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Walter P. Chrysler

car company founder

Walter Chrysler with one of his early products

Walter Percy Chrysler was born in Wamego, Kansas, on April 2, 1875, and grew up in Ellis, Kansas. The son of a locomotive engineer, Chrysler became a machinist's apprentice with Union Pacific at the age of seventeen. Always a tinkerer, Chrysler forged and tempered steel to make his own machinist's tools. The skills he learned in the machine shop would serve him quite well. On June 6, 1901, he married Della V. Forker, with whom he had four children.

In 1908, at the age of 33, Chrysler became the youngest man ever to serve as Superintendent of Motive Power with Chicago Great Western Railway. That same year, he borrowed almost $5,000 to buy his first automobile, a white Locomobile Phaeton. He then took the car completely apart in order to understand how it worked, reassembled it, and then promptly drove it straight into a neighbor's garden.

In 1910, Chrysler moved his family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he became plant manager of the American Locomotive Company. In 1912, he moved his family to Flint, Michigan, where he became production manager of the Buick Motor Car Company. He became president and general manager of Buick in 1917, and vice-president in charge of production for General Motors Corporation in 1919. In 1920, at the age of 45, he retired a wealthy man.

Chrysler did not stay retired for long, however, as he accepted a $2 million offer to salvage Willys-Overland Company from financial ruin. Moving his family to New York City, Chrysler brought the automobile company from the verge of bankruptcy to making a profit within two years. He then went on to perform a similar miracle for the Maxwell Motor Car Company, Inc., of which he became chairman in 1921.

While at Maxwell, Chrysler developed the technologically advanced Chrysler Six automobile, which he unveiled in 1924. Sales of the Chrysler Six took Maxwell from debt to profit, and the company became Chrysler Corporation on June 6, 1928. That same year, Chrysler acquired the Dodge Brothers Company as a division of Chrysler Corporation, and then added the DeSoto and Plymouth brands. By 1929, Chrysler Corporation had become one of the "Big Three" automakers, alongside General Motors and Ford. In 1930, the Chrysler Building -- the world's tallest building until completion of the Empire State Building -- opened in New York City.

Chrysler retired as president of the Chrysler Corporation in 1935. He remained chairman of the board until his death on August 18, 1940, on Long Island, New York.

Chrysler's autobiography, The Life of an American Workingman, was published in 1936.

Official Website

Walter P. Chrysler Boyhood Home and Museum

See Also

Ellis, Kansas

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The Robinson Library >> Mechanical Industries

This page was last updated on August 17, 2018.