Cigar salesman, to Wall Street tycoon, to bowling alley manager?
(Where did William Durant’s unusual middle name come from? Check out the PS at the bottom of this post. – Ed)
The name “William Crapo Durant” has been making somewhat of a comeback as of late, thanks to the 100th anniversary celebration of Chevrolet. Durant came of age as a young man in early days of the American Industrial Revolution. It was the time of the railroad robber barons, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Standard Oil, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, and others. Electricity and electric light was utterly fantastic to people, and men were building motorized carriages to replace horse drawn transportation. It was an amazing time lead by tough and ruthless businessmen.
Born in 1861 in Boston, Massachusetts, William started his working career as a cigar salesman. He obviously had a keen mind for business and started his first company in 1886 at the age of 25, building horse carriages. Starting with $2,000, the Flint Road Cart Company quickly became a $2 million dollar business with sales from around the world. Companies came, merged, and were gone quickly throughout Durant’s career. By 1890 his Durant-Dort Carriage Company was the number one carriage company in the world!
An interesting side note about Durant is that he was a horse and carriage man first. The earliest horseless carriages were very dangerous and Durant did not like them. So much so that he wouldn’t let his daughter ride in one! By 1900 there was a significant public outcry against the new fangled dangerous buggies. There were no rules of the road, most roads were rutty, dirt horse paths not at all capable of withstanding machines with speeds double and more of that of horses. Durant saw a problem and offered a solution – build safer cars.
Starting with a local car company called Buick, William entered a Buick automobile in a New York auto show in 1904 (yes, they had car shows a hundred years ago!) and came home with orders for 1,108 Buicks. At that point, Buick had only built 37 cars! From 1904 forward, William Durant would become one of a handful of movers and shakers in the new fledgling automobile industry.
Here’s a list of the car companies that passed through Durant’s hands: Continue reading “Chevrolet Timeline Tales: Happy 150th Birthday William Crapo Durant”