with a half a million bonus at the end of each year. Chrysler was no fool, and he accepted the terms, reporting directly to Durant for a little over three years before he tendered his resignation once more, this time successfully, which included a ten million dollar payout on his GM stocks. 

He went from there to work for Willy-Overland Motor Company, in an attempt to turn around their fortunes. But though the company paid him a million dollars a year for two years, John Willys refuses to cede control, and Chrysler left again, this time going after controlling interesting in the struggling Maxwell Motor Company.

In 1925 he phased out Maxwell, absorbing it into his new firm, the Chrysler Corporation, operating out of Detroit. Over the next years, he added DeSoto and Plymouth and in 1928 he purchased Dodge, the same year he financed construction for the Chrysler Building in New York City, which would be completed in 1930.

Walter P. Chrysler was named Time Magazine Man of the Year for 1928, and inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1967. He served as the President of Chrysler for ten years and then as Chairman until the day he died, over seventy years ago, just this week. He is a man whose passion and drive for the automotive industry led him through ups and downs, through arguments, businesses and success.

From life on the tracks, Chrysler would go on to be one of the most important men the automotive industry has ever know. And while times have changed, and the rules of the car world, and Chrysler’s world, have been rewritten, there is no denying the influence he had or the legacy he left behind. Walter P. Chrysler was a car man through and through, and he made sure the whole world knew it.

Image selected from FCA Media